Tag Archives: Katharine Hayhoe

Climate Sense: Talking about climate change

The urgency of addressing climate change in meaningful ways — such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions — seems to be lost on many Americans. Many others, however, feel the urgency to do something, but they don’t know what to do.

Beyond reducing energy consumption in our personal lives, one of the most important things we can do is to talk about climate change, according to a variety of experts who have been sharing their strategies for action.

When I started this “Climate Sense” series, my goal was to share information I come across during my readings about climate change. At the same time, I’ve been trying to include this topic in my everyday conversations, sharing new findings and learning how others feel about the changing weather and more serious problems. This week, I’d like to share some ideas for getting more people into the conversation.

Item 1: Can we dig out of this garbage compactor?

Umbra, Grist magazine’s advice columnist, responded to a question from a reader who wanted to know whether it would make ANY difference to talk to young people about how to fight climate change.

Umbra (Eve Andrews) compares the situation with climate change to a scene in the first “Star Wars” movie in which Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca are trapped in a putrid garbage compactor with the walls closing in. The anxiety is running high, but there are no clear escape routes.

With climate change, a sizable number of people believe climate change is real and dangerous, but they don’t feel strongly enough to become politically active. This group is called “informed but idle” by John Cook of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. Activating these people could tip the balance toward real change, experts say.

Item 2: Understanding another person’s viewpoint

Karin Kirk, a climate scientist who focuses on social behavior, discusses why various groups of people believe what they do about climate change.

“Not every person offering pushback is doing so for the same reason,” she writes in Yale Climate Connections. “Sure, some people are itching for a fight, but myriad others have genuine questions, hold only tentative beliefs, or are in-sync with the mainstream science but not inclined to do anything about it. Gauging someone else’s underlying position can help focus one’s attention on whether — and how — to engage.”

Karin’s advice, like that of many others, is to avoid battling with so-called “trolls,” who will never change their minds, while being willing to share information, beliefs and feelings with everyone else. The video is a TEDx talk by Karin in Bozeman, Mont.

Item 3: Who is able to change his or her mind?

In another article in Yale Climate Connections, Karin Kirk takes a look at people who have admitted to changing their minds about climate change. Many of them started out denying the reality or cause of climate change because of beliefs by family members or friends. They just never changed their attitudes — until they did.

As Karin reported, four factors turned out to be the main reasons that people changed their minds: 1) a close look at scientific evidence, 2) concern for the Earth’s future, 3) weird weather, and 4) a realization that contrarian evidence is not reliable.

Item 4: Building momentum for change

Katharine Hayhoe, a political science professor at Texas Tech University, is another climate scientist trying to find ways to talk to people about climate change. She is a lead author on the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

“The world is changing,” she says in the Ted Talk video shown here. “But it just isn’t changing fast enough. Too often, we picture this problem as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of a hill, with only a few hands on it, trying to roll it up the hill. But in reality, that boulder is already at the top of the hill. And it’s got hundreds of millions of hands, maybe even billions on it, pushing it down. It just isn’t going fast enough. So how do we speed up that giant boulder so we can fix climate change in time? You guessed it. The number one way is by talking about it.

“The bottom line is this: climate change is affecting you and me right here, right now, in the places where we live. But by working together, we can fix it. Sure, it’s a daunting problem. Nobody knows that more than us climate scientists. But we can’t give in to despair. We have to go out and actively look for the hope that we need, that will inspire us to act. And that hope begins with a conversation today.”

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Is there any hope for coming together on climate change?

Not long ago, I was having dinner at a restaurant with some friends. We were talking about environmental concerns when someone mentioned climate change.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” said the man seated to my right. “We are actually going into the next ice age, and the weather is getting colder.”

Stunned, all I could say was, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.” I was not in the mood to give a scientific lecture, nor did it seem like the time to engage in an angry debate — so I changed the subject.

Ever since, I’ve been wondering what I should have said. I’m sure I could have discussed whether humans are to blame for the fact that temperatures are becoming more extreme. For example, the average annual temperature has exceeded the 138-year average every year since 1976. (See NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.) The evidence of human influence is pretty compelling, but even if you find fault with the data or want to blame natural causes, the warming trend is clear.

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