Getting real on climate change: the coal rush and beyond

Although climate change is a topic we hear a lot about, most people can’t grasp the reality of it because it doesn’t affect their everyday lives visibly. In response to this, Associate Professor James Goodman rallied up a team of UTS and Sydney Uni researchers to investigate what it would take to make climate change more of an immediate concern.

“The issue is that most of us in the western world live a fairly air-conditioned life, so we are not yet feeling the effects of climate change and it is unlikely that the high-income first world will feel the full impacts of climate change for many years to come,” says Prof Goodman.

The research project focused on three planned mining sites located in Australia, Germany and India and addressed the energy crisis from the social sciences by combining ethnography with political economy and investigative journalism.

“We tried to show how the extraction process impacts the surrounding communities – for example the noise, health threats, water safety and the loss of agricultural land and livelihood. So it became less about the climate change and emissions debate, and more about how this affects real people.” says Prof Goodman.

Along with many other publications and presentations, the team was able to produce a special issue of the high-impact journal Energy Policy, Vol. 99 (December 2016) and launched a three-part series on the ABC Radio’s Science Show named ‘Beyond the Coal Rush’, which helped widen the public debate in Australia.

While tackling climate change is a huge task and the results of this work are difficult to measure, Goodman is hopeful about the long-term impact of his team’s work.

“Our ultimate goal is to help stop climate change, but this is an impact that is impossible to measure at this stage, as this process is likely to extend well beyond our lifespan.

“We have been able to make the issue more tangible for the general public by giving them a deeper perspective of how fossil fuel extraction affects their own wellbeing, land and communities,” Prof Goodman says.

Case study

The Problem

Although the burning of coal for electricity is the main cause of climate change, the coal mining industry continues to grow globally and there are still many supporters.

The Response

Headed by Professor James Goodman, UTS and the University of Sydney researchers joined to figure out what it takes to stop coal mining and how to make the abstract issue of climate change more tangible for ordinary people.

What helped accomplish this?

To move away from a global debate that people can’t relate to, the research team demonstrated the everyday effects on the surrounding community which include noise, health threats, water safety and the loss of agricultural land.

What has changed as a result?

The project was able to engage the public and make the longer-term outcomes of fossil fuel extraction a more immediate concern by demonstrating that it is a problem that affects real people and real communities.


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