Rebecca Willis

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When politics becomes really dysfunctional, the temptation is to just be quite a cynical realist and say, That’s just how the world is now. But the more I think about it, the more I think that when you’re confronted with these problems, you actually need to double down on the idealism. You need to offer really tangible examples of how it could be different. And that’s what climate assembly was, for me. It was taking people seriously, it was about not consensus, necessarily, but it was about respectful debate. And it was about citizens and politicians working together on a on a joint solution.

Ajani Stella  02:24

All right. Hi, I’m Ajani Stella, a sophomore at Hunter College High School.

Nicholas Wu  02:31

And I’m Nicholas Wu. I’m a senior at Hunter College High School.

Ajani Stella  02:36

In our schools, we don’t really get a chance to talk about climate change that much. Maybe we’ll get a bit of it in biology class or in earth science. They’ll talk about it at the lunch table, but there’s no real dialogue. So in partnership with City Atlas, me and Nick and a few other students decided to go on a journey of making a podcast where we interviewed a few different experts. Here, we here we want to know what they have to say about climate change, climate science and climate action in New York City and abroad. This project was founded by Kevin and Gabriel and Adam, and this is the second episode of our second season. Our aim is to grow conversation on climate change among friends and family, especially between young people who are the future of climate action. So joining us today is our guest, Dr. Rebecca Willis. Dr. Willis, can you introduce yourself?

Rebecca Willis  03:26

Hi, I’m Rebecca Willis. And I’m a professor of Energy and Climate governance at Lancaster University, which is in the north of England.

Ajani Stella  03:39

Thanks so much, Rebecca. Nick, why don’t you get us started on our first question.

Nicholas Wu  03:45

Sure. So Dr. Willis, as an educator, we’re curious about your thoughts on climate curriculum. So we want to know what you would put into a 1.5 Celsius high school curriculum for students. So for a curriculum taking either that target or a different one into account. What do you think are the most important things to include?

Rebecca Willis  04:10

Where do I start? I mean, climate crisis should be right across the curriculum. You need science, you need Earth Science, ecology, physics, chemistry to understand the problem. So it should be all those lessons. It’s also a really important question in economics and in civic education, because we need people who can be active on climate change. Who can be talking to their politicians about climate change. Who can be talking to friends and family. So I would want to give students to give some  really good understanding of the problem, but also empower them to be able to develop the solutions, whether that be technological solutions or civic solutions, being part of the change that needs to happen.

Nicholas Wu  05:20

You were talking about how interdisciplinary approaches like economics and science, how that’s really important for climate education. So what do you think about the balance between the two different, I guess, seemingly, very different disciplines? In regards to educating kids? How do we combine those two?

Rebecca Willis  05:45

Yeah, so to give you an example, I’m trained in social science. So I have three degrees in social science. I’m not a scientist, I’m not a mathematician. But to do my work well, I have to understand the science, I have to be able to read a graph. So I have to be a critical thinker, I have to be able to understand and assimilate a lot of different disciplines, and then have my own specialism, which in my case is, you know, how governments and people should be responding to climate change. So you know, in other words, the social science piece of the puzzle. So I think, for students, definitely in high school, it’s about getting that breadth, that you can understand each area of the challenge, but then also encouraging students to specialize in the bits that you know that they understand the best, and that where they want to contribute knowledge, as well as understanding the evidence base.

As educators, we need to be completely upfront about the scale of the challenge.
In fact, our leaders need to be as well.”


Ajani Stella  07:02

I’d like to talk a bit more about contributing knowledge. And so how can you just tell us a bit more how you think, or how you see youth learning about climate educate about climate change and climate action, transforming into them, then contributing knowledge in their future careers, whatever? That may be?

Rebecca Willis  07:29

Sure. Yeah. I think there’s always there’s always this dilemma in educating around climate change about how much time you put and how much emphasis you put on explaining the problem. Because the problem is big and scary, and difficult to live with. And, you know, that’s unfortunately the reality that we are now in. And so some people say that you should play that down that you shouldn’t scare people with the reality of it.

My view on that is that we need to be, as educators, we need to be completely upfront about the scale of the challenge. In fact, our leaders need to be as well. Our politicians need to be, they need to be really upfront about the scale of the challenge. But then also, make sure that people understand in a very positive sense, the role that they can play. And, you know, what ever direction young people’s careers take, they will be able to contribute, whether they become electricians and fit heat pumps, or you know, whether they go into politics or business, or become educators themselves, there are ways of really making a difference on the climate crisis in all those professions. So, I don’t want people to think that they have to have climate change in their job title, or the title of their study program or degree in order to be able to make a difference.

Ajani Stella  09:26

That’s so great. Thank you for telling us about that. Nick, you want to ask the next question?

Nicholas Wu  09:33

If you had something in mind, you can go ahead.

Ajani Stella  09:37

All right. So I’d like to talk a bit more about your book. Can you tell us a bit about your book, your work there, as Nick is showing us? We have some copies of your work.

Rebecca Willis  09:55

Excellent. So the book is called “Too Hot to Handle: The Democratic Challenge of Climate Change.” It was released in I think, the same month as Netflix ‘Too hot to handle,’ which is a little bit different. I hadn’t quite realized that Netflix was going to come out with that. The book is about how we really need to lean into democracy to solve the climate crisis. I think there’s been this implicit view that climate change is too big and difficult for people to get their heads around, and so it would be better if the experts were in charge somehow. That the scientists and, you know, the UN and a few politicians should just should just tell us what to do, and we should accept it. And I think that’s fundamentally wrong. I think it’s morally wrong. But I think also that, climate, the climate crisis will affect our lives, both the impact of the climate crisis, and also the action that we need to put in place to tackle it, that will affect our lives. We’re all experts in our own lives, we have a lot to contribute to the solution. And I think that by expanding democracy, by involving people more, both in the problem, and in what we do about it, we will actually do much better in tackling the challenge.

Ajani Stella  11:32

That bottom up approach is really interesting. And actually, our guest for our last podcast, Dr. Capstick, was saying really similar things. I was wondering if you could speak a bit more to how we can include democracy and include the public in our conversations it because I know that can be really difficult, a difficult task?

Rebecca Willis  11:54

Sure. Well, one way of looking at it is the what people tend to think of as democracy as in the chance to elect your leaders every four years or five years, is actually a very, very minimalist concept of democracy, sort of the representative democracy where, yes, we get a vote. But then politicians kind of go about their work without actually properly talking to people about what they’re trying to do, without properly forming partnerships, with citizens, with the public, to tackle these big challenges together. I think that’s really problematic. And it’s increasingly problematic with these really complex, long term problems, not just the climate crisis, things like pensions, or how we handle new technologies, robotics, that sort of thing. It’s not something that that people can express their views on just by voting in an election every few years. So one thing that I’ve been really interested in is looking at ways in which citizens can make their voices heard all the time, not just during elections, one of the ways of doing that is, is through things like citizens’ assemblies, which are sort of formal processes that, that include a representative group of citizens who help politicians make decisions. Deliberative polls, which are popular in the US are another version of that. Or just by really encouraging civic action by you by, you know, making sure that there’s a good dialogue with politicians, that we design climate policies which allow people to take part in the solutions, maybe, you know, owning a stake in your local renewable energy cooperatives, that kind of thing. There’s all kinds of ways that we can create a more active democracy around climate change. So I’m still exploring all the different ways that you could do that. And that’s what my research looked at.

Ajani Stella  14:30

That’s really interesting. Thank you. Building on this lens of who’s listened to and how we can make our voices heard. Your book talks a lot about how how the power dynamics between different countries and how wealthier quote, unquote first world nations are often often dominate the climate conversation. To share a bit of my own experience. I was actually an observing delegate 26 the climate conference for the United Nations last November. And I noticed this similar thing I spoke with the delegation to the quote the WHA, a West African nation. And they’re telling me how their story isn’t isn’t highlighted in a global conversation when it when it really should be. So how would you how do you speak in the, in your book and in your research about these complex power dynamics?

Rebecca Willis  15:29

Yeah, I think it’s really important to acknowledge that climate change will affect different countries in different ways. And you have all extremes, don’t you. At one end, you have countries like the small island states, like countries that are, you know, vulnerable to hurricanes and so on, for whom climate change threatens the future of their very existence as a country. So the stakes are really, really high for them.

At the other end of the scale, you have those countries for whom eliminating fossil fuels is an existential threat, at least to the economy. So you know, you look at the Middle East, in countries whose entire economy is based around oil exports, those countries where people don’t pay income tax, because the government gets all the revenue it needs from oil sales. And you can understand, you begin to understand, not to excuse, but to understand why they stall the climate negotiations, because it’s a real threat for them as well. And, you know, the US is an interesting case, because it’s probably in the middle somewhere, obviously, it is a big fossil fuel producer. And it is, you know, vulnerable, as we all are the impacts of climate change, but it’s probably somewhere in the middle between those two extremes, I would say. So you’ve got that you’ve got those extremes in terms of vulnerability to climate change, and vulnerability to, to fossil fuel phase out, and then overlaid across that you’ve got, you know, disparities of wealth and power. And, you know, as a result of that you create the most complex diplomacy you could ever imagine, as Ajani you probably witnessed firsthand at COP 26. I mean, when you look at that, it’s absolutely, when you look at that the Paris Agreement, and the Glasgow Pact are absolutely phenomenal diplomatic achievements. Not enough. Not enough, but incredible to see that level of cooperation.

Nicholas Wu  18:16

So speaking more on the IR, International Relations topic that you were just explaining. So one thing you’ve argued in the past, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that the burning of fossil fuels is very entrenched in the systems, shall we say. Developed countries like the US, like the UK, and therefore a lot of politicians are reluctant to transition quickly to renewable energy. But we were just talking about the developed world. So how do you foresee that process happening in the developing world with regards to energy since perhaps not all developing countries can afford renewable energy at this moment?

Rebecca Willis

Rebecca Willis  19:03

Yeah, so my point there is that we’re social animals. We exist in societies with both physical infrastructure, and what you might call cultural infrastructure or cultural expectations, which are shaped by that society and its history. And energy plays an absolutely crucial role in that. So where I live in the north of England, it’s quite a rural area, it’s really hard to get around without a car. If you don’t have a car, you’re socially excluded. Because you can’t get where you want to, you know, shopping’s a problem, that sort of thing. I know it’s the same for a lot of places in the US. Not the big cities. or not some of the big cities. So a lot of the focus gets placed on us as individuals. Like, why do you use your car all the time? But it’s actually about the sort of systems and the structures that we’re embedded within. So you asked that what that means for developing countries? I think it’s hardest for developing countries like India and China, if they can still be classed as developing countries who already have established fossil fuel infrastructures. So you know, coal, for example. They need to transition quickly. And that is a challenge. I would question what you say about about whether they can afford it, because actually, the cheapest form of energy now, probably cheaper than anything is actually solar. And what we’ve seen in in, in some areas, and particularly, in India, for example, is the really, really rapid development of solar technology, in places and the rollout of solar in places that aren’t connected to the main grid. So we see that in India, we’ve seen that in some parts of Africa as well. So what you could say in those countries is that they’re sort of creating a non fossil infrastructure. And the, you know, the absolute best thing would be if they managed to leapfrog the developed countries, so that they developed non fossil infrastructure from the start, and that’ll be incredible. But that isn’t going to happen if the richer countries are offering finance to these countries to build fossil based power stations, which is what the UK still does. The US probably does as well, the World Bank still does. So, that’s another aspect of diplomacy, isn’t it?

Ajani Stella  22:22

So interesting. I definitely agree. On that, on that lens of building green from the beginning. What role in this strategy do you do you think that climate finance organizations, intergovernmental finance organizations, like the Green Climate Fund, or the green environment, Global Environment Facility, I think is another one, what role are these organizations playing? And what role could they play in the future?

Rebecca Willis  22:55

I’m not an expert on climate finance at all. So going back to what we were saying at the beginning, I have to understand a little bit about it to be able to understand the whole picture. But let me go back to this point, the International Energy Agency has said that if we’re going to keep to the Paris commitment of global warming of 1.5 degrees or less, that means that we can’t build any new fossil fuel extraction infrastructure anywhere in the world. And that’s, you know, a pretty clear fact, really, there’s plenty of academic research to back that up. So that should be the starting point for for all international finance, not just climate finance, but all finance. And actually, the debate on that has been shifting. encouragingly, because when I wrote the book, I wrote it in 2019, and there was hardly any debate about phasing out fossil fuels. And two years later, Glasgow, the text, the final text included some wording on phasing down of coal. And again, it’s not enough, but it is incredible progress in quite a short space of time.

Nicholas Wu  24:39

So you were just talking about how you wrote the book in 2019. And I’m curious about since there have been some pretty major events instance, say the COVID pandemic, for example, and COP 26, if the opinions that you lay out in “Too hot to handle” have changed anyway, at all, as a result of these huge events that we’ve had happened recently.

Rebecca Willis  25:07

Sure, I would say, you know, they’ve changed for the better. And for the worse, I’ll start with the worst. I think the combined effect of the COVID pandemic, and what we’re seeing now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they have just shaken world politics in ways that I haven’t seen in in my lifetime. And it’s really uncertain what that means for climate. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. But I think it’s just that that level of sort of disruption and uncertainty is something that none of us could have predicted. I think the good thing is that, even since even between writing the first draft and the second draft of my book, we had this incredible upsurge in climate activism, driven by young people, and it really made the difference. So, you know, suddenly, and I’d be interested in if it was the same in the US, but in the UK, suddenly, politicians were falling over each other to stress their climate ambitions, to say that they were really serious about this problem. Compared with when I did my research, interviews with with politicians just a few years beforehand, and really, they didn’t think it was important to talk about it. So, you know, a really rapid shift in a small space of time. And I think that shows to me the importance of protest, and particularly the role of young people in just saying to politicians that we’re not gonna put up with this, this is our future you’re talking about. That doesn’t mean that I’m putting all the burden on young people by any means. It really winds me up when people go, Oh, don’t worry, the next generation will solve it. I think that’s really, really problematic. Having said that, the climate strikes, and the work of groups like Extinction Rebellion have really made a difference.

Ajani Stella  27:39

Yeah, I mean, we’ve seen all we’ve seen the huge amounts of protests that have been happening even just the last two years since Fridays for Future started. And I think that’s really cool. For me, I think it’s, it’s really interesting to hear your perspective on that. Because recently, I’ve become more disillusioned with protests myself, I feel like we’ve been doing them so much, and we haven’t gotten as much change as we hoped for. But then hearing what you’re saying, it’s making me realize that we have, we have gotten this change. We entered climate change into in national, international conversations. Two years ago, or three years ago, climate protest happens, people wouldn’t be talking about at their dinner table. Now, I think they might be. On that lens, chapter seven of your book talks a lot about national climate strategies and stuff that I know we can do on on a on a national scale. In addition to protests, what are some other strategies that you found with both public engagement and policy work?

Rebecca Willis  28:55

I think it’s important both to create the political space for the debate about climate and then use that space well. So creating the space, that’s where activism comes in. And by activism, I don’t just necessarily mean you know, protesters on the street. I mean corporate activism. If you look at what’s happened around sustainable investment, for example, and some of the stands now being taken by people within people and organizations within the financial sector, that’s activism.

You know, if you look at what what university people within universities are doing, in terms of divestment, and so on, that’s activism as well. So, you know, it’s about being really clear about the problem and being cross. Being cross is really important. So that’s creating the space.

And then using the space is about making sure that politicians having been convinced that they need to act on the problem, allowing them to make the best possible decisions. And that is where I’ve spent a lot of my career in the kind of softly, softly working with government trying to make sure that their tax proposals work in the best way possible that they make the best that they they make the best legislation they can give in the room for maneuver that they have. I have to say that looking back over my career, I feel like I’ve been too softly softly and I wish that the gloves had come off earlier, to be honest. But it doesn’t need absolutely everyone to just stand on the streets and demand action. You know, it doesn’t need every single one of us to be a Greta Thunberg. But it certainly needs lots of people like her.

Ajani Stella  31:15

Yeah, for sure. On that note of engaging with politicians, and as you said, pulling the gloves off and public engagements. You were a key leader in the UK climate assembly, or I believe that’s what it was called, correct me if I’m wrong. But could you tell me more about your role in this? And about just what what what your goals for this work and how you hope to continue with this without them?

Rebecca Willis  31:49

Sure. So Climate Assembly UK was a national citizens’ assembly on climate change. And it was commissioned by the UK Parliament. So by all the political parties — it had cross party support, which is a very rare thing for you guys. Right? It’s pretty rare here, but but we managed it. So Parliament commissioned this work, and the job was to get 108 citizens who were representative of the country as a whole in terms of age, ethnicity, social background, whereabouts in the country that they lived. So they’re like a perfect representation of your country in miniature. And when I walked into the room, the first weekend, it was just amazing to see, you know, my country perfectly represented before me, it was quite a moment. So you get this mini public as it’s sometimes called, and then you say to them, look, we’ve got this huge challenge of climate change, you know, we’re going to have to solve this collectively, we want to know what you think.

And so over the course of four weekends, we started with a learning phase where we talked to the citizens about, you know, what is climate change, what needs to be done? You know, what the challenge is, and then we had a couple of weekends of dialogue where they got to talk to each other and to experts about what needs to be done. And they then develop their own recommendations for how the UK should meet its climate targets. And I was involved as what’s called an expert lead, which meant I was helping the citizens guiding them through their discussions and deciding which speakers they should hear from, how the discussion should be structured, and so on. And the thing that that most struck me about being involved in the climate assembly was that, essentially, if you take people seriously, if you respect them, if you give them the time, and space and access to get information, they come up with really sensible decisions. And it’s almost the opposite from the kind of polarized clickbait politics that we’ve somehow settled for. Its real politics. You know, it’s like people from really different backgrounds, debating with each other, compromising, working out where the common ground is, and it’s just absolutely magical to see that. I mean, it works for making decisions on climate change. It’s also you know, it also works for a lot of other really tricky issues, I think.

Nicholas Wu  34:56

So you were just talking about how it I guess it seems like, once you were in this assembly, the politics were so much, I guess, healthier than what we see, I guess I don’t really know as much about the UK, but certainly in the United States, it’s really a mess, right? So how exactly like — what’s next? How do we translate what you saw in the assembly? And what the French have done, and I forgot what they called it, but their own citizens convention into politics to deal with the extreme polarization we have. Now, I know in your book, you talked about representation, changing our ideas about that. But yeah, I’m curious about what you think about that idea.

Rebecca Willis  35:43

Yeah, so I mean, I’d say a couple of things. The first is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. When politics becomes really dysfunctional, as if I’m allowed to pass judgment, as it seems to be in the States with your polarization, as it has been here [in the UK] over issues like Brexit, the temptation is to just be quite a cynical realist and say, That’s just how the world is now. But the more I think about it, the more I think that when you’re confronted with these problems, you actually need to double down on the idealism. You need to say, it doesn’t have to be like this. And you need to give, you need to offer really tangible examples of how it could be different. And that’s what climate assembly was, for me. It was taking people seriously, it was about not consensus, necessarily, but it was about respectful debate. And it was about citizens and politicians working together on a on a joint solution.

And there have actually been lots and lots of experiments like this in the US. There was one which I find fascinating, a process called America in One Room, if you come across that. It was a research study not specifically about climate, but they basically got a representative group of American citizens together for a few weekends. And, you know, some of them said, you know, I’m a Democrat, I’ve never actually had a proper conversation with a Republican about politics before, I’d never understood what it’s like to, you know, be a Republican from the Midwest. And, you know, I’ve lived all my life as a New York Democrat. And actually even just having those conversations allowed them to understand each other a lot better. So, I mean, I’m not so naively idealistic that I think you can just sort of wave a magic wand over climate assembly and everyone lives happily ever after. But I do think that you need to confront the cynicism with some really robust and practical idealism.

Ajani Stella  38:28

Yeah, that’s really interesting. I wanted to circle back a bit to talking about the climate assemblies. We said that there’s this great progress on having a representative, real democracy or as Nick put it, a healthier democracy. So after we had this assembly, what’s next? What’s the next step in achieving and achieving widespread recognition in convincing politicians that this is that we need climate action now?

Rebecca Willis  39:11

Well, the next step after climate assembly in terms of engaging citizens in, in climate action, for me is to look at how climate assemblies aren’t just kind of one off, you know, Big Bang, but actually they become the way that you do climate action the way that you do climate policy. So following on from the climate assembly, I’m working with the UK Climate Change Committee, who are the government’s advisers on climate change. And we’re looking at how you can work with citizens to make everyday decisions about how to move away from gas heating in the home and how to promote a low carbon diet, that kind of thing. So, just a sort of a sort of more low key, but probably more impactful change to the way government works. And so I really want to see that. But that’s very sort of inside track, you know, how government works.

I also think there’s, as I was saying earlier, I think there’s huge benefit of social movements working from the outside, putting pressure on. And preferably social movements coming from unusual places. So one of the most brilliant climate campaigns in the UK is by the Women’s Institute, who you probably don’t know the Women’s Institute there. It’s basically like, imagine you’re sort of 50, something, farmer’s wife, who gets together with her friends, and the cliche is that they get together and make jam and bake cakes. And it’s like a kind of Rotary Club or something for very, very traditional women. And they decided to run a climate campaign. And it’s brilliant, because, you know, if the Women’s Institute goes and talks to an MP, talks to their local politician or their national politician, and says, we, from our vantage point, as women and mothers and members of our community, we’re really worried about climate change, and we want you to act, and we’re watching you, that’s really powerful. So in a way, the less likely a protestor you are, the more powerful you can be as a climate activist. Be more Women’s Institute is what I’m saying. 

Nicholas Wu  42:15

So we’ve talked a lot about including more people, and just generally expanding our democracy. But one thing that always bothers me is that, especially in the United States, I think it’s not even 70% of the country, and this is all ages, believes that global warming is a serious issue, and then even less think that humans are causing it. So does there have to be some sort of prioritization between convincing the people first that we need to do something about it, and that it’s our fault, before expanding our democracy, like you’ve discussed happens, or can we do that effectively, at the same time?

Rebecca Willis  43:02

I think the way that you convince people is to engage them and to take them seriously. So in the UK, the stats are a bit different in the US, you’re an outlier, right? In the UK, there are very few people who question the science of climate change or or of anthropogenic climate change. But at the same time, we have vanishingly few people who take it into account when they cast their votes. We have few people speaking out about it. And the biggest challenge, I think, is to convert people who are worried about climate change, but stay quiet, into active climate citizens. And so if you did that, in the US, that would be an incredible group to work with. To a certain extent, you don’t need to spend time trying to convince the most die hard climate deniers that they’re wrong. In fact, if you do that, they will double down on their views. And you know, the research definitely shows that. But what you can do is marginalize them by making climate concern and climate action kind of normal and everyday and sensible.

Nicholas Wu  44:43

Yeah, I was just gonna say, I think that’s hard when our former president wasn’t exactly, you know, a huge supporter of the climate movement. But yeah, really interesting. I totally agree.

Rebecca Willis  44:57

Yeah, I mean, I think just to come back I think, you know, a sort of strategic problem for climate action is that the left have been much more vocal about it than the right, generally, is that I mean, even in so obviously, in the US, you know, you’ve got that Republican / Democrat split on climate. But in the UK, even though our, you know, the conservatives who are our right wing party, even though they’re absolutely signed up to the science, even though they have policy on climate change, they don’t really tell a very good story about it. Whereas the left, like, you know, they’re all over it, the climate justice story is like, really out there. And so one of the things that I would really like to see is, is much more work with right wing parties and voters. You know, there must be, I mean, I’m sorry, I feel like I’m telling you guys, the other side of the Atlantic how to do your job now. But you know, there are going to be Republicans who are concerned about climate, who, you know, fundamentally disagree with Trump. You know, who’s giving them a voice? And actually, are those people being put off by the fact that, that there’s a very strong left narrative on climate?

Ajani Stella  46:28

Yeah, I think I mean, at least speaking from this American perspective, and by the way, please, please do tell us how to do our job because clearly we’re not doing it right over here. Um, I think a lot of the problem arises from both sides just being so absolutist. And what I mean by that is as a as a profound leftist who wears my opinions on my sleeve. I’ve noticed how a lot of my fellow Democrats just refuse to reach across the aisle, especially in the last five years since the since the Trump presidency reshaped American politics. There’s so much just writing off of either side. And I get that it can be difficult to agree with people that are that, that you just firmly disagree with. But climate change doesn’t see it that way. I mean, the clock is ticking. And we we need action. And the only way we can do that is by reaching across the aisle. On a different track, I want to talk a bit more about about the the the bottom up action that we continue to return back to in terms of being a good of being climate, citizens voting with voting with climate change, and, and, and participating climate conversation, like you were mentioning earlier. What are some ways that listeners of this podcast or everyday people can become good climate citizens and can engage in this process in meaningful ways?

Rebecca Willis  48:23

It’s something I think about a lot. And I get really frustrated. Whenever there’s a new report on climate science, or whenever climate hits the headlines. There’s always media pieces left, right and center on how you can reduce your climate footprint, your carbon footprint, and it drives me crazy, because, I mean, those things are important, you know, I’ve got a a secondhand electric vehicle now, you know, I use my bike most of the time I fly very, very rarely, I try and do all those things. I’ve almost cut out meat, you know, absolutely fine. We have to do those things. But focusing on our individualized consumption divisions is actually quite disempowering. Especially when we, as we were talking about earlier, when we are embedded, at least in the UK, and US, we are embedded in a very, very high carbon economy and society. And so I think that I mean, absolutely do do those those individual consumer decisions, but if you get to do them, also, chat about them. Set an example.

And also tell your politicians how you want to change the system to make it easier to do the right thing. So, you know, in the in the UK, it’s a small country. We have really good train links between our major cities, but it’s cheaper to fly. Like, that’s just crazy. To solve that one, we actually need government on our side. And so it needs people to get cross to talk to politicians to play the activist role. But then there’s also a kind of friendly side of this, which is, you know, to be a climate citizen in your own community to see, you know, what you can do to what you can do to improve things for your neighborhood, whether that be setting up a citizens jury, like I hope to do in my town, or looking at community energy projects, and then again, having that link back into politics, you know, saying we’ve done this, this should be normal. So there’s, there’s lots and lots of ways that you can be involved. But also, I think, getting back to this point about reaching across the aisle, I think, being curious about other people’s positions, not condemning them because of what they think but just sort of being curious and asking the questions, starting to have those climate conversations is really important.

Nicholas Wu  51:34

I think we need to wrap it up soon. So I’m curious, do you stay in touch with your university classmates? And do you have any idea about what they think about this whole topic?

Rebecca Willis  51:55

I have a really close group of friends that I was at university with. Like 30 years ago, I’m showing my age now. And I do talk to them about it. I’ve talked to them more about it in the past three or four years than anytime before that. It makes me laugh that if they talk about a holiday they went on the involves that involved long haul travel, they’ll then apologize, because I’m there, basically. They’ll ask if they’re allowed to order the steak. But I also think that I found them a really useful group, too. As a sort of sounding board, you know, they’ve all had had success in their various careers. And it’s really interesting to talk to them about whether it’s something that comes up in their organization, and they’re a bit of a research tool for me from that point of view. But yeah, I’ve definitely noticed a difference in the last couple of years about how much more they understand the issue, how much more worried they are, and how much more determined they are to be part of the solution.

Ajani Stella  53:09

That determination is just, it’s reinvigorating, I think that so, so often, it feels like, it’s just the three of us talking. It feels like we’re spinning in circles that no one’s actually listening. But then we hear about conversations like that, or we see the hundreds of 1000s of people turning out for climate protest, or the UK climate assembly. And all these different events are giving me hope. We’ve talked a lot about the bottom up approach, combining with real action from from governments, both by recognizing voices from their citizens, recognizing, recognizing smaller nations who are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. And also thinking about how we can engage people that we don’t necessarily agree with, how we can reach across the aisle, how we can, how we can have a have a real discourse about climate change in climate justice. I’d like to ask you if you have any final words or final insights to share with us?

Rebecca Willis  54:28

No, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. I want to say that I want to encourage you to be part of this huge and exciting climate action that we have to do. But I don’t want to put the burden firmly on your shoulders. I want to encourage you to ask generations above you to to share that burden and to join forces with you, because we’ll only do this if we if we manage to have that conversation across the generations as well as across other divides.

Nicholas Wu  55:21

I actually have one last question that I’m just dying to ask. So we’ve returned to the back to the theme of education. We’re all very curious about what the situation is, like, in the UK, in regards to teaching climate science teaching, about the economics, the politics, because we said at the beginning, it’s not really brought up very much throughout the American education system. So I don’t know about UK. So I’m wondering about that.

Rebecca Willis  55:56

Yeah, I’m not sure that it’s a lot better here. I mean, it. It does appear on our curriculum in science and geography. But it’s nowhere near where it needs to be. So I, you know, we’re not getting it right, either. I’m sorry. I’d love to be a brilliant example for you. I think I’ve been thinking about that at a university level, because that’s where I work.

And I think it’s about creating links between different disciplines, and actually seeing the climate crisis as an opportunity for students and researchers, faculty from very, very different disciplines to come together to work on a problem which we all have to tackle. So it is the ultimate way to create proper interdisciplinarity. I think for school students, it is difficult, because I mean, even in the UK, you get accused of being political if you talk about climate change too much. And I think that it will take some some pretty brave educators, probably prodded and encouraged by their students, especially their school strike Fridays for Future students, to actually lay out why it’s so important to have those conversations as part of the process of education.

Nicholas Wu  59:56

Okay, thank you so much. We’ve been talking to Dr. Rebecca Willis, researcher and professor at the University of Lancaster. I’m Nicholas Wu, thank you all for listening.

Ajani Stella  1:00:14

And I’m Ajani Stella, this has been Bridging the Carbon Gap. Thanks everyone. Yeah.

A new paper from Dr. Willis and colleagues looks at whether the possibility of greenhouse gas removal (GGR) might slow down or have an effect on society’s goals for cutting carbon emissions:
McLaren, D., Willis, R., Szerszynski, B., Tyfield, D., & Markusson, N. (2023). Attractions of delay: Using deliberative engagement to investigate the political and strategic impacts of greenhouse gas removal technologies. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 6(1), 578–599.