Chief Scientist, The Nature Conservancy; Endowed Professor in Public Policy and Public Law and Paul W. Horn Distinguished Professor, Texas Tech University
Kara J. Foundation Professor and Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University
Many of us find it daunting to talk with our neighbors, colleagues and family members about climate change. But climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says that having those difficult conversations is the first step towards solving the problem. Yet Hayhoe admits that even she sometimes ducks the conversation. “Some of it is, we’re afraid it’s gonna start a fight,” she says. “And I’m not gonna lie -- I live in Texas, and occasionally if I don't want to get into it with anybody when they say, ‘what do you do?’ I say I work at tech.”
Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, is known as a “rock star” in the climate world for her ability to talk to just about anyone global warming. At a recent Climate One event, Hayhoe was presented with the eighth annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Science Communication. She was joined onstage by Stanford atmospheric scientist Noah Diffenbaugh for a conversation about communicating climate change in transparent, engaging, and accessible ways.
Hayhoe has been called an evangelist for climate science, using patience, empathy and faith to spread the word about global warming.
“As a Christian, part of the reason why I do what I do is because climate change exacerbates humanitarian issues,” she says. “And it is just absolutely not fair when you look at the impact it's having on the poorest and most disenfranchised people in the world.”
In her work, Hayhoe travels the country speaking with farmers, Kiwanis clubs, book clubs and community groups , many of them faith based.
“It is very rare to meet a human being who does not already have a key value or part of their identity that does not connect directly to concern over changing climate,” says Hayhoe. Recognizing those individual values, and finding ways to intersect with them, is one of the ways Hayhoe gets the message out – even to those who may be reluctant to hear it.
“We could both be hunters, or birders or hikers,” she says. “You live in the same place or you care about your kids or you served in the Armed Forces or you go to a similar type of church…the point is making that shared connection first and then walking together to connect the dots to why both of you, because you are that same type of person who shares that same interest or value, would naturally care about the changing climate.”
One thing Hayhoe is adamant about is that fear will not fix the problem.
“Fear is not going to motivate the long-term sustained action we need to fix this thing,” she warns.
“What we need is rational hope -- rational in that we understand the magnitude of the problem that we have, but hope in that we are motivated by the vision of a better future.
And if you ask me what’s the biggest thing we’re missing right now, I would say we’re missing a vision of a better future.”