Carbon Anniversaries

July 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

The meaning of anniversaries changes with history. A century ago high levels of infant mortality, and the loss of life in childbirth, industrial accidents and war meant that each year a child or life partner survived was something to be grateful for and was a cause for celebration. In modern times anniversaries have become another commercial opportunity and the most trivial of annual achievements seems to be cause for bigger and more lavish celebration. Organisations too are encouraged to celebrate their longevity but for NGOs and charities longevity can make for a bittersweet party. Most of those who campaign for social justice wish that their work wasn’t necessary but the day that they can hang up their hats for good rarely comes. They find themselves, perhaps bizarrely, celebrating their continued existence alongside the problem they had hoped to eradicate.

A tenth birthday

The issue has been on my mind because it’s ten years since Andy Brown and I set up Cambridge Carbon Footprint, the organisation that gave birth to the national Carbon Conversations project and which for some years was the focus of my attempts to bring a more sophisticated, psychosocial understanding to people’s approach to climate change.

2005 was an exciting year for us. I spent the early part of the year writing the paper A New Climate for Psychotherapy, describing the personal and social defences which I saw as inhibiting our attempts to deal with climate change. In May I presented this work at the Trajectories Conference at the Centre for Alternative Technology and we returned from that weekend with a new tool – CAT’s Carbon Gym, a neat little program which calculated people’s individual carbon footprints across the key areas of their home energy, travel, food and other consumption. We immediately saw that this was the practical mechanism we’d been looking for. You could use it as the basis for a one-to-one conversation that took you deep into the things which mattered to people – their homes, families, holidays, jobs and aspirations, which (unknown to most of them) embedded high levels of carbon emissions in their day-to-day lives.

The rest of 2005 was a flurry of activity. We trialled our interview technique at the Gwydir Street party in early July, calculating over 40 of our neighbours’ footprints. By the end of that month we had set up the Cambridge Carbon Footprint website, adopted a formal constitution and applied for and been awarded grant funding from the City Council. By the end of the year we had a small, keen membership, were exploring engagement with much wider groups within the community and had come to realise that the issues our one-to-one interviews opened up for people might best be explored in small groups where the painful emotions that climate change and carbon reduction engendered could be properly faced.


Footprinting at the Gwydir Street Party, July 2005

Excitement and sadness

It’s hard now to capture the excitement and hope of that period. The government was developing the Climate Change Bill (which became the Climate Change Act in 2008), funding was available for community groups trying new ideas, the energy of the environmental movement was focused on getting the outcome we needed at Copenhagen in 2009. Andy and I believed, naively, that our organisation would be short-lived, not because it would fail but because its work would become so mainstream and accepted that we would not be needed. Ten years on it is tempting to focus on what has gone wrong – the difficulties in our own organisation, the failure at Copenhagen, the retreat by the UK government from deep engagement with the issue, the seemingly inexorable rise in carbon emissions – but perhaps it is also important to celebrate what has been achieved, albeit at a small scale.

The Carbon Conversations project lives on, managed now by The Surefoot Effect CIC. Akashi, Shilpa Shah’s ground-breaking project for CCF which ran from 2006-2008 has had a ripple effect in the environmental movement in how work with people from BAME and faith groups is approached. Psychosocial approaches are now championed powerfully by the Climate Psychology Alliance and psychology generally is on the agenda when climate change is discussed.

Raise a glass

We are no longer part of Cambridge Carbon Footprint so we will not be celebrating ten years with them. (We parted company in 2011 when its trustees decided that they were no longer interested in the psychosocial methods we had pioneered and wanted to get rid of the Carbon Conversations project.) However, we wish them well and when we’re back at CAT at the end of this month we’ll raise a glass to all who helped us get our work off the ground and hope that in another ten years organisations working on climate change will no longer need to exist.

In Time for Tomorrow?

December 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

My blog has been quiet over the last six months. The reason? I’ve been writing a book with Andy Brown, In Time for Tomorrow? which will be out on January 14th, price £11.99.itft cover mid res

Here are some of the nice things people are saying about it:

“This lovely handbook covers it all, with sage guidance on delving into climate debates, reducing your own carbon footprint, and encouraging community action. It reckons honestly with the psychological impacts of a crisis that is far too easy for many of us to deny in our everyday lives…” Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine.

“…truly remarkable…explores the landscape of hope…generates lasting enthusiasm…” George Marshall, author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.

Order a copy for £11.99, including p&p by clicking the button below.

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Or come to one of our launch events and get a copy signed by the authors:

Cambridge: Monday 9th February, 6pm – 7.30pm. Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge. In time for tomorrow: Why is climate change so easy to ignore? A talk and reception with Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown. Further details from Rosie Amos

Oxford: Thursday, 12th February 2015, 7:00 – 9:00 pm, Blackwell’s Bookshop, 51 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BQ. To book click here

Edinburgh: Thursday, 19th February 2015, 5.00 – 7.00 pm, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), High School Yards, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ. To book  click here.

More about the book

Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown offer empathy, encouragement and a practical path to anyone who is concerned about climate change, but can feel lost, angry or powerless. Written for their ground-breaking Carbon Conversations groups, In Time for Tomorrow? will help you minimise your impact, confront everyday denial, and give you the courage to speak out.

214 pp, full colour, illustrated with more than 80 stories from people initiating change in their personal and collective lives.

In Time for Tomorrow, by Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown, published by The Surefoot Effect, ISBN 978-0-9931211 0-4, £11.99.

Does ignorance of numbers help people defend against their impact on the climate?

June 27, 2013 § Leave a comment


I meet a lot of people who tell me they are ‘hopeless with numbers’ or ‘useless at maths’. There seems to be little shame in the admission. I’m not brilliant at maths either. I struggled in the remedial ‘O’ level class and was relieved to be allowed to drop the subject in the sixth form. I associated it with dull blokes who tucked their trousers into their socks when cycling and earnest girls who preferred the chemistry lab to sexual chemistry.

The environment world sometimes seems full of the same dullness. People who think that telling me that the UK produces enough rubbish every hour to fill the Albert Hall, will change my mind about where to drop that aluminium can. Or that the way to my ecological heart is to stun me with the news that a tonne of CO2 would fill my house.

It’s easy to mock, but staying ignorant of numbers can also be a way of defending against the gravity of one’s impact on the climate. Here are some of the things I’ve been told in groups and interviews where we calculated people’s actual carbon footprints:

  • “I think one’s spiritual connection to the environment is more important than the actual numbers.”
  • “Is 15 tonnes really worse than 10 tonnes?”
  • “I think numbers can distract you from the politics.”
  • “Numbers are so abstract – they make my head ache and they don’t motivate me.”
  • “I’d rather live an ethical life than get obsessed by numbers.”

Each of these people was struggling with the news that their carbon footprint was above average. Some of the statements contain interesting truths. Some are nonsense. Behind them lies the anxiety of being a poor environmental citizen, being asked to make changes that are hard or being accused of selfishness. Believing that numbers don’t matter is culturally acceptable and allows people to segue easily away from their discomfort.

As a teenager passing my maths GCE exam involved facing anxieties about self-image and about failure. Only then could I drop my defence that numbers were stupid and unsexy and enjoy my limited ability to use them creatively. Some people face a similar task when confronted with their environmental impact. They can’t grapple with the realities that the numbers reveal unless they can also find a way to cope with the anxiety and discomfort. So instead of realising that they have the power to make a real difference they hide behind the belief that the numbers are too difficult, boring or stupid to concern themselves with.

If you can bear it, here are just three numbers to think about.

  • 15 tonnes – the average personal UK footprint – the one you are likely to have if you have an average UK income.
  • 4 tonnes – the average world footprint.
  • 1.5 tonnes – the level of a sustainable footprint.

If you visit the WWF website, you can make a rough calculation of your own footprint. Or you can join a Carbon Conversations group and discover, in the company of others, that it is possible to make changes to your life and that the numbers are not as frightening as you thought.

Carbon Conversations on Radio Ecoshock

April 17, 2013 § 2 Comments

Radio Ecoshock is a Canadian station run by activist Alex Smith, which syndicates to  numerous community radio stations mainly in Canada and the United States but also to Resonance FM 104.4 in London.

Last week, Alex did an interview with me, mainly about Carbon Conversations but also about issues of loss and climate change, based on my 2009 paper.

You can listen to the interview here or if you’re quick, catch it 7 am Thursday morning (18th April) on Resonance FM 104.4.

It’s a good one! Alex is a great interviewer and runs a terrific programme.

Exploiting vulnerability – a key tactic of climate change denial

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Recent leaks about the extent to which America’s Heartland Institute has been funded to disseminate climate change disinformation have shocked many. The sums involved are huge and the opinion shift in the US has been dramatic. In a recent article for The Nation, Naomi Klein reported that the number of Americans who believe that burning fossil fuels causes the climate to change has fallen from 71% in 2007 to 44% in June 2011.

But why are the arguments of organisations like the Heartland Institute so successful? Why do people shift their views so rapidly? Why do people believe information that is so contrary to their interests?

States of confusion

Some clues can be found in the work of Bryant Welch and his book ‘State of Confusion’, published in 2008. « Read the rest of this entry »

Vital signs – new year essential reading

January 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Christmas is a time when environmentalists feel duty bound to have a quick moan about the way over-consumption is wrecking the planet. (I joined in with a post for the Guardian in December.) The reasons why UK citizens purchase an unconscionable amount of ‘stuff’ are complex and not reducible to simplistic notions of greed or manipulation by advertisers however. « Read the rest of this entry »

Safe spaces

November 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

The idea of the ‘safe space’ is crucial to psychotherapy. What relevance does it have to climate change?

Listening and respect

Many people find it hard to accept the reality of climate change and the need for both urgent action and widespread socio-political change. This is often an emotional rather than an intellectual problem: climate change threatens much that people hold dear. ‘Safe spaces’ where people can come to terms with what may happen, the changes that are needed and their own feelings about it can be crucial in helping them take action both in their personal lives and politically, as citizens. « Read the rest of this entry »

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with Carbon Conversations at Rosemary Randall.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers