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Impact story: Increasing understanding and awareness of how individuals can make the most effective choices for the climate

Few research publications reach outside the realm of academia and even fewer make an impact on sustainability debates and societal issues. Kimberly Nicholas’ research on lifestyle choices to reduce your carbon footprint is unique in its reach and impact on society.
Infographic illustrating effective individual lifestyle choices. Made by Catrin Jakobsson.
Infographic illustrating effective individual lifestyle choices. Made by Catrin Jakobsson

Her research started with a question, asked by friends and students: what can I do for the climate that really makes a difference?

Kimberly Nicholas and former LUMES masters’ student Seth Wynes decided to find out by analysing data from 39 different sources to see what lifestyle choices are most effective in reducing an individual’s climate footprint in the developed world. In 2017, they published their answer: live car, flight, and meat free, and choose to have a smaller family.

Increasing Understanding and Awareness

Their research is unique in the way it has reached, and is continuing to reach, a very large audience. The hundreds of media stories, blogs, and social media mentions in outlets around the world are a testament to how the research truly has contributed to increasing public understanding and awareness of how ones’ individual choices affect the climate. The frequent and ongoing mentions of the research in media also illustrate how the research is contributing to changes in attitudes and to an emerging discourse on what responsibility we have as individuals, and how our individual choices can connect to larger communities and systems in stabilizing the climate.

Since the publication of the research, more and more companies and organisations have become aware of the need to reduce flying, and many of them have adopted new travel policies to reduce emissions. There has also been a decrease in domestic flying in Sweden. While it is difficult to ascertain whether these changes in behaviour and attitudes are connected to the research, one can say for certain that the research has had a crucial part in shaping the sustainability and cultural debate on flying. This is evidenced by the widespread media attention and activity in social media forums in Sweden and beyond.

As a result of the research publication, Kimberly Nicholas is now a sought after public speaker on how individuals can make a positive impact for the climate. Her talks and personal appareances in media is helping to further disseminate the research results to audiences of different ages and backgrounds. 

Environmental Impacts

The long-term environmental impact of the research will only emerge over time. Yet, it is clear that more people are now aware of what choices are the most effective for the climate. This can in time lead to people taking informed decisions that will benefit our environment now and in the future.

Var femte skåning försöker välja bort flyget, article on Sydsvenskan.se

Key impacts of the research: 

Understanding and awareness, changes in attitudes, policy and environmental. 

Facts and figures:

  • In Sweden and internationally, hundreds and hundreds of media outlets have reported on the research, ranging from local and regional papers and radio to national and international media outlets. The research is regularly mentioned, from 2017 up to now, 2019, highlighting the continued impact of the research, and the public and media’s interest in the topic.
  • The research has brought the issue of lifestyle choices and climate change to the fore in Swedish society: the research has been mentioned by columnists in various papers and by municipality representatives in for example Umeå kommun in relation to a project where ten households out of 170 applicants were selected for a pilot project to live car-free for three months.
  • The scientific publication has been cited in around 170 media outlets worldwide.
  • It was one of the most cited research articles in media in 2018 according to CarbonBrief.org (link to article on carbonbrief.org: Climate papers most-featured in media 2018)
  • The press release about the research is the most read article on the Swedish website lu.se, and the second most read on the English website lunduniversity.lu.se since it was published in 2017. It has had 88 000 unique page views on lu.se, and 38 000 unique page views on lunduniversity.lu.se.
  • Almost 3000 tweets about the research results have been sent by around 2600 Twitter users. The research has also been mentioned in numerous Facebook posts and blogs, including the influential IFL Science account.
  • The research is cited on eight Wikipedia pages relating to sustainability
  • The research has served as inspiration for a play exploring the issue of reproduction and climate change in the UK, “No Kids,” by Theatre Ad Infinitum, a stand-up comedy routine at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and a board game, Hållbara Hushållet.

Research study by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas: The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions in Environmental Research Letters.

Selected Media Coverage

Press release in English on lu.se/en

Press release in Swedish on lu.se

Find more media coverage on Kimberly Nicholas' webpage, kimnicholas.com.

 

About the Researcher

Kimberly Nicholas

Kimberly Nicholas is a Senior Lecturer in Sustainability Science at Lund University in Sweden. She studies how to manage natural resources to both support a good life today, and leave a living planet for future generations.

To Kimberly Nicholas' s staff page.

To Kimberly Nicholas' web page

The Takeoff of Staying on the Ground: Changing personal and political narratives of aviation, climate, and the good life in Sweden

To further investigate the impact on the debate on flying less to head towards a climate-safe society, Kimberly Nicholas has started the project, The Takeoff of Staying on the Ground: Changing personal and political narratives of aviation, climate, and the good life in Sweden, funded by the Swedish Research Council, Formas. The research project will study the growing movement in Sweden to reduce flying and the changing cultural and social norms it represents.

Article about the project on Extrakt.se.

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