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One day conference: Culture and Decarbonisation

Culture and Decarbonisation: Desire, Subjectivities and Lifestyle Changes in the High-Carbon Past and Low-Carbon Future

May 26, 2022
Canada Room & Council Chamber
09:30 - 18:00

This is a recording of the keynote presentation, given by Prof Imre Szeman on 'Transitioning to a new world of energy'. The conference's three panels can be viewed on SECA's YouTube channel: 

Session 1: Culture and Society-Wide Action for Decarbonisation

Session 2: Decarbonising Life: Cultural Mediations for Alternative Space and Place

Session 3: Roundtable discussion on culture and decarbonisation

Can culture serve as a catalyst for decarbonisation? In the scramble for carbon neutrality and a post-carbon future, the question of culture is often side-lined even within discussions of behaviour and lifestyle changes. However, culture shapes our desires, habits and expectations, which have direct bearings on the carbon intensity of our society. If our past obsession with an energy-intensive lifestyle was grounded in a high-carbon culture—such as petroculture—societal decarbonisation would then entail some form of culture change. We may also argue that ambitious decarbonisation goals, expressed by diverse bodies including commercial organisations, national and municipal governments, are premised on drastic lifestyle changes in which cultural change would be implicit. Does the implied link between culture and decarbonisation mean that culture can lead our journey to a post-carbon future? What evidence do we have for culturally driven decarbonisation on the personal, social and global scales? In this workshop, we will discuss culture’s role in accelerating—and in some cases hindering—societal decarbonisation by bringing together researchers and practitioners that are equally concerned with the future of culture and our planet.

This one-day workshop is exploratory in nature; therefore, we will employ the term culture in a broad sense, including culture as a conceptual framework (e.g., a capitalistic culture), as a form of practice (cultural activities and artistic production) and as shared values or behaviours (e.g., food or travel culture). While our focus will be to discuss culture as a driver for decarbonisation, we will also contemplate the way the ongoing decarbonisation is (re-)defining our culture. To what extent do today’s cultural activity, production and consumption depend upon the high-carbon regime, and how is the ongoing decarbonisation changing the contours of our cultural landscape?

This workshop is organised by the Centre for Sustainability, Equality and Climate Action (SECA), Queen’s University Belfast. Prof Imre Szeman (University of Waterloo, Canada) will deliver the keynote lecture.


Arrival, tea, coffee, welcome and introductions


Session 1: Culture and Society-Wide Action for Decarbonisation

Senni Määttä (chair and intro, QUB)

Amanda Slevin (QUB): 'Communities as catalysts for society-wide decarbonisation'

Ben McAteer (QUB): 'A new research agenda: Exploring the potential of citizen science to instigate community action for sustainability'

Rachael Singleton (Ulster University): 'Why do we litter the places we love? Using psychology to increase pro-environmental behaviour on our beaches'


Session 2: Decarbonising Life: Cultural Mediations for Alternative Space and Place

Damian McIlroy (chair and intro, QUB)

Calum McGeown (QUB): ‘Post-Carbon Space-Making: Politicisation, Participation and the Eco-Social Contract’

Bridget Meehan (Collaboration for Change): ‘Beyond toxic banking - A case study for Northern Mutual and economic democracy’

Niamh Small (QUB): ‘Environmental Peacebuilding: Northern Ireland and the journey to a Just Transition’




Session 3: Roundtable discussion on culture and decarbonisation

Hiroki Shin (chair, QUB)

John Barry (QUB)

Gary Boyd (QUB)

Ali FitzGibbon (QUB)

Bridget Meehan (Collaboration for Change)


Keynote – Imre Szeman (University of Waterloo)


Reception, featuring the artist Gawain Morrison (the Ogham Grove project)


For any enquiries regarding the event, please contact 

Organisers: Hiroki Shin, John Barry, Senni Määttä and Damian McIlroy