Climate and Environment Crisis: We're taking action

World globe hovering over hands

Sociology at Lancaster University has provided critical insight into environment-society relations since 1971, with Brian Wynne’s work on risk, uncertainty, and public perceptions just one example. Today, we commit to take action, because ...

... because the science is in. Anthropogenic global heating and climate disruption have reached crisis point (IPCC 2018). Alarming earth system vital signs, such as rapid sea level rise and extreme weather document ‘urgent need for action’ (Ripple et al 2019). In addition, biologists show that we are on course for ecological Armageddon, with 1 million species in danger of extinction (Hallman et al 2017, IPBES 2019).

And we commit to take action, because the social science is in. The causes and the consequences of the crisis are systemic, societal, and beyond individuals, deepening inequalities and injustices, and demanding unprecedented societal transformation and courage. The World Bank predicts internal displacement of ‘143 million people by 2050 … if no climate action is taken’ (Rigaud et al. 2018), heralding intensified humanitarian crises and the spectre of climate barbarism (Klein 2019). We are causing and living in multiple crises. It is time to act. We are supporting the University's work towards decarbonising and have devised a detailed action plan, based on the following principles:

●    We will develop our research on environmental and societal change, which covers diverse areas of society-environment interactions, from political ecology and the political economy of environmental exploitation to the experiences of children affected by floods and the digital ethics of interoperability between emergency services. We commit to deepen systemic understanding of the crisis, and to explicitly address the climate and ecological emergency across all relevant research, e.g. migration, health, innovation, inequality and social justice. 

●    We will continue to build awareness through knowledge exchange and public engagement. Sociology at Lancaster University has a deep record of engaged research and public sociology. We are part of a civic university and will continue to drive research co-creation through public lectures, engagement with communities, local authorities, businesses, policy-makers, non governmental organisations, and other stakeholders, both locally and globally.

●    Build effective crisis response through impactful research. Supported by an ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, social science at Lancaster has been able to expand its ability to translate research into change. Building on our research on the climate and environmental crisis, we will develop this, for example through the EPSRC funded DecarboN8 Network.  

●    We will develop our curriculum, teaching and learning to address the crises. We will develop our pedadgogy of mutual learning and spell out the social science where it is relevant, work together to understand causes, consequences, relational politics, and draw connections, for example through our programme of teaching the long view on contemporary issues. We will institute a process to ensure that every student leaves with an understanding of the crisis and is equipped to critically engage with issues that intersect with climate change. We will invite students to shape the curriculum around climate and environmental crisis, for example by including a student representative on the climate emergency committee.

●    We will continue globalising and decolonizing. International collaboration is critical to our response to the crisis, and international research and teaching contributes to this. It is a critical component of decolonizing knowledge production. However, currently this comes at too high a cost in terms of our environmental footprint. We will continue to develop international collaborations in innovative low-carbon ways, building on the Tyndall Travel Strategy. We will examine opportunities to radically and innovatively reduce the carbon and other environmental costs associated with internationalisation.

●    We will put the mechanism in place for net zero emissions by 2030.  As a department with a large international student cohort and extensive research networks and collaborations, academic travel is one area where significant improvements are possible, as is the lighting, heating and cooling of work spaces, procurement, and commuting. Our detailed plan commits us to using the most advanced methods for monitoring and ongoing audit. It imposes a collective emission ceiling and commits us to rapid emission reduction. We will make our progress transparent through a working group chaired by Monika Buscher, which will report by 30th January 2021.

●    We will take positive action. We are defining priorities based on social values of sustainability, equity, human flourishing for the department in a prefigurative effort. This will ensure that our response to the crises does not lead to negative consequences for the department, its staff or students, or collaborators.

●    We will drive systemic change. This declaration is about collective action by the department. We recognise that individual choices are crucial, but this is not about neoliberal responsibilisation of individuals. We recognise that some of the actions that are needed cannot be taken in isolation. There is a need for systemic change at institutional, national and international levels encompassing issues as diverse as finance, measures of success, and student recruitment. We will work with other departments, the faculty, the University, professional associations (e.g. BSA, ISA) and other bodies as appropriate in order to help bring about the systemic and cultural innovation needed to enable knowledge production in the higher education sector as a whole to transform for a more sustainable future.

●    We will influence policy upstream. We operate in a context of neoliberal policy. Laying down new approaches to knowledge production may support change, but some action needs big government commitment, regulation and institutional action. We will develop arguments to support policy development upstream and its implementation with careful attention to social justice and unintended consequences.

Lancaster University’s Sociology Department agrees that ‘We have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity ... and to “tell it like it is”’ (Ripple et al 2019). As social scientists, we can explicate complex social, societal, socio-technical, socio-environmental dynamics, and help anticipate and disclose unintended consequences, politics of visibility and power, exclusions and injustices, articulate critique and creative constructive responses at different societal levels, with different stakeholders, empowering individuals and communities.

With this declaration we - some 300+ sociology, media and cultural studies and social work scholars, students, and professional services professionals, commit to respond to the environmental crisis that threatens life on earth with the actions outlined above. We will continuously review our programme of action and adapt it as necessary.

Lancaster University, Sociology Department


Hallmann, C. A., Sorg, M., Jongejans, E., Siepel, H., Hofland, N., Schwan, H., … de Kroon, H. (2017). More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLOS ONE, 12(10), e0185809.

IPBES. 2019. Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondizio E.S., H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, and C. N. Zayas (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany.

IPCC, 2018: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)].

Klein, N. (2019). On fire: the burning case for a green new deal. Allen Lane.

Rigaud, K. K., De Sherbinin, A., Jones, B., Bergmann, J., Clement, V., Ober, K., Midgley, A. et al. (2018). Preparing for internal migration groundswell. Retrieved from

Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Barnard, P., & Moomaw, W. R. (2019). World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency. BioScience.

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