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Katharine Hayhoe: Start talking about climate change

Katharine Hayhoe: Start talking about climate change

Jimmy Kimmel and Katharine Hayhoe talk climate

Recently, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Christian climate scientist, participated in an engaging interview with Jimmy Kimmel to spread the word that we need to talk about climate change. We also need to communicate in a way that meets friends and family where they are.

Her message of hope as a climate scientist is one we all need to hear. Her TED Talk has drawn more than 3.9 million views, so you know that she is striking a chord. She says the one thing we aren’t doing that we need to do is to TALK about it. If we don’t talk about it, we don’t know about it. If we don’t know about it, we can’t care about it.

Climate change is a political problem

In a recent article in Religion and Politics, she pinpoints one of the problems with climate action: “The real political problem of climate change is that we don’t want to fix it. Often, we don’t even believe we can fix it. So, when faced with an enormous problem that we doubt our willingness or ability to solve, our natural defense mechanism is to deny. We may claim that climate change is not real, or it is real but we aren’t causing it, or it’s not serious, or it’s actually all of those things but there’s nothing we can do about it. Psychologically, this gets us off the hook. But it does nothing to mitigate climate change.”

Dr. Hayhoe has a unique way of framing the issue. She says, “Climate change is not simply an environmental issue. Climate change is overwhelmingly a public health issue. It’s an economic issue, it’s a resource scarcity issue, it’s a poverty issue, it’s a justice issue, it’s a humanitarian issue, it’s a human issue.”

Climate change is more than an environmental problem – it’s also political

She points to the politicization of climate change. “These days, many people who call themselves Christians draw their statement of faith primarily from political ideology and only secondarily from the Bible. When the two come into conflict, they will go with political ideology over the Bible every time. That’s why I would call myself a theological evangelical, which is very different from a political evangelical. …Going to church is not the only indicator of Christian commitment, but it does suggest the degree of priority faith takes in your life, as opposed to politics.”

She puts responsibility for the political polarization we see now as entirely responsible for our stalemate on climate action. Hayhoe notes, “The key predictor of whether or not someone will accept the evidence on climate change is not intelligence or interest in science or level of education or anything like that—it’s simply where they fall on the political spectrum.” 

Hayhoe makes a strong case for the urgency of overcoming this political stalemate. We need to find common areas of agreement and talk in person from the other person’s perspective grounded in their world and what they care about. She says, “ We can’t just wave a magic wand. But when we are able to connect with each other, genuinely and respectfully and in person – not online – then we can find common areas of agreement, often in unexpected places.”

Climate change – we’re all in this together

Addressing climate change is similar to the successes and failures of our response to the pandemic, she says. “When we work together, we can achieve remarkable results. The development of the vaccines in record time, countries that implemented sensible policies and kept infection rates low—this crisis has provided plenty of evidence that concerted action and smart policy make a difference.”

The thermometer reads the same for Republicans and Democrats; the hurricane wipes away both their houses; and clean energy benefits both with breathable air and new job opportunities. Our climate response must have many sides, of course, but one of them has to involve building good faith unity among stakeholders.

Climate action for the common good

She ends her interview with a warning. “If we can’t come together for the common good, disaster ensues. If we focus on the common good… we can still do great things. But she warns that we have to move away from some proudly held beliefs: “rather than the individual right to drive as big a truck as I want to, even if it harms my neighbor, or demand that the government never intercede in the ‘free market’ even though fossil fuels are subsidized to the tune of $650 billion annually in the United States alone.”

She’s an optimist at heart. “Because hope is a positive emotion, we may tend to assume that it arises in positive circumstances or the guarantee of a positive outcome. But I think that hope can begin in dark places where outcomes are uncertain.” Rather than looking ahead to bright possibilities, we’re stuck between two apocalyptic visions.”

No waiting to act on climate change

She’s convinced we will act on climate change, but doesn’t want it to be too late. “The impacts are getting worse and worse and worse to the point that, wherever you live today, you can point to the effects in your own region, and these will continue to accumulate and intensify until the populace rises up and demands action. The question, from a scientific perspective, is whether this will happen in time to avoid the most dangerous impacts.”

It’s not just about saving the planet; it’s about Saving Us

Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming Source: Scientific Consensus | Facts – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet (

Dr. Hayhoe has just released a book called Saving Us. She doesn’t shy away from the severity of the climate crisis. But she also points to our power to address it. She wants people who are waking up to the issue to move right past alarm into personal action. She concludes by saying that each individual can act on climate, even if only by talking about it. She wants people to use the power of their voices, their ideas, their vote, and advocacy with friends and family.

During the City of Bellingham’s All in on Climate Action Week in late September 2021, #KatharineHayhoe spoke in a sponsored event by #VillageBooks in Bellingham, WA.

#climatechange#speakup#hopeforthefuture #KatharineHayhoe #climateaction

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