S1. E15. Rebecca Willis

Rebecca Willis is a a researcher with twenty years’ experience in environment and sustainability policy and practice, at international, national and local level. She is Professor in Energy and Climate Governance at Lancaster University (uni profile, personal website, Twitter).

Her research group is Climate Citizens, which aims to “change how people engage with the creation of climate policy. We want to transform climate policy from something that happens to people, to something that happens with people.”

Theme: crafting a proper negotiated social contract between people in the state around climate, through experiments, action and advice. THere’s something for everyone to do in that, from being an activist, voting through to talking with your neighbours.



Green Alliance

Sustainable Development Commission

Prof Catherine Mitchell

Jim Skea

Michael Marmot

Rebecca’s book “Too Hot to Handle? The Democratic Challenge of Cliamte Change” (Highly recommended!)

UK Climate Assembly

Leeds Climate Commission

UK Government ‘British energy security strategy’

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres “the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”


0:49 – Q1 What are you doing now? And how did you get there?
3:08 – BONUS QUESTION: Why do a doctorate?
5:21 – BONUS QUESTION: What were your findings on how MPs understand and act on climate change, and what can be done about that?
7:56 – Q2. What is the future you are trying to create, and why?
10:03 – BONUS QUESTION: Are there illustrations or hotspots of activity in the renegotiation of the social contract between people and the state on climate?
14:31 – BONUS QUESTION: Is the pathological aversion to engaging people on climate regardless of political stripe (and embedded in the mechanics of the state) or is it a feature of ideology, of wanting a small state where markets deliver all the solutions?
19:49 – Q3. What are your priorities for the next few years, and why?
28:06 – BONUS QUESTION: Are the things which you find yourself shying away from how do you how do you use that academic place, but also keep on retaining the authority that comes with it?
30:10 – Q4. If someone was inspired to follow those priorities, what should they do next?
32:45 – Q5. If your younger self was starting their career now, what advice would you give them?
Q6. Who would you nominate to answer these questions, because you admire their approach?
33:58 – Q7. Is there anything else important you feel you have to say?


-“So I think the one unifying theme behind my career is essentially very practice focused research. So I am interested in getting the best research and evidence behind what needs to happen on climate and environment. And, you know, getting that evidence used by the right people.”

-Why do a doctorate 1: “I had various academic role models in mind; people who use all the advantages of academia in terms of really serious research, the sort of authority that comes with an academic position, and then use that to to achieve the changes that their evidence says needs to happen. This is that sort of activist academic role was one that I’d often admired from afar and I thought I could do that.”

-Why do a doctorate 2: “I also had a burning questions. …which is really essential for doing a PhD because you know, you’re spending three or four years answering one question that you have to really want to know the answer.”

-“The way that [MPs] respond to the climate crisis is conditioned by what they what they think of themselves as a politician, what drives them, why they entered politics, what’s important to them as people. Also just the kind of norms that they see around them. And then also, it crucially depends on what they think. So it also depends very much on whether they think climate is something that will work electorally, and politically.”

-“The future I’m trying to create is one where people are empowered to act on the worries they have about climate change. And they see the links between acting on climate and their own futures and aspirations.”

– Empowered to act not only as individuals but “in terms of the the social contract, which is the oldest idea politically. This idea that we as individuals give up a certain amount of liberty for a collective good that we understand that it’s in our interest to sacrifice some liberty because together we can achieve things that we can’t achieve on our own right.”

-“The outcome I’m trying to achieve is a sort of proper negotiated social contract between people in the state around climate”

-“The UK government is almost pathologically anxious about talking to people about climate, because they see it as a sort of constraint, as a kind of nanny state issue. They want to sort of pretend that you can solve all this with, you know, a new fleet of nuclear power stations and a load of offshore wind.”

-“The thing is that people aren’t daft. They know that the climate crisis is upon us, and they sort of worry about it.They wonder why government isn’t talking to them about it, or saying what could be done differently. So, there’s that sort of cognitive dissonance there between the enormity of the problem and the government sort of pushing away or discussion about it, which is pretty problematic for people.”

-“When you talk about a better sort of social contract on climate, you very quickly get into more localised solutions. That tends to be the kind of next step it tends to be what people want, if you ask them in sort of public dialogue processes. It tends to be where you’re led by the sort of the kinds of policies that would work in terms of local area energy planning, better public transport solutions, or whatever they might be. So, I do think it involves a certain amount of devolution of power from central government to local government, which is problematic for central government, for obvious reasons.”

-“I’m interested in things like the role of advertising and the sort of cultural baggage of advertising and you know, what people think about how you can regulate advertising around high carbon products and services?”

-“The personal answer is a sort of constant reappraisal of whether what I’m doing and what my team is doing, and what other people are doing is in, you know, is the best way to, to respond right now.”

-“I don’t find it that helpful, to look ahead and be constantly thinking, oh, you know, will we succeed or will we fail?…I think being being determined is much more important than being optimistic.”

-“I really shy away from the kind of the hope language I find actually weirdly disempowering. Because we start you know, however much stuff isn’t according isn’t going according to plan, we still got to do stuff.”

-“I was really struck by what Antonio Guterres said about how, you know, the real radicals are actually the people who want to dig the fossil fuels out of the ground, still, rather than keeping them there. Even though, you know, climate activists are called radical, that’s actually, you know, the very sensible, scientifically proven thing to do. And so it’s a funny, so we’ve had, we’ve got a sort of up ended notion of radicalism now.”

“But it makes it difficult for someone in my position where I’m actually trying to work with politicians or government advisory bodies, not just what the what what changes are needed, but actually how to bring them about…Keeping enough sense of radicalism or the the depth of change that’s needed, while being able to hold people’s hands through starting with what’s happening with what the world’s like, right now.”

-In keeping academic authority “staying in your lane is really important. It’s not about whether what you’re saying is really critical, or radical. It’s about whether what you’re saying is grounded and good evidence and analysis.”

-“All most of us are citizens of the country we live in, and you can play an active role doing that, you know, you can go and see your MP, you can make sure that they know what you think about this, you can, you know, work at a sort of community level, you can just, I mean, talk to talking to friends and family is, is incredibly important.”


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