Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe joined us today for a Reddit AMA. We’ve compiled some of the best questions and answers below.
Exactly how disheartening is it to be a climate scientist during this administration and what measures can we, as a population, take to make progress on climate policy change in spite of it?
It is frustrating, that’s for sure. As a lead author on the National Climate Assessment, I dedicated hundreds of unpaid hours to a very important report that was met with dismissal and outright falsehoods from the administration when it was released, including the idea that somehow we were “doing this for the money.” If you’d like to see a list of these myths, and my responses, check out this Twitter thread.
However, the interesting thing is that because the administration can’t stop talking about climate change – the latest being this attempt to “decide” whether climate change poses a threat to national security, despite the fact that everyone from four-star generals to the CIA has already weighed in on this and concluded that yes, it does – we are hearing about it a LOT more in the news. Coverage of climate change is way up the last two years and although a big part of that is the fact that we are now seeing and experiencing its impacts in the places where we live, part of that is also the fact that those who want to dismiss climate science, impacts, and solutions just can’t stop themselves from talking about it. Which means in turn that WE talk about it a lot more!
The latest poll results from the Yale Program on Climate Communication shows that a record high number (6 out of 10) Americans are now either concerned or flat-out alarmed about climate change. Is it enough to make people start voting about climate change? I’m not sure it is, yet. But it’s definitely moving in the right direction. And part of that is because we can no longer just shrug and say oh, if it gets to be a big enough problem I’m sure the government will take care of it. Today, we know they will not. And that means that we can’t abnegate our responsibility any more: it’s up to each one of us to make it clear that it’s time to act.
What’s the best way to open a conversation with our peers about climate?
Aha – this is my favourite question!
The best way to start a conversation is not with something depressing or scary about the science, and definitely not with something that is politically controversial — unless your friend(s) would agree with you on it. The best place to start a conversation is with something that we both agree about, we’re interested in, and we care about. Then, connect the dots to why, given what you both agree on, you’re concerned about a changing climate. And finally, make sure to have an example (or a few) of a positive, helpful solution that they can get on board with and feel hopeful about.
For example: I live in West Texas, where people care a LOT about water. We never have enough of it, unless we have too much. So when I talk to farmers, and producers, and water managers, I start with talking about our droughts and floods and how bad they’ve been, and what their experience has been like. Then, I share my concerns on how our rainfall cycle is becoming even more extreme: stronger, longer droughts interspersed with even heavier
rain events. Finally, I talk solutions: planning, conservation, and the fact that wind and solar energy doesn’t need any water, whereas fracking and power generation from fossil fuels does. Here’s an example of me talking about climate change to people in Texas.
if I’m talking to a church group, or students at a Christian college, I begin with what we believe: that God created this amazing universe we live in, gave us responsibility to care for every living thing on the planet, and called us to care for the less fortunate among us, the very people who are most affected by and vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. Then I talk about solutions that can help people, alleviating poverty, hunger, disease – and fixing climate change at the same time. Here’s an example of that type of talk.
If I’m talking to someone who shares my interests in skiing… well, direct connection there! Warmer winters -> less snow. Someone who lives along the coast -> rising sea level and falling property prices. Not to mention stronger hurricanes. The economy? The fact that there’s more jobs in the solar energy industry than the coal industry, and for five years in a row now the fastest-growing job in the US according to the Bureau of Labor has been either wind energy or solar technician.
I did a TED talk recently on exactly this topic – if you’d like more examples, including what happened when the Rotary Club invited me to speak, please check it out!
Read more answers here.