Many of the academic articles we read here are MCFly Towers – when we aren’t organising the climate hustings on Tuesday 17th April – are obtuse, abstruse vocabulary abuse. That is, they are long on long words, short on good non-banal ideas.
A recent honourable exception is Public engagement with carbon and climate change: To what extent is the public ‘carbon capable’?. It is a 9 page wonder by Lorraine Whitmarsh, Gill Seyfang and Saffron O’Neill,* published in Global Environmental Change 21 (2011) Here’s a pdf.
Here’s the bit that leapt out at us.
Carbon capability is defined as: “The ability to make informed judgments and to take effective decisions regarding the use and management of carbon, through both individual behaviour change and collective action’. We identify three core dimensions of carbon capability:
(1) decision-making (knowledge, skills, motivations and judgments
(2) individual behaviour or ‘practices (e.g. energy conservation), and
(3) broader engagement with systems of provision and governance (e.g. lobbying, voting, protesting, creating alternative social infrastructures of provision).
In contrast to the concept of ‘carbon literacy’, then, carbon capability is not defined in a narrow individualistic sense of solely knowledge, skills and motivations (although these are important components); rather, the concept of carbon capability implies an understanding of the limits of individual action and where these encounter wider societal institutions and infrastructure, and so prompt the need for collective action and other governance solutions. The notion also suggests an appreciation that much consumption (and hence carbon emissions) is inconspicuous, habitual and routine, rather than the result of conscious decision-making.
There’s more, all of it bloomin’ useful. At some point in the next few months, we shall make a youtube about this article’s contents. Nag us if we don’t.
We will ask the people behind Manchester’s “Carbon Literacy” program for their perspectives, which may appear as comments here or in a ‘response’ article….
* Only a crazed feminazi would suggest that having three female authors might lead to an outbreak of clarity and a lessening of chest-beating and posturing.