The newly established DCU Centre for Climate and Society is Ireland’s first academic research centre devoted to leading societal responses to climate change. Its creation follows the launch of an innovative MSc in Climate Change: Policy, Media and Society at DCU in 2018. Like the hugely popular master’s course, the Centre builds upon DCU’s academic strengths in governance and law, communications and media, business and education in order to provide a humanities and social science perspective to the challenge of climate change. In this piece, Centre Director, Dr David Robbins, describes how the Centre came about, and its top priorities for the next three years.
“The Centre aims to bring perspectives from the Humanities and the Social Sciences to bear on the challenges of climate change. A lot of the research on the climate and biodiversity emergencies comes from the physical sciences – and of course this kind of research is essential. After all, that is how we come to know about and understand what is happening to our planet and ecosystems. But in some ways, “more facts” about climate change do not help us to move the dial towards concerted climate action.
The blocks to action come from the areas of policy, media, politics, education, business, and environmental literacy. We need to bring in a wide range of perspectives from other research areas, and engage with other ways of thinking and talking about climate action. So our new centre aims to bring in these relatively neglected perspectives, and to add insights and findings from the social sciences and humanities to our understanding of how societies can better respond to what’s happening around us.”
“The focus on the social sciences and humanities is the main difference. In an Irish context, we have several Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) -funded research centres, which do very important work, but they are examining technical and scientific aspects of the changing climate – flooding, sea level rise, agriculture, animal husbandry, land use, emissions from transport and energy.
There has to be broad public support for the policies needed to tackle climate change – otherwise they won’t happen.
So we need to understand more about the role policy plays, the role of politics, the media, education – how all of these arenas can be enlisted in support of climate action. That will be the basis of our research agenda.
We would also like to bring a focus to environmental communications, to journalism, and to “greening” the media generally, and also to include green finance, marketing, and corporate approaches to sustainability.”
“If anything, we are a bit late, given the urgency of the challenges we are facing. Ireland is in a tough spot: our emissions are going in the wrong direction, and we face particular challenges in the agriculture sector. Our politics and our national conversation haven’t really come to grips with the issues. But in other ways, our timing in setting up the centre is good, as there has been a building of momentum, coming from the school strikes for climate, the Citizens’ Assembly on climate change, and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on climate action. There is the new Climate Bill, following on from the Climate Action Plan. We are here now, and better late than never!”
“The first thing, and it is something that will have a cascading effect elsewhere, is to have climate and the environment as the unspoken, understood, taken-for-granted context for social discourse in the way that jobs and the economy are now.
Secondly, we need binding, sectoral targets on emissions reductions.
Number three on my wish list is a widespread, creative communications campaign around environmental literacy. There is research to suggest that people do not talk about climate change because they are afraid they do not have a proper grasp of it – we need to change that.
I’d would also like to see our communication about climate and biodiversity move away from an emphasis on frightening people into action, and towards offering them a vision of a fair, clean, sustainable future that action on climate will bring about.
Lastly, I’d like to see the blame and responsibility for climate change removed from the shoulders of individuals, and placed where it belongs: on systems – political systems, economic systems, production, transport, agriculture and other systems.”
“We would like to see our centre engaged in a range of research and outreach on different ways to think and talk about the climate emergency. We would like to be leading research bids, and partner with others in their research. I’d like to see us working with civil society, policy makers, local authorities, communities, and educators on ways to foster public engagement with this issue. I’d like us to be the “go-to” institution for research, advice, and help in crafting better policies, better communications, better educational resources, better strategies for tackling climate change, and for bringing people with you as you go.”
Dr David Robbins is an expert on media presentations of climate change, journalism practice in the coverage of environmental matters and media framing effects. He has worked at a senior level across a number of Irish media outlets, working with the Irish Times, Cara magazine, as features editor with the Evening Herald and as associate editor of the Irish Independent. From 2002 to 2015 he wrote a weekly column for the Irish Independent and also had a weekly radio column on RTE Radio 1’s Drivetime programme. In 2019, David was the co-author of an EPA publication on “Climate Change in the Irish Media” which investigated coverage trends on climate change across print, broadcast and online media in order to make recommendations for climate change communicators.