My research and teaching is focused on sustainability, particularly climate change mitigation: promoting lower-carbon practices and lifestyles; framing and communication of sustainability issues; responses to energy technologies and policies; and education for sustainability.
I took up this Lectureship in August 2015 after holding a Research Fellowship in Human Dimensions of Climate Change at Aberystwyth University, funded by the Climate Change Consortium of Wales. Earlier I was a UKERC researcher in the Energy Demand Reduction research group at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, before completing my PhD on Promoting Lower-Carbon Lifestyles at the University of Edinburgh. My previous non-academic life involved working at grassroots level with marginalised people: asylum seekers, women involved in prostitution, and homeless people. I have also taught in the Further Education sector and was the joint co-ordinator of a national Quaker environmental charity called Living Witness Project.
By invitation I have advised the Scottish Parliamentary Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee on aspects of the latest Scottish Climate Change Plan, and emissions reduction legislation, relating to behavioural and societal changes necessary to create a sustainable Scotland. I have also advised the steering group that reviewed the Cleaner Air for Scotland strategy in 2019.
I am the Course Organiser of the third year course Responding to Sustainability Challenges, a core course on the innovative interdisciplinary undergraduate MA in Sustainable Development.
I also contribute to the first year core course Introducing Sustainable Development, the Dissertation in Sustainable Development, the online course Sustainability and Social Responsibility (School of Geosciences) and the postgraduate course Case Studies in Sustainable Development (School of Geosciences). I supervise student dissertations for the MSc programmes Global Environment, Politics and Society; Environmental Sustainability; Carbon Management; and Sociology and Global Change.
I aim to facilitate Education for Sustainability, rather than Education about Sustainability, offering students the opportunity to develop their own thinking on, and engagement with, the complex moral, social and political issues involved.
In May 2017 I won the EUSA Teaching Award for Best Personal Tutor and was a runner up in the Best Course category for my course Responding to Sustainability Challenges. You can read about the innovative design of the course, involving lots of active learning, on this blog. Thanks to all the students who nominated me!
- Lower-carbon/sustainable lifestyles
- Pro-environmental behaviour change
- Energy-related social practices
- Climate change communications and discourses
- Perceptions of, and responses to, unconventional energy, energy demand reduction technologies and energy/climate change-related policies
- Education for sustainability
- Sustainability, mindfulness, and well-being
- Social movements for sustainability
I am an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist, drawing on insights from many relevant disciplines (e.g. sociology, psychology, human geography, behavioural economics, science and technology studies, and environmental education). My research employs both qualitative and quantitative methods, often in combination.
Fazey, I. et al (2020) Transforming knowledge systems for life on Earth: Visions of future systems and how to get there. Energy Research & Social Science 70: 101724. (Open access, available to all.)
Howell, R.A., S. Allen. (2019) Significant life experiences, motivations and values of climate change educators. Environmental Education Research 25(6): 813-831. Accepted version here for those without journal access.
Whitehead, M., R. Jones, R. Lilley, R. Howell, J. Pykett. (2019) Neuroliberalism: Cognition, context, and the geographical bounding of rationality. Progress in Human Geography 43(4): 632–649. Accepted version available here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A. (2018) UK public beliefs about fracking and effects of knowledge on beliefs and support: A problem for shale gas policy. Energy Policy 113: 721–730. Accepted version available here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A. (2018) Carbon management at the household level: a definition of carbon literacy and three mechanisms that increase it. Carbon Management 9(1): 25-35. Accepted version available here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A., S. Allen. (2017) People and planet: Values, motivations and formative influences of individuals acting to mitigate climate change. Environmental Values 26(2): 131-155. Accepted version available here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A., S. Capstick, L. Whitmarsh. (2016) Impacts of adaptation and responsibility framings on attitudes towards climate change mitigation. Climatic Change 136(3): 445-461. (Open access, available to all.)
Whitehead, M., R. Howell, R. Jones, R. Lilley, J. Pykett. (2016) (Re)Inhabiting Awareness: Geography and Mindfulness. Social and Cultural Geography 17(4): 553-573. (Open access, available to all.)
Howell, R.A. (2014) Using the transtheoretical model of behavioural change to understand the processes through which climate change films might encourage mitigation action. International Journal of Sustainable Development 17(2): 137-159. Accepted version here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A. (2014) Investigating the long-term impacts of climate change communications on individuals' attitudes and behavior. Environment and Behavior 46(1): 70-101. Accepted version here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A. (2014) Promoting lower-carbon lifestyles: the role of personal values, climate change communications and carbon allowances in processes of change. (Thesis Summary) Environmental Education Research 20(3): 434-435. Accepted version here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A. (2013) It’s not (just) “the environment, stupid!” Values, motivations, and routes to engagement of people adopting lower-carbon lifestyles. Global Environmental Change 23(1): 281-290. Accepted version here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A. (2012) Living with a carbon allowance: the experiences of Carbon Rationing Action Groups and implications for policy. Energy Policy 41: 250-258. Accepted version here for those wihout journal access.
Howell, R.A. (2011) Lights, camera… action? Altered attitudes and behaviour in response to the climate change film The Age of Stupid. Global Environmental Change 21(1): 177-187. Accepted version here for those without journal access.
Books and book chapters
Howell, R. (2020) The storyteller who wanted to change the world. In: Molthan-Hill, Luna, Wall, Puntha, Baden (Eds) Storytelling for Sustainability in Higher Education: An Educator's Handbook. Routledge: Abingdon, Oxon, UK.
Whitehead, M., R. Jones, R. Lilley, J. Pykett, R. Howell. (2017) Neuroliberalism: Behavioural Government in the Twenty-First Century. Routledge: Abingdon, Oxon, UK.
Pykett, J., R. Howell, R. Lilley, R. Jones, M. Whitehead. (2016) Governing mindfully: shaping policy makers' emotional engagements with behaviour change. In: Jupp, E., J. Pykett, F.M. Smith (Eds) Emotional States: Sites and spaces of affective governance. Routledge: Abingdon, Oxon, UK.
Howell, R., J. Pickerill (2016) The Environment and Environmentalism. In: Daniels, Bradshaw, Shaw, Sidaway, Hall (Eds) An Introduction to Human Geography, Fifth Edition. Pearson: Harlow, UK.
Howell, R. (2015). The storyteller who wanted to change the world. In: Robison, R (Ed.) Sustainability: New Questions, New Answers. GSI: Cambridge, UK. Free download of the book available here.
McGinley, M., N. James, R. Howell (2020) COVID-19, travel behaviours and business recovery in Scotland: a survey of employers to understand their attitudes. A report for the Scottish Government. ClimateXChange, Edinburgh. Available here.
Pykett, J., R. Lilley, M. Whitehead, R. Howell, R. Jones. (2016) Mindfulness, Behaviour Change and Decision Making: An Experimental Trial. ESRC Negotiating Neuroliberalism Project Report. Available here.
Lilley, R, M. Whitehead, R. Howell, R. Jones, J. Pykett. (2016) Mindfulness, Behaviour Change and Engagement in Environmental Policy: An Evaluation. ESRC Negotiating Neuroliberalism Project Report. Available at https://changingbehaviours.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/mindfulnessreportgapfinal.pdf
Lilley, R, M. Whitehead, R. Howell, R. Jones, J. Pykett. (2014) Mindfulness, Behaviour Change and Engagement in Public Policy: An Evaluation. ESRC Negotiating Neuroliberalism Project Report. Available here.
Whitehead, M, R. Jones, R. Howell, R. Lilley, J. Pykett. (2014) Nudging all over the world: Assessing the Impacts of the Behavioural Sciences on Public Policy. ESRC Negotiating Neuroliberalism Project Report. Available at https://changingbehaviours.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/nudgedesignfinal.pdf
Howell, R.A. (2009) The Experience of Carbon Rationing Action Groups: Implications for a Personal Carbon Allowances Policy. UKERC Final Report, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford. Available here; executive summary here.
Howell, R.A. (2017) Book review: Nature, choice and social power by Erica Schoenberger. Local Environment 22(7): 900-902. Accepted version here for those without journal access.
Howell, R.A. (2014) Book review: 10 Billion by Stephen Emmott. Area 46(2): 225-226. Accepted version here for those without journal access.
Blog posts, videos, and other accessible summaries of my research
You can download a 3-page summary of my PhD thesis on Promoting Lower-Carbon Lifestyles, and watch a video presentation about it.
One strand of my research has involved investigating the values, motivations, and routes to engagement of people who have adopted lower-carbon lifestyles. Contrary to popular beliefs/stereotypes, they are not all ‘deep greens’ concerned primarily about ‘the environment’ per se, but are often motivated as much or more by concerns about social justice and the impacts of climate change on poor people (in so-called ‘developing countries’). Read a blog post about these findings here.
Previously, at Aberystwyth University, I was one of the research team on the ESRC-funded project ‘Negotiating Neuroliberalism: changing behaviours, values and beliefs’; the project blog is at http://changingbehaviours.wordpress.com.
Topics interested in supervising
I welcome enquiries from prospective students interested in research supervision in any of the areas of interest outlined above.
Completed research students
Rhys Howell, In sight and in mind: social implications of marine renewable energy (PhD)
Maggie Laidlaw, Volunteering is a balancing act: who's got time for that? (PhD)
Xin Zhang, What influences (non-)adoption of sustainable fashion by young female consumers? (MSc by Research)
Current research students
Lisa Howard, Pro-environmental Voluntary Simplicity: the Lived Experience within Family and Domestic Life (PhD)
Jamie Glisson, ‘Who Will Save Us?’: Mapping values for environmentally-sustainable futures in alternative education in Southern Norway (PhD)
Daryl Tayar, Experiences of people arrested at Extinction Rebellion protests (PhD)
If you are interested in being supervised by Rachel Howell, please see the links below (opening in new windows) for more information: