Katharine Hayhoe on How to Talk About Climate Change

Katharine Hayhoe
I’m Alan Alda, and this is C+V, conversations about connecting and communicating.
Katherine: Every new study that comes out, it seems like is telling us that climate is changing faster or to a greater extent or impacting us in ways that we didn’t know about. Most of them unpleasant, a few times we get a little piece of good news, but mostly it’s pretty negative. So to look for hope, to look for the good news. First of all, we have to go out and look for it. And so I look for the hope in what people are doing.

Katharine Hayhoe is an amazing communicator – about a topic that desperately needs good communicating – the increasingly dire climate crisis that’s gripping our planet. What makes her so special is that she finds a way to connect with people – even people who deny the reality of climate change – through things that matter to them. As director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech, Dr Hayhoe is also a leading researcher into the consequences of decisions we make today on the livability of the planet in the future.

Alan: 00:00:00 I’m so glad you’re with me today because I’ve been anxious all day knowing we were going to talk about this. Is there anything you can tell me to help me calm down?
Katherine: 00:00:11 About climate change in general you mean?
Alan: 00:00:13 Yeah.
Katherine: 00:00:14 Yes.
Alan: 00:00:16 Yeah. I mean other things that bother me. You don’t have to deal with it. You can just handle climate change. It’d be a big improvement.
Katherine: 00:00:24 Yeah. I think you ship me a special couch that we can lay on while we have this conversation. Right?
Alan: 00:00:30 The climate crisis couch. It’s good. It’s alliterative.
Katherine: 00:00:33 I like that. Yes. Well it is true. When we look at the science, it is really hard to see any hope in the science. I mean, every new study that comes out, it seems like is telling us that climate is changing faster or to a greater extent or impacting us in ways that we didn’t know about. Today’s headline was sea levels rising faster. The headline if you-
Alan: 00:00:54 I know that to wake up to that and I mean, I’m on the 51st floor in my building, but I don’t want to have beachfront property.
Katherine: 00:01:02 No, no you don’t. And then I think-
Alan: 00:01:04 So how bad is that? What kind of terrible news was that this morning?
Katherine: 00:01:09 Well, exactly. And every new study that comes out seems to find that something is happening faster or that it’s impacting us in new and different ways. Most of them unpleasant, a few times we get a little piece of good news, but mostly it’s pretty negative. So to look for hope, to look for the good news. First of all, we have to go out and look for it. It doesn’t come to find us. The news media is built around sharing information that is negative or frustrating or fearful. But-
Alan: 00:01:35 Well, I know this is more, one of the other pieces I have wonderful information I got this morning was that earthworms are making their way farther and farther north. And I didn’t know that they gave off methane.
Katherine: 00:01:48 Exactly. Yeah. I read that story too. Yes.
Alan: 00:01:51 So, how you sound more cheerful than I do. And I want to know why.
Katherine: 00:01:57 Well, what I do is I go out and I look for that hope because we have to go out and look for it. And so I look for the hope in what people are doing. And surprisingly, I actually find great examples there. So when I saw that BBC story, I saw a BBC story about the sea level rise happening faster than we thought. I immediately went and looked for. And Google is trained now. So it knows I look for these good news stories. I found a story about how Minnesota’s Xcel Energy is closing their coal production and adding solar, which is great. The Ted Talk I did a couple of months’ ago is about how one of the most important things we can do about climate change is talk about it. Because if we don’t talk about it, why would we care?
And if we don’t care, why would we ever demand action? And so I was giving a talk just the other day and a man that I’d never met came up to me and he said, “Well, I’m from a pretty small town, but I saw your Ted talk on how we should have conversations about climate change, about why it matters to us and what we can do to fix it. So in our town, we set out to have conversations, and in the last few months we have had 10,000 conversations about climate change to the point where we are now considering declaring a climate emergency as many cities and towns are doing.” I mean, that was such good news. I practically had tears in my eyes.
Alan: 00:03:16 Well, that is amazing because I think I saw that Ted talk you gave and it sounded really interesting because it was something practical that each of us can do, which is to talk about it to the extent that we understand the facts or the implications on our daily lives. But I wondered how we should be talking about it. I mean I can imagine ways to talk about it, but I’d like to hear from you what your best advice is.
Katherine: 00:03:44 Well, my best advice based on thousands of conversations that I’ve had, some of which went well and some of which did not. And of course you always learn the most from the ones that didn’t, I think. The best advice is to start the conversation, not with what we most disagree on, but rather with what we most agree on with what we have in common. So that means that instead of hearing somebody say something that you disagree with and immediately jumping in with, “How could you say that, that is completely false.” Instead the time to have a conversation is when we’re talking about something that we do agree about. It doesn’t have to not climate change. It could be that we’re bemoaning the quality of coffee these days or that we’re concerned about the changes that we’re seeing in our garden or we’re worried about the economy and China getting ahead of the United States.
Almost every conversation these days, we can connect the dots to how a changing climate is impacting something we already care about or how clean energy and climate solutions can actually help with something that we’re concerned about, especially when it comes to the economy, our resources, air and water quality, our health, international competitiveness, national security. So, if we can begin those conversations with something we agree on, then we can walk together connecting the dots to why we already care about climate change. We just didn’t realize it because it affects something we already care about. And then what we can do to fix it. Because if we talk about a problem without solutions, then what is our response other than saying, “Wow, this is a terrible problem.” If there’s nothing I can do about it just my defense mechanism is to pull the blanket up over my head and it just diassociates. So we have to talk positive, constructive, plausible, relevant solutions to.
Alan: 00:05:28 Let me try to imagine one of those conversations. Can you pull in your mind from one of the 10,000 conversations you’ve had like this, one that wins, say from simply talking about your mutual interest in your gardens and knowing you’re talking to somebody who either most likely thinks climate change is a hoax or has said on other occasions that it is, how do you get from the garden to, oh by the way, this is all related to climate change and the person doesn’t try to back you against the wall or something. How do you make that transition?
Katherine: 00:06:09 Yes. Well I often have these conversations of gardeners and even more challenging with farmers and producers. And so what I usually do is I start by asking bad questions. I say, “Well what do you grow? And people always love talking about what they grow. What have been some of your challenges in recent years? Have you had any difficult years?” “Oh yes. This year was really difficult because first of all there was no rain and everything died. Then we got this incredible heavy downpour and it just flooded everything.” Well, “Have you noticed any changes long-term over what you grow and how it grows and when it flowers and blooms and when if you’re a farmer, when you harvest it. Have you noticed that these dry periods are a bit unusual or the heavy rainfalls getting more frequent?”
And when you ask people about their experience, we’ve gotten to the point now across North America where most people can actually see these things happening and they will say, “Yeah we’ve always had droughts in this part of the country, but the last one we had was something else. It was really unusual.” And I said, “Well it’s true if we look at the data, you can see that spring is coming earlier, that our droughts are getting stronger, that our summer heat is getting more extreme.” If people are gardeners you can say, “Well did you know that according to the USTA, the plant hardiness zone, which tells you what type of plant she could grow, where and when and how it’s moved so much in 25 years that where we live in Lubbock, Texas is now just what Austin was like just 25 years ago. Sadly, the restaurants and the music didn’t come along.”
But, and so using past data is really helpful because we can talk about what they’ve already lived through and then we can say, “Well, so looking to the future, if this continues, what are you going to do? Are you worried about invasive species? Have you noticed invasives or pests coming in? How are you going to make sure you’re okay if this gets worse in the future?” And so you can have incredibly positive conversations about resilience and adaptation or even about the benefits of clean energy and what that means for us in the places where we live without even mentioning the words climate change. And in fact, a couple of years ago I gave a talk at a water managers conference here in Texas and water of course is one of our prime resources in a place where many people don’t have enough.
And I give an entire talk looking at historical climate trends and future trends and shows climate models simulations even of how much warmer it’s going to get and how much drier with punctuated by heavy precipitation and flood events in between. And I did the whole thing without ever mentioning the words climate and change together. I talked about climate variability and long-term trends, but I talked about everything that we know scientifically and I will never forget at the end a woman came rushing up to me and she grabbed my hand, she shook it enthusiastically and she said, “I agree with everything you said. That makes total sense. Those people who talk about global warming, I don’t agree with them at all, but this, this is right.”
Alan: 00:09:08 Sure enough. You’ve just talked your way into my next question is once you get them agreeing about their own personal interests, say whether it’s farming or whatever else it is, how do you get them on board with the general notion that we have to do something about climate change or everybody’s own personal interest is going to be badly affected? There was a woman who didn’t get the connection.
Katherine: 00:09:35 Right. Well, so a lot of what we see both in personal anecdotes as well as in the social science, which is a really a fascinating way of understanding how we as humans interact with information. We see that when we feel as if we are part of the solution rather than just being part of the problem, that that actually changes our minds and our attitudes on the more politically polarized aspects of the issue, which is it really humans that are causing it and is it weaning ourselves off fossil fuels that’s going to fix it? If I run away from it-
Alan: 00:10:06 So it’s better to be on a positive bandwagon than a negative one.
Katherine: 00:10:10 Exactly. If we feel like we’re helping, then we’re more likely to say, “Oh, well, if I’m helping, then everybody else should be doing something too.” And so that’s why talking about economic benefits, talking about the benefits that clean energy brings to local jobs to local farmers and producers. They can essentially grow their own crop insurance on their own land with wind and solar these days at the current prices we have. Getting people on board with the solutions then makes them feel like, “Well, I’m part of the solution. So everybody should also be part of the solution.”
Alan: 00:10:39 Right. Right. There is that important personal thing. I remember when I was on the board of the Rockefeller Foundation about 15, 20 years ago and I said we talk every day and every day We were talking 20 years ago about the coming crisis of climate change. And I said, and yet, although I understand the big picture and want to help work on the big picture. Personally, I still haven’t put a brick in my toilet tank. And everybody around the room looked at me and Zoe had said something rude when I was trying to point out the idea that personally, my guess is, unless we take action personally thinking of what we’re doing positive when we turn out the lights leaving a room and in my case actually remembering to do that. That keeps it in the forefront of my mind in terms of the bigger picture, I think. Does that make sense or are they separate things?
Katherine: 00:11:53 No, I completely agree. In fact, making changes in our personal life, I think the biggest impact that that has is on our own attitudes and actions. Giving us things to talk about and keeping it, like you just said, at the forefront of our minds.

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Alan: 00:12:07 You said something a minute ago about floods, recent floods and extreme weather until recently, I think I’ve noticed that there’s been on the part of climate scientists the need to say, you can’t take temporary weather as an indication of either climate change or natural cycles or whatever the obstructive ideas against the notion of climate change. And yet more and more I see scientists saying this instance of weather that we just experienced is an example of that climate change and the crisis that it involves is already upon us. Am I seeing a change in the way scientists talk about weather now?
Katherine: 00:13:05 You are, and you’re also seeing an advance in the science that underlies it also.
Alan: 00:13:18 It seems okay scientifically to refer to. Is it only extreme weather that we’re talking about?
Katherine: 00:13:25 Well, so for a long time the standard line was whenever anything happens you get a reporter calling you up and you say, “Was this event due to climate change?” And the answer is we cannot attribute any single event to a change in climate. But when you look over climate timescales, which is at least 20 to 30 years, we do see an increasing trend in the frequency or sometimes the severity of this type of event. But what we’re seeing today is we’re seeing thanks to the science of attribution, which is looking at a specific event. We are starting to be able to parse out the extent to which climate change exacerbated at a given event. So it isn’t zero or 100%. It isn’t that an event is entirely 100% natural or entirely 100% human caused. What we’re seeing is that these naturally occurring extreme weather events like heavy rainfall events, even heavy snow storms, droughts, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, wildfire, and more.
These are naturally occurring events, but they’re being supersized or exacerbated by a changing climate. And the science has advanced to the point where we’re starting to be able to put numbers on it. For example, we know that hurricanes in the Gulf Coast or a normal and natural part of life there was a terrible hurricane that hit Galveston at the turn of the century in the 1900s that devastated that part of Texas. And so having hurricane Harvey hit again was nothing new, but we know that almost 40% of the rain that fell during hurricane Harvey and in some places, of course, they got about 50 inches of rain in a few places. 40% of that rain would not have happened if you had the same storm 100 years ago when the planet was not as warm because-
Alan: 00:13:25 Well how do you know that I’m a little slow on getting the connection? How do you know that?
Katherine: 00:15:15 Well, what we’re able to do is we run these giant simulations in the lab of what the world would look like. I found 100 years ago, even what it would look like 1000 years ago, what it looks like today. And we look at how much moisture there would be available in the air for a giant storm like a hurricane to sweep up and dump on us. We look at how much energy there is in the ocean to fuel stronger, bigger, slower storms. And so we can actually compare the storms of today with the storms of 50 or 100 years ago and we see in the data as well as seeing through our calculations that are based on physics. We see in the data and the physics that storms today, hurricane, cyclones and typhoons today are bigger, they’re slower, they’re intensify a lot faster and they have a lot more rainfall associated with them than they would have 50 or 100 years ago.
We also see that on average, for example, across the western US since the 1980s, we would have seen about 11 million acres burned by wildfire because wildfire is a natural part of the ecosystem in the western US. But thanks to a changing climate which is exacerbating how much area those wildfires burn, we’ve seen more than double that area burn since the 1980s. So climate change is loading the dice against us. We always have a chance of rolling a double six, but now our chances of rolling a double six have increased and we’re even starting to roll a couple of double sevens.
Alan: 00:16:40 So the idea is, I guess as for instance, when you talk about wildfires, the idea that the higher temperatures are moving north, so there’s more fuel in a forest for a wildfire. Is that part of the idea?
Katherine: 00:17:02 Well, when the fire happens, it’s typically on average, hotter and drier than it would have been otherwise. And so the chances of having fire weather when that ignition occurs in most of the ignition is actually human ignition, sadly these days. But the chances of having the hotter and drier weather is increased. And then you also have the problem of those beetles. There’s these invasive beetles that are moving northward and as the winters warm, they’re over wintering. So instead of being killed off in the winter, you have multiple generations of beetles growing year after year and they eat millions of acres of forest and lead the dead. So when the wildflowers come along, there’s a lot more dead wood to burn up today than there would have been again, 50 or 100 years ago.
Alan: 00:17:42 Beatles are not going to Florida for the winter. This is bad news.
Katherine: 00:17:45 Yeah.

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Alan: 00:17:47 So we’re talking about things that are frightening and yet it’s kind of hard not to talk about these frightening signs of the crisis. But I remember you were saying in one of your Ted talks that fear won’t motivate long-term work. Did I get that right?
Katherine: 00:18:06 Exactly. It won’t motivate the long-term action we need to fix climate change. It will give us this knee jerk reaction that might move us in the right direction, but it won’t sustain us over the long term.
Alan: 00:18:18 And why do you think that is? Did you base that on your experience, on studies, on intuition? Why do you think fear is not a good motivator? I mean, they try to get a show off cigarettes showing us diseased organs and that kind of thing. So somebody thinks fear works with that. Why doesn’t it work for climate change?
Katherine: 00:18:39 Well, first of all, we do need to understand just how bad this is. I mean, sugarcoating it is not going to help us and it is really bad. We’re not talking about the future of the planet. We’re talking about the future of civilization on this planet. We humans are some of the most vulnerable species on the planet after the polar bear to the impacts of a changing climate. We do need to understand that. But if we’re presented with this massive global problem that we feel like there’s nothing we can really do to fix, then it’s almost like that movie where an asteroid was going to hit the earth and the movie was just about, well what are you going to do in your last hours on earth? Because it’s all going to end anyways, right?
Alan: 00:19:16 Because there’s not much else to do.
Katherine: 00:19:22 No.
Alan: 00:19:22 But apparently there is else to do with regard to climate change.
Katherine: 00:19:27 There is.
Alan: 00:19:27 Right?
Katherine: 00:19:27 Yes.
Alan: 00:19:28 When we’re talking to one another, what are the solutions we ought to be talking about? Are there solutions and can we seriously refer to them?
Katherine: 00:19:37 Yes, and acting is what gives us hope. If we feel that we are personally able to contribute to the solution and we are able to advocate for others to contribute to the solution. We are able to alter the outcome and in fact I can say that professionally because I study the impact that our choices make on the future. I look at what’s going to happen as the world gets warmer by one, two, three and four degrees Celsius or the equivalent Fahrenheit. And I can tell you there is a world of difference between a four degree versus a two degree world. We know from the IPCCs report that just came out last October, there’s even noticeable differences between one and a half and two degrees of warming. So our choices really do matter. And by understanding that if we do nothing, the impacts are very serious and even dangerous.
And if we do act, we will still see some impacts, but many of them can be prepared for and adapted to by understanding that. I feel like that’s an empowering message. So it’s not like we don’t feel like we’re tied to the railway tracks thing, the train bearing down on us around the corner and we can’t do anything about it. We actually have the ability to act, to alter our future. So talking about solutions is not something that as a climate scientist was educated and we’re very good at diagnosing the problem. But I had to learn a lot about what the solutions look like individually stepping on the carbon scales, figuring out where our own carbon footprint comes from, learning that reducing my food waste has a huge impact on my carbon footprint. So too does transitioning-
Alan: 00:21:08 Say that again. I’m not aware of that. I never made that connection. Would you explain that? Like the food waste?
Katherine: 00:21:16 Yes. So it turns out that we throw away a third of the food that we produce, which is massive. And when that food decays, because it’s organic material, it produces heat trapping gases. Not to mention that often in the production of the food, we also generate heat trapping gases. So if food waste were its own country, it would be the third biggest emitter of heat trapping gasses after China and the US.
Alan: 00:21:44 Well, I never heard that figure before. That’s interesting. So what can we do about it? How can we sequester food waste?
Katherine: 00:21:50 Well, one of the things that the beauty of this is we can act personally as well as collectively. So when I heard that, and I didn’t even know that myself until just a few years ago, I altered how I grocery shop. I used to go grocery shopping. I’m a very efficient person. So I used to go grocery shopping, I’d plan out the menus and I’d go once every two weeks and I buy an enormous trunk full of food and I shove it all in the fridge and freezer. And then by the time you got to the bottom I’d have all this stuff that had gone bad because I forgot it was there. So I restructured my life. So I now stop at a grocery store that is on my way home from the university, either grocery shopping twice a week with no more than two bags. And we eat everything in the fridge before I go again.
And it’s reduced our food waste and our food bill massively. And instead of an extra freezer, I don’t have an extra freezer anymore. I installed drying racks so I could hang my clothes up to dry instead of putting them in the dryer.
Alan: 00:22:39 And again, the impression that an individual person would have, often one that I’ve had many times is should I actually go to that trouble? What difference will it make in the long run? That little, little drop in the ocean. But it does have the secondary effect of keeping your mind on it.
Alan: 00:45:04 Yeah. Yeah. I heard today this amazing thing, is this just a myth or is this really happening? That there were some members in the leadership of the country who are saying things are so bad. If you change emissions in cars, it really is only a drop in the bucket. It won’t matter. You might as well not even do that. Keep cars emitting what they emit and we’ll just have to buck up and suck it up as a way we are saying it.
Katherine: 00:45:45 Yeah, yeah. I’m sure. I’m sure because there’s five stages to denial and sometimes we get a little bit excited and courage and we see politicians moving down through these stages. But what we have to recognize is every single one of these stages of denial is aimed at the same net long-term goal, which is to prevent action. So stage one is it isn’t real. And then stage two is it’s real, but it’s not humans. And then stage three is, it’s real but hey it’s actually better for us. We’ll be better off if it’s warmer. CO2 is plant food. And then stage four is okay, we’ll share, it’s real, and it is us and it might be bad, but it’s too expensive to fix it. It’s easier not to fix it. And then stage five is, it’s too late you really should’ve warned us about this earlier.
Alan: 00:46:33 Yeah, I love that one.
Katherine: 00:46:33 Yeah.
Alan: 00:46:39 That ranks with climate scientists are only doing this to get rich.
Katherine: 00:46:43 It does. It does. Yes. And I’ve had my own experiences with being accused of that, including after the National Climate Assessment, which we got paid exactly $0 to write. A lot of the accusations we got were that you’re just in it for the money. So I say I’m still waiting for the keys to that Swiss bank account to arrive one day.

Katherine: 00:23:07 Yeah. Well, then there’s also collective solutions. So, for example, one of my friends lives in Washington DC and she made me aware of a program they have there and I’m sure they have it in a lot of other big cities where it local groceries and supermarkets, this program goes to these grocery stores that says, “Could we have your fruit and your vegetables that they might have a bruise or a spot on them or you don’t want to put them out. Or they may be just past their date.” And they make baskets or fruits and vegetables that they would otherwise throw out. And what you do is you subscribe to this. And so every week you get a basket of fruit and vegetables from these places that you can use instead of it being thrown out and for every basket you subscribed to, they deliver a basket to a low income family who might not be able to afford the same food themselves.
Alan: 00:23:52 That’s interesting. And they’re still labeled to operate on their low margin of profit.
Katherine: 00:23:58 Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s a nonprofit that actually collects the food and distributes it.
When we come back, Katherine Hayhoe sees hope as more and more of us grasp the fact that climate change is here and now, and that there are things we can do to prevent the worst from happening.
MIDROLL
This is C+V and now back to my conversation with Katherine Hayhoe
Alan: 00:24:02 Oh, I see. Yeah. Yeah. That’s really interesting. What do you think is the most active part of our population, the most effective part of the population that’s helping drive an awareness of the importance of the climate crisis and the importance of working towards solutions? Is there a group or a category of us that we can hope for good results from?
Katherine: 00:24:34 That’s a great question. I would say that I think it is the people in each sector or each kind of group or sadly, each tribe, because we’re so segmented to tribes these days that are making a big difference. So, often people say, “Oh, well there’s Alan Alda over there talking about climate change, but he just doesn’t understand what my life is like where I live in when West Texas.” But when they have somebody talking to them who, so for example, they might be military so that when they hear somebody from the military saying climate change is a threat to national security, or when somebody hears a local business person saying, “Well, did you know about the business opportunities that clean energy offers us? We’ve got over 30,000 jobs here in Texas in the wind and solar energy industry. Are you a farmer producer? Well if you put wind on your land it brings in the same check as your oil wells, whether you have oil or not, because everybody has wind here.”
So hearing somebody speak to people in their own community, I think has a really powerful impact because then we can’t say, “Oh well that person’s other, they come from over there.” It’s a person who is actually part of our community. But if I had to pick in general one group of people that’s making the biggest difference today, right now I think it’s kids. Children are speaking up and their voices are so genuine, they are so real. They come straight from their hearts. There’s no artifice in what they say. And here in the US as well as around the world, we are seeing children speaking up and saying we need to preserve the planet.
So it supports us. It’s not about saving the planet, it’s about our future. And as parents we know, I mean, what would we not do for our children? So a new study just came out last week in North Carolina, which is a pretty conservative part of the country. And they found that educating children about the impacts of a changing climate as well as the solutions had a positive and noticeable difference on their parents’ opinions. And in fact, they found the biggest change in the parent’s opinion was when a young daughter talked to her conservative dad. That was where the biggest opinion shift came in.
Alan: 00:26:41 That’s interesting. You mean in family after family?
Katherine: 00:26:45 Yes.
Alan: 00:26:46 That’s very interesting. And certainly kids seem to have helped get much of America off tobacco and there was, I could see in at least anecdotally in families that I knew where the kids would really be very vocal about seeing a cigarette in the house. But here you have kids speaking to us from the future because the future is them and they can make that point about their own life. How do you deal with this problem? I think it’s a problem and that’s that people in general talk about making a good future for our children and grandchildren. The farther out you get in generations from right now, the harder it is to picture these people and the less interested you are in taking care of them for some reason they could be direct ascendance of yours.
But you don’t even think about them. Most people talk about their grandchildren and can’t imagine the grandchildren’s grandchildren. I even had a friend say to me once when I said, “How long do you think the human species will last?” She said, “Oh, well what the hell do I care? I won’t be here.”
Katherine: 00:28:08 Oh my.
Alan: 00:28:09 Now, that’s a brutal way to express it. But most of us express it in the way we think about future generations and the way we prepare for them, we don’t really care that much. We don’t think about it that much. Have you seen that? Do you have a way of dealing with it if you have?
Katherine: 00:28:31 I have seen exactly that to the point where I believe that the most dangerous myth that the largest number of people have bought into is not the myth that tops the headlines every day. That people believe that science is somehow optional. That you can choose whether to believe in it or not, as if it’s some type of religion and your opinion matters. The biggest myth that the largest number of us have bought into is the myth that it doesn’t matter to me. Because when you look at the data and there’s this great set of maps that you’re probably familiar with, they’re called the Yale Climate Opinion Maps.
Alan: 00:29:08 No, I don’t think I’ve seen them.
Katherine: 00:29:10 Oh yes. You need to look at these because they are fascinating. If you just Google Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2018 they’ll pop right up. And they have surveyed the country by county and by congressional district. And what they find is when you say, “Do you think global warming is happening?” The entire country pretty much says, “Yes.” 70% of people say, “Oh yes. Global warming is definitely happening.” And then you say, “Well, will it harm plants and animals?” “Yes.” 70% of people say yes. “Will it harm future generations?” 70% say yes. “Will it harm people in developing countries?” The number goes down a little bit. 62% say yes. “Will it harm people in the United States?” The number goes down a bit. 58% say yes and then the rubber hits the road, “Will global warming harm me personally?” The number plummets to 40% even in places like Oregon or Washington state or New York or Massachusetts where you think people would be concerned, they don’t think it matters to us.
And so the biggest and most widespread myth that the largest number of people bought into is the myth that climate change is a distant issue in space and time. It only matters to people or polar bears who live far away or it only matters to future generations, not us. And so that’s why I think the National Climate Assessment which I was one of the coercive-authors on that came out on Black Friday last Thanksgiving. That’s why I think the National Climate Assessment is so important. You can find that online at nca2018.globalchange.gov.
Alan: 00:30:51 What was the first letter? N or M?
Katherine: 00:30:51 It was N as in National Climate Assessment. So nca2018.globalchange.gov and what the National Climate Assessment does is it goes through every single region of the United States plus the islands and Alaska, it goes through every single sector, water, health, transportation, national security. It goes through all of these and it says, “Here is how climate change is already affecting us today in the places where we live and then here’s what’s going to happen in the future depending on whether we can act or not. Here’s the difference that our choices make.”
So I think the National Climate Assessment is incredibly powerful tool because it brings it down to the local scale where we live and it says, “Okay, if I live in Florida, we are already seeing sunny day flooding today and here’s how much worse it’s gotten in the last 30 years. If I live in Oregon, here’s how much worst our wildfires have gotten. If I live in the Midwest, here’s how much worse our heavy precipitation and flooding has gotten.” It really makes it local and it makes it no longer a distant issue. It makes it an issue that’s imminent, that is personal and that is here and now.
Alan: 00:31:59 And you mentioned less well to do countries if rising seawater threatened beaches and villages and towns and cities situated on those shores around the world, there’s going to be a tremendous migration problem, isn’t there?
Katherine: 00:32:26 Oh, yes, there is. I mean what we experience ourselves personally is already getting to the point where we notice it, we notice the negative effects, but climate change is the most profoundly unfair issue. It disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable people both here in the US as well as around the world who have done the least to contribute to the problem. And when we recognize that two thirds of the world’s biggest cities are within just a few feet of sea level and we are looking at least a few feet of sea level rise this century, the magnitude of the potential refugee crisis take something like Syria and it increases it by at least two orders of magnitude. Imagine if you had 100 Syrian refugee crisis happening at the same time, that would have an enormous impact on political stability, on conflict, on resource scarcity. I mean, it really is the future of civilization as we know it that is at risk.
Alan: 00:33:25 It’s not a problem for somebody living in the heart land in America. If somebody’s town is flooded in Bangladesh or some someplace at least it doesn’t seem to be a problem but when people living on the shores start moving in vast numbers into other countries, the economy that can be shaken and it seems to me the world economy can take a hit and you can feel it in your town, in your pocketbook, but that’s one of the problems with the whole question is you have to think so many steps out in order to comprehend that we’re playing a game of chess here and our king is going to be in serious danger in two or three moves. It’s hard for us to think ahead two or three moves.
Katherine: 00:34:20 That’s a good analogy.
Alan: 00:34:22 We don’t realize how bad off we are. There’s a guy coming toward us with a gun and he’s got it pointed at our head and we don’t recognize. Now I’m talking fear. I shouldn’t be talking fear, I should be talking solution. Wait, because like I told you I came in scared today. So one of the solutions that really interested me. You live in Texas. Right? And I was really surprised to hear from you in one of your talks that that Texas gets a third of its energy from wind. Is that right?
Katherine: 00:35:03 Well, actually 19.2% was the statistics for 2018.
Alan: 00:35:08 Ah, okay. So I got maybe information from an earlier time. So that’s still pretty impressive. What parts of the country are getting the most wind energy do you suppose?
Katherine: 00:35:23 Well, I think, I believe that Oklahoma and Iowa, we might have been talking about a different state because there are a couple of states that have even greater proportions of their energy from wind even though Texas produces more wind and that’s just because it’s a bigger state. So things are really changing quickly. I mean, in Texas, again, they’ve got over 30,000 jobs in the wind and solar energy industry, they’ve got more wind energy than any other state in the country. Solar is starting to catch up rapidly. And when you go to the Yale Climate Opinion Maps that we were talking about earlier that clearly show that even people who are on board with the science don’t think it matters to us. When you go to those opinion maps and you ask some different questions, like, “Do you support funding research into renewable energy?”
85% of the country agrees, which is pretty stunning. “Do you support regulating CO2 as a pollutant?” Well, turns out 77% of the country agrees. And then really the kicker, “Do you support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax?” Which is the subject of a bipartisan bill that was introduced to Congress this past November. It turns out that has 68% support across the entire country. And it has more than 50% support across nearly every single county. There’s maybe only 20 counties in the whole US that have less than 50% support, a handful of them in Texas, a handful of them across the west. I mean people really do like positive solutions. It’s just that there’s been so much effort to polarize this issue that it’s got that the point where we can’t have a civil conversation about it.
And so sometimes talking about solutions is actually easier than talking about the science because we’ve been so trained and conditioned to view, do you agree climate is changing due to human activities as kind of a litmus test on where we fall on the political spectrum. That avoiding that altogether and actually talking about, well, wow, did you know that there’s more solar jobs in the US than coal now and the museum of coal mining in Kentucky put solar panels on their roof? Talking about something like that can lead to a much more positive conversation I think.
Alan: 00:37:31 That’s good news, I think.
Katherine: 00:37:33 Yeah.
Alan: 00:37:38 Let me see if I can formulate this question. Is it easier for people to acknowledge the reality of climate change than it is for them to pay for it? To pay for the solutions?
Katherine: 00:37:54 It’s easy for them to acknowledge that climate is changing. The real sticking point is the human attribution part of it. And that actually gets back to what you were mentioning before, the idea that it’s a chess game where a couple of of moves ahead. That’s why attribution and saying, “Hey, the Midwest had a horrendous flooding problem this spring. Here’s how much worse what already happened to you has become as a result of a changing climate.” So we actually understand what the damages look like. And then in the Midwest for example, you could say, “Hey, did you know there’s a farmer in Illinois who farms about 600 acres and he’s discovered that according to current prices and costs, if he ups his solar coverage to about 15 of his 600 acres, he will make the same profit from selling the energy he generates that he makes off the average crop.” And so if he has a bad year-
Alan: 00:38:44 Oh, interesting.
Katherine: 00:38:44 … Well that doesn’t matter because he made his money off his solar anyways. If he has a good year, then he makes double. So immediately pairing local impacts with local solutions, I think we can actually bypass a lot of the manufactured politicization and controversy over the simple question of is it humans?
Alan: 00:39:02 Do you know if work is being done to make solar panels cheaper and more efficient in our country? We seem to be dependent on China for the most efficient cells unless I have my information wrong
Katherine: 00:39:15 Well that should be a serious concern for anyone who cares about American leadership, American exceptionalism and the economy. Because you’re right, China, from the government on down is putting an enormous amount of research into developing better and more improved ways to generate energy to power its economy. Whereas frankly, the current administration is putting more money into trying to build better buggies and breed better horses essentially when Henry Ford is already turning out the Model T Ford, I mean, that’s what investing in coal is like today in this day and age. But American ingenuity continues because people really are investing and one of my favorite things is this Christmas, my husband surprised us with solar panels for our house, which was amazing. The cost had come down with the rebates to such an extent that we could actually afford it when we couldn’t before.
And they’ve got great loans now where they look at your bill and they say, “Okay, well we’re going to bill you for the average power bill that you would have until you’ve paid off your solar panels.” But he got the solar panels from a San Antonio company called Mission Solar that the last time oil prices dropped and a lot of people lost their jobs in the oil fields in West Texas, Mission Solar took in guys who had lost their jobs and retrain them to do solar panel manufacturing, which is a stable long-term job in the United States. And so in a way, those solar panels were kind of like a triple present for us because they will end up saving us money. They also help us to grow our own energy on our own roof. And they actually help to support local jobs and local development right here in Texas as well.
Alan: 00:40:54 That’s good news, is good news in many ways. Well, as you were explaining that to me, I was thinking that it must sound heartless to people who have spent generations digging coal out of the ground so we can have a light bulb that we heartlessly leave on all night and they face cave ins and they really have devoted so much to us. And now we’re saying we’re going to move on to a different industry. How do we respond to their own personal need?
Katherine: 00:41:33 That’s why I think the concept of adjust transition is so important. The idea that we need energy and people who have supplied us with energy from coal and from natural gas and from oil have provided us with a key resource that has given us the life that we have today. I am grateful for the benefits that fossil fuels have brought us.
The endless drudgery that was a woman’s life before the beginning of the industrial revolution. I would not want to go back to that. Fossil fuels have brought us electricity, transportation, enormous technological and medical advances. So recognizing and honoring the service and the work of people who have done that for us for years and decades, I think it’s essential. And recognizing that they deserve a just transition. They deserve opportunities. Closing down a coal mine can be adequate unless you’ve also thought about, well, what industry can we bring in that supports people that gives people jobs?
What retraining programs can we offer for people so they can continue to support their families through their hard work the way they have already been doing? And are you okay with the fact that a Chinese wind company went into Wyoming and retrained American coal miners in Wyoming to do wind energy installations, why is that not an American initiative? Why is the US government, why are not US businesses like Mission Solar? I just talked about the San Antonio, why are they not also considering that we have this enormous hardworking labor force that have been working in coal and oil and gas for years, that want to continue to provide the energy that we need in the future.
Alan: 00:43:16 Yeah. That sounds like you’ve thought out that that issue. Do you think financially, economically, it can actually work, that we can spend the money as a nation on helping them make a transition like that?
Katherine: 00:43:35 If people want to, yes. But if you’re spending money propping up coal companies that are just going to go bankrupt anyways, then you’re basically pouring your money down the drain in a way that does not ultimately profit the people who work in that industry. One of the organizations that I like that is actually doing this is… I’m originally from Canada and of course in Canada we have a huge oil and gas industry. It supplies about 7% of our GDP. There’s this organization called Iron & Earth, and they are a true grassroots organization. They’re led by workers in the energy industry. A lot of them, young people who have grown up and initially worked in oil and gas, but are now leading the retraining transition to help people who know energy, who want to continue working in energy, figure out, “Well, how do I get into, or how do I start manufacturing solar panels or wind farms? How do I learn how to do maintenance on these or installation?”
So Iron & Earth is a unfunded grassroots organization that is helping with this transition. And I think it’s a model to all of us of how we could really be truly caring and truly thinking about those who work hard to provide us with the energy that we still use today. And who want to continue working hard to support their families in the future. But giving them false hope is not the answer. Telling them that we’re bringing back horses and buggies when we’ve got cars, that’s not the answer. That’s is, I’m sorry to say just lying to them.
Alan: 00:45:04 Yeah. Yeah. I heard today this amazing thing, is this just a myth or is this really happening? That there were some members in the leadership of the country who are saying things are so bad. If you change emissions in cars, it really is only a drop in the bucket. It won’t matter. You might as well not even do that. Keep cars emitting what they emit and we’ll just have to buck up and suck it up as a way we are saying it.
Katherine: 00:45:45 Yeah, yeah. I’m sure. I’m sure because there’s five stages to denial and sometimes we get a little bit excited and courage and we see politicians moving down through these stages. But what we have to recognize is every single one of these stages of denial is aimed at the same net long-term goal, which is to prevent action. So stage one is it isn’t real. And then stage two is it’s real, but it’s not humans. And then stage three is, it’s real but hey it’s actually better for us. We’ll be better off if it’s warmer. CO2 is plant food. And then stage four is okay, we’ll share, it’s real, and it is us and it might be bad, but it’s too expensive to fix it. It’s easier not to fix it. And then stage five is, it’s too late you really should’ve warned us about this earlier.
Alan: 00:46:33 Yeah, I love that one.
Katherine: 00:46:33 Yeah.
Alan: 00:46:39 That ranks with climate scientists are only doing this to get rich.
Katherine: 00:46:43 It does. It does. Yes. And I’ve had my own experiences with being accused of that, including after the National Climate Assessment, which we got paid exactly $0 to write. A lot of the accusations we got were that you’re just in it for the money. So I say I’m still waiting for the keys to that Swiss bank account to arrive one day.
Alan: 00:47:05 You’re married to a pastor, right?
Katherine: 00:47:08 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:47:10 You must have had many conversations about this. One of the things I’ve heard that can be effective with people of faith is that they believe in a kind of a God directed mission to be good stewards of the earth. Is that so, does that help wake people up to the need for action or do I have that wrong?
Katherine: 00:47:43 If that is already one of their values, then yes. And that relates to kind of the general point of starting the conversation where people agree. So for some people, yes, for others in the Christian community I’ve had very positive connections with really emphasizing how climate change disproportionately affects people who are already suffering today because a lot of Christian organizations support relief and development organizations, they support mission organizations that work in poor countries. And so highlighting how climate change is affecting real people today in ways that increase their suffering really touches people’s hearts and makes them realize, “Wow, that’s not the type of person that I am. I’m a person who cares about other people and so I really want to do better.” And then for other people, I have a colleague called Colby May, he graduated in business from Texas Tech and then he went and they did an M.Div in seminary.
And while he was doing his M.Div, he needed to support himself. So he started doing energy audits for churches and then it turned out into entire business because now he goes to seminaries and Christian colleges and churches and he helps them do energy audits to save money so that they can put more money into whatever programs they really care about, whether it’s children’s programs or soup kitchen missions, whatever. But they’re also reducing their carbon footprint at the same time, so they’re becoming part of the solution. So whatever it is that motivates people we have to spend the time getting to know people, what makes them tick, and then help them connect the dots between what matters to them and why that makes them the perfect person to care about a changing climate.
Alan: 00:49:19 That sounds like a great idea. And it stems from what you said earlier, which is find out what values you share and work from that. And it’s something that we’ve seen as we’ve talked to people about all forms of communication, all kinds of relating to one another. Find out what you agree on before you start talking about the serious questions that might divide you if you didn’t know what you agreed on.
Katherine: 00:49:50 Exactly.
Alan: 00:49:50 Conflicts have been resolved that way, marriages have been improved and that kind of thing. It seems to be such and such an important lesson and yet we have to keep learning it over and over again.
Katherine: 00:50:01 Yes, we do. Yep, exactly.
Alan: 00:50:04 So let me ask you again, now that we’ve had this conversation, how bad is it? Is it too late for us to do anything meaningful? Is there hope? Can we survive this crisis?
Katherine: 00:50:22 It is not too late. I actually study the impacts of our choices that we make today on our future. And the biggest uncertainty in the future is the choices that we make. Our planet and our future really is in our hands. We have the ability to make that decision to ensure that we can continue to have a habitable planet that supports human civilization as well as the amazing diversity of life here on this planet. Or we could make the short sighted decision to say, “You know what? I don’t care about myself, my family, my community, my city, my country, the world. I’m just going to do what seems most convenient today.” That choice really does make a difference. And understanding that our choice matters, I think is empowering because it actually shows that our actions matter.
Alan: 00:51:10 That’s great. That’s great. It makes me feel better. So you calm me down and you set me on the path to action. So you did a good job to me here today and I thank you for that.
Katherine: 00:51:20 Excellent.

MUSIC BRIDGE
Alan: 00:51:21
Katherine, I see a change in the way corporate America is dealing with climate change and the climate crisis. It’s interesting that it’s not often at the top of the list when political concerns are being talked about or argued in Congress, but all on their own corporations are making changes in the way they carry on their business. The way they deal in terms of their own vision is with the emissions that are giving us this crisis. Do you see that happening and do you see real significant change coming from corporations?
Katherine: 00:53:28 I absolutely do. I would say that the level of interest now in companies from Walmart, which is the richest corporation in the world to ag and even oil and gas companies is significantly different than it was 10 or 15 years ago. So it is really encouraging to see what companies for example, like Apple are doing who have completely decarbonized their operations and are looking at decarbonizing their entire supply chain. But at the same time it can be a little bit discouraging because then you have companies like BP who are funding all these ads about how they’re looking for low carbon energy to the future, but they continue to obstruct climate action behind the scenes.
And when you go to Wikipedia and you just look at the richest corporations in the world, I think the magnitude of the challenge in front of us is clear because with the exception of Walmart number one, and then you have Berkshire Hathaway and then you have Apple, which is number 11, every other company in between there that is the richest in the world primarily made their money through extracting, processing, selling, or building things that burn fossil fuels.
And so we are not asking for a small change. We are talking about massively and radically altering the balance of power and wealth in this world. So that is the challenge that lies before us and we have to do it with corporations, not against them, working with people, people who disagree with us across the political spectrum, across the economic spectrum. We have to figure out how to build from what connects us, what unites us rather than what divides us. Because when it all comes down to it, we are all humans who share the same home.
Alan: 00:55:12 Are the companies, do you think that are actually making changes? Are they doing that profitably or are they just hoping to get points for good behavior and wanting to do the right thing? I mean, can they afford to do this and still meet their goals of making oodles of money?
Katherine: 00:55:39 Well, probably the answer is yes and yes. I mean, it’s going to be more challenging for the companies whose bottom line depends 100% of fossil fuels to make money than companies that don’t. But there’s certainly are many examples of companies that have managed to become and continue to be quite profitable. Again, Apple’s a great example. Well, also decarbonizing what they do, and Walmart is another example of that. I think something very powerful in my home country of Canada is the fact that the four provinces that have led the country economically have been the four provinces that had a price on carbon.
So rather than being a profit killer, it looks like rebalancing the economy with a price on carbon can actually help the economy grow. There’s lots of great examples of how restructuring economics and profits can still happen in a reduced and eventually neutral carbon free economy.
Alan: 00:50:04 So let me ask you again, now that we’ve had this conversation, how bad is it? Is it too late for us to do anything meaningful? Is there hope? Can we survive this crisis?
Katherine: 00:50:22 It is not too late. I actually study the impacts of our choices that we make today on our future. And the biggest uncertainty in the future is the choices that we make. Our planet and our future really is in our hands. We have the ability to make that decision to ensure that we can continue to have a habitable planet that supports human civilization as well as the amazing diversity of life here on this planet. Or we could make the short sighted decision to say, “You know what? I don’t care about myself, my family, my community, my city, my country, the world. I’m just going to do what seems most convenient today.” That choice really does make a difference. And understanding that our choice matters, I think is empowering because it actually shows that our actions matter.
Alan: 00:51:10 That’s great. That’s great. It makes me feel better. So you calm me down and you set me on the path to action. So you did a good job to me here today and I thank you for that.
Katherine: 00:51:20 Excellent.

Alan: 00:56:43 Well that’s even more hopeful. Thank you. I hope you’ll be interested in ending the show with us the way we usually do, which is I have seven quick questions and invite seven quick answers. And they’re roughly about relating and communicating. You want to have a go at it?
Katherine: 00:57:03 Absolutely.
Alan: 00:57:04 Okay. What do you wish you really understood.
Katherine: 00:57:09 How to speak such that people would listen.
Alan: 00:57:15 I imagine that’s kind of important given what we’ve been talking about.
Katherine: 00:57:18 Yes.
Alan: 00:57:19 What do you wish other people understood about you?
Katherine: 00:57:24 That I care about climate change because of who I am and who they are is also the perfect person to care about climate change even if they haven’t connected the dots.
Alan: 00:57:34 Okay. Here’s one. What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?
Katherine: 00:57:38 Oh my goodness. I get some really strange ones about planet [inaudible 00:57:43] and magnetic poles and all kinds of crazy sight to tick myths. Those are some of my favorites.
Alan: 00:57:49 Well, what would be an example, I couldn’t recognize one in that.
Katherine: 00:57:54 Oh well, didn’t life begin when planet [inaudible 00:57:57] came closer to the earth and there was just kind of a giant sloshing and things slid off that planted onto our planet. And as climate change it gets worse, so it’ll just come closer and want everything just slosh back. Isn’t that the case Dr. Hayhoe? And the answer’s no, I don’t think so.
Alan: 00:58:13 Planet [inaudible 00:58:14].
Katherine: 00:58:15 [inaudible 00:58:15] yes.
Alan: 00:58:16 It sounds like a Japanese restaurant where you get really high class food.
Katherine: 00:58:20 I don’t think so.
Alan: 00:58:23 But don’t go there, it slashes off your plate.
Katherine: 00:58:25 Right.
Alan: 00:58:25 So now here’s the next question. How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Katherine: 00:58:32 I have actually learned this one. I went to a training workshop for Women in Academia that was taught by some theater professor, he was from Harvard. And I asked them, “Well, how do you break in when someone is just talking over you and yelling at you, as happened to me when I was on the O’Reilly Show?” It was actually Laura Ingram who is doing it. Bill was out that day. They said, “What you do is you say their name, just their name and you just up the volume on their name until they finally stop and let you get a word in edgewise.” So that is what I do now.
Alan: 00:59:06 And that works. Huh? I never heard that. Very interesting. Next one, assuming empathy is not compassion for another person, but just taking stock of their point of view there, where they come from, how they see the world. Is there anyone for whom you just can feel empathy?
Katherine: 00:59:25 Oh my goodness. It is really difficult to feel empathy for people who are entirely motivated by selfish concerns, who have the blinders over their eyes to such an extent that they are not willing, completely 100% unwilling. And have made a deliberate choice to be unwilling to consider the wellbeing of a single other human on this planet other than themselves. Those I think are the most difficult people to have empathy for.
Alan: 00:59:49 Okay. Next one. How do you like to deliver bad news in person, on the phone or by carrier pigeon?
Katherine: 00:59:56 Oh, I don’t like delivering bad news at all. I think my preference-
Alan: 01:00:01 So you are one of the few people who pick carrier pigeon?
Katherine: 01:00:05 Yeah, I would pick it, but I always do it in person because I feel like, somebody really deserves to hear the bad news from you personally.
Alan: 01:00:14 Yeah. Everybody knows that. But everybody, what they prefer is some less stressful way to deliver it I think, we all do. Okay last question. What if anything would make you end a friendship?
Katherine: 01:00:28 Betrayal. I think that friends are such an important part of our lives, but if you cannot trust a friend, if you’re afraid they’re going to stab you in the back when you’re not looking, I just think that that is a friendship ender. I can still respect the person. I can still wish the best for the person, but letting them inside the doors of my life again is very challenging.
Alan: 01:00:52 Well, thanks so much for a really, really interesting and important conversation. I’m so glad you joined us today.
Katherine: 01:00:59 Thank you for having me. This has been wonderful.

Katherine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University where she is the director of the Climate Science Center. She is the co-author of the report we discussed – the congressionally mandated Fourth National Climate Assessment – released in November 2018 by the Trump administration and largely ignored by it. You can find it at online at NCA2018.globalchange.gov. And you can find Katherine herself at katherinehayhoe.com and on Twitter @KHayhoe – that’s HAYHOE.