'Just Stop Oil': Impact on climate change perceptions and behaviours.

This summer, my research project will investigate the impact of the 'Just Stop Oil' campaigns on public perceptions of the climate crisis and subsequent changes in behavior. Specifically, I will examine how these campaigns influence awareness, attitudes, and actions related to climate change.
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Supervised by: Dr. Liam Saddington, University of Cambridge

Project outline

Climate change stands as one of the most pressing global challenges of our time, and grassroots campaigns have emerged as one of the powerful agents of change in international activism. ‘Just Stop Oil’ is among the most prominent, gaining extensive media attention for its actions and protests, which are often portrayed in the media as militant and disruptive. Their central aim is to draw attention to the critical intersection of fossil fuel consumption, climate change, and the urgent need for sustainable alternatives. This study will delve into the profound impact this campaign has on the climate change perceptions and pro-environmental inclinations of Undergraduate students at the University of Cambridge. It provides a distinctive opportunity to explore the impact of nonviolent civil resistance within the environmental movement, highlighting whether it induces positive or negative changes in behaviours, or if there is any discernible alteration in behaviours at all. Pro-environmental behaviours will be defined as those that reflect a conscious change in an individual's daily behaviours with an intention of helping the environment, which can range from changes in diets to less carbon-intensive foods, to partaking in climate activist events like slow marches. As part of a generation that is increasingly expressing concern about the future implications of the growing climate crisis on their lives, Undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 22 will provide a window into the perceptions of such a generation. This research is a necessary and important investigation in informing grassroots activism for climate change. 

This topic has always been of immense interest to me as a Geography Undergraduate. After having read Mike Hulme’s ‘Why we Disagree about Climate Change’, I have become increasingly interested in the ways that our society’s perceptions of the climate crisis are so dependent on our past experiences and background, as well as our exposure to the media. This is an opportunity to explore such interest and explore the ideas in this book in real real-life context. The ‘Just Stop Oil’ campaign is a salient chance to do so, especially given its recent prominence in the Cambridge area. Actions during the latter half of 2023 included a Cambridge Student spraying King's College orange following similar actions in universities across the country, including Exeter, Bristol, and Leeds, as well as a slow march on Cambridge’s ring road following the failings of COP28. Following discussions with my friends about their opinions on the campaign, and witnessing the range of perspectives presented, my intrigue was heightened, and thus, I feel this would be both an interesting and valuable research area. 

Methodology

This research employs a mixed-methods approach, integrating both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods to provide a comprehensive understanding of the research question. The target population is the body of Undergraduate students at the University of Cambridge, and to ensure a representative sample across academic disciplines and demographics, a stratified random sampling method will be employed. This strategic sampling will involve selecting approximately 20 participants for semi-structured interviews, allowing for an in-depth exploration of opinions and perceptions surrounding the 'Just Stop Oil’ campaign and any associated shifts in pro-environmental behaviour. Prior to each interview, explicit written consent will be obtained from participants to ensure ethical considerations, via a hard copy consent form.

The research will take place in Cambridge. If the circumstances require, semi-structured interviews can take place remotely via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and consent will be obtained through electronic forms. This will allow a representative sample to be taken no matter the circumstances.

In addition to qualitative insights, a structured survey questionnaire featuring Likert-scale questions pertinent to the research question will be administered electronically. For example, it can be deployed through student forums via the student union. This quantitative method aims to gather broader perspectives from a larger pool of participants while ensuring participant anonymity. The combination of qualitative and quantitative data will enable a more holistic analysis and interpretation of the multifaceted impact of the campaign within the University of Cambridge Undergraduate community. This mixed-methods approach enhances the validity and reliability of the study, providing a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the research topic.

Project Timeline

The proposed research is achievable across the 6-week timeframe. The first week will consist of preparation for the proposed methodology. It will entail preparation for the semi structured interviews by selecting the most appropriate and relevant questions that also ensure open ended answers and opportunity for further discussion. Preparation will also require the drawing up of a consent form for the interviewees, as well as contacting them via email. By the end of the first week, I aim to have deployed the electronic survey to Undergraduate students at the University of Cambridge, which will circulate until the end of the 6 weeks. The main research period will be occupied by interviews that will take place over 4 weeks. Any setbacks in the timeline will require a narrowing of the sample frame to ensure quality over quantity in the semi structured interviews.

The final week will consist of drawing up the qualitative and quantitative data to provide a comprehensive research report and research poster. I aim to produce an informative summary of the research proposal, in a way that is accessible to the general public. This aspect of my project is really important to me, because the value in my research would be undermined if it can not be deployed in environments where its findings can make a difference.

Intended Outcomes

The success of this research lies in achieving a comprehensive understanding of how the 'Just Stop Oil’ campaign influences climate change perceptions and pro-environmental behaviours among undergraduate students at the University of Cambridge. By the end of the study, a combination of quantitative data, derived from survey responses, and qualitative insights obtained through semi-structured interviews, is anticipated. Analysis of the quantitative data will unveil trends and statistical relationships, while the qualitative data will uncover rich narratives and themes related to the campaign's impact. For the qualitative techniques, I aim to synthesise key feelings, emotions, and opinions towards the campaign in a way that captures the main themes to provide a comprehensive answer to the question. For the quantitative techniques, the representation of data in charts and graphs using statistical skills gained during my degree will form the basis of analysis.

The potential impact of the project is substantial, contributing valuable insights to the discourse on grassroots environmental activism within academic settings. It has the potential to inform future environmental initiatives, academic discussions, and strategies for engaging young minds in the critical conversation surrounding climate change. Furthermore, the research may contribute to broader discussions on the effectiveness of assertive activism in shaping attitudes and behaviours related to environmental issues

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