The Blog

Reducing Climate Change: Advice for Educators - Interview With Professor Douglas Crawford-Brown

Douglas Crawford-Brown is an Emeritus Professor of Environmental Science and Policy and Emeritus Director of the Institute for the Environment at the University of North Carolina in the US.

He moved to the UK in 2008 and has recently retired from the University of Cambridge as Director of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research in the Department of Land Economy.

Douglas spearheaded the CAMBRIDGE RETROFIT programme, a landmark community-scale energy efficiency initiative to retrofit 65,000 buildings over the next 30 years, helping to make the Cambridge area the first to reach national carbon reduction targets. The projects focus on all aspects of energy in buildings from thermal envelopes to energy supply to lighting to plug load, and can be linked to more general refurbishments aimed at improving the quality, value and comfort of buildings.

He notes: 'I started Cambridge Retrofit - which now involves more than 100 public and private sector organisations - because I see climate change as the defining environmental issue of our times. Solving the challenge requires actions on all fronts, from individuals to businesses to governments. Those actions are made so much easier if we have knowledgable citizens, and that knowledge begins at the earliest stages of education. Hence my decision a decade ago to devote the rest of my life to creating that knowledge and educating the public on personal actions they can take'.

In your opinion, what is the greatest contributor to Global warming?

The biggest contributor is emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use, especially (at the moment) in the developed nations of the world. However, from this point forward the emissions in the developing nations such as China and India will dominate the problem.

The second biggest contributor is changes in land use from agriculture and forestry as so much of the world moves towards the diet of the developed nations, which is rich in meat. This has been leading to deforestation, which both releases carbon dioxide during burning and reduces the vegetation that could absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The agriculture sector is also responsible for many of the greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, such as methane and nitrogen oxides.

What advice would you give to educators to reduce Climate Change?

Certainly the energy and material consumption of their schools must improve, reducing both of these through energy retrofits of buildings, purchasing of low carbon energy, and reduction of consumables. But in the end their major impact may be through educating their students as to the personal actions that will lead to reduced energy and material use, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

What changes need to be set in motion to improve our education system?

Climate change, and environmental science and policy more generally, must remain on the curriculum, and even increase at all ages. This will require teachers becoming more familiar with the inherently multidisciplinary nature of environmental science and policy, and stay up to date on the rapidly evolving science and the international Conference of the Parties (COP) policy changes.

What infrastructure or technology can be introduced to educational buildings to make them more sustainable?

There are two main answers here, since the sustainability of a building is a combination of technologies and behaviours. We know that about half of the difference in sustainability between two buildings is due to technology and half to differences in behaviour of occupants.

For technology, the primary issue is energy consumption. We must 'retrofit' buildings for greater energy efficiency (see the retrofit effort I lead in Cambridge at This includes wall and loft or ceiling insulation; double or triple glazed windows; high efficiency heating and cooling systems; LED lighting; high efficiency appliances (such as refrigerators). It then includes reduction in person-km traveled by staff and students, and/or a switch to low carbon transport options (such as high fuel efficiency vehicles, ride share etc).

For behaviour, there is a need to turn schools into 'living laboratories for sustainability, so both staff and students can see how the school manages to achieve sustainability, and then bring these ideas to their homes. This includes measuring the energy and carbon dioxide associated with daily operation, and displaying this for all to see. Schools can then run natural experiments in which staff and students change their behaviours at fixed points in time, and see what this does to the energy and carbon dioxide.

What will be the maximum impacts of Climate Change for humanity in 100 years from now?

The primary impacts at that time will be increased mean temperature, increased drought frequency (in summers) and increased flooding frequency (in winters). These will be associated both with human health (deaths due to heat waves, although partially offset by fewer deaths in winter), and economic impacts from loss of production capacity during extreme weather.

But the amount of impact will depend on how high we allow the temperature to rise, and what kinds of adaptation strategies we produce. The countries in greatest danger are what we call the 'vulnerable nations'. These are nations such as Small Island Developing States which both have significant climate change impacts and do not have the resources (financial or otherwise) to respond. The developed nations have created a Green Climate Fund to help finance the adaptation measures in such nations and to bring them the low carbon solutions they will need to make the transition to a sustainable future.

Useful Links