An interview with world-renowned climate scientist and Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, on her most recent book titled Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. All opinions expressed by our guests are their own.
Relevant links and resources:
Katharine Hayhoe’s website: http://www.katharinehayhoe.com/
Coming soon from Dr. Hayhoe! Discussion questions for each section of the book, as well as short videos to go with each section, and annotated reading lists, designed for use in the classroom. All resources will be available from her website.
Katharine also let us know she will be doing a limited number of Zoom presentations per semester that classes of students can join for a Q & A after reading the book. Please reach out through her website for all questions.
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Welcome to Come Rain or Shine podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub and the USGS Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center or Southwest CASC. I'm Sarah LeRoy Science Applications and Communications Coordinator for the Southwest CASC. And I'm Emile Elias, Director of the Southwest Climate Hub.
Here, we highlight stories to share the most recent advances in climate science, weather and climate adaptation and innovative practices to support resilient landscapes and communities. We believe that sharing some of the most innovative forward thinking and creative climate science and adaptation will strengthen our collective ability to respond to even the most challenging impacts of climate change in one of the hottest and driest regions of the world.
Sarah LeRoy: The contents of this podcast are for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as endorsement for any of the products, technologies, or strategies discussed.
Happy new year! Around this time last year, we aired an episode on climate hope with Ann Marie Chischilly and Amber Pairis. Given the popularity of the episode and the importance of the topic. We decided to have another conversation about it this time with world renowned climate scientist, and chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. Katharine is also a distinguished professor with Texas Tech University and principal investigator with the South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center. Among her many honors, Katharine was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People and Foreign Policy's 100 Leading Global Thinkers.
She hosts the very popular PBS digital YouTube series Global Weirding, and has authored and edited many books. Her most recent book titled Saving Us: A Climate Scientists Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World was published in September, 2021 and is what we'll be discussing with her today.
Welcome, Katharine. It's nice to see you again.
Katharine Hayhoe: It's great to see you too. So you and I overlap in so many different areas of our lives, Sarah and we focus so much on the science of what climate change is doing to our world, but it just makes sense to ask this next question, which is where do we find hope?
Because the more we look at the science, I feel like the more we need that hope.
Sarah LeRoy: Yes, definitely.
Yes. And so we thought we'd begin this episode, like we did last year and ask you for one word or phrase or short story that you would use to describe climate hope during 2021, and why?
Katharine Hayhoe: That question strikes directly to the reason why I wrote my book, because I started to notice about three or four years ago that wherever I went, whoever I was talking to. whether it was at a university or a city or a community group, or a faith group or business people. I was starting to get the same question again and again, and that question was what gives you hope? So I turned it around and I started asking people, hundreds of people, what gives you hope? And I got all kinds of different answers from them. And then I started reading what gives people hope and what actually is hope.
And where does that come from and how is it different than our optimism bias as humans where we just think, oh, everything will be okay if we just give it enough time. Well, with climate change, obviously it's the opposite. The more time we give it, the worse it gets. So where do we find hope? And all of these different avenues, whether it's talking to people, whether it's looking at theology, whether it's looking at psychology, whether it's looking at social science, wherever we look, the answer goes right to the same place.
Hope comes from acting, from acting together with others and from seeing how we can make a difference, because hope is not, it doesn't begin from positive circumstances. If life is going well, and everything's fine, you don't need hope. Everything's okay. Hope begins when things are bad, when things might get worse.
When the chance of a much worse future seems pretty probable. That's when we most need hope and hope is the small chance of that better future, however faint it might be. And knowing that what's going to get us to that better future is by us doing something about it. And by us using our voice to engage others, to do something about it.
And for us fighting as hard as we can for everyone that we love, everything that we love, and every place that we love, that's where our hope comes from.
Sarah LeRoy: Thanks, Katherine, we're going to talk a lot more about hope in that respect towards the end of the episode, but I want to shift gears just slightly and think about energy.
‘Cause something that does make me hopeful for the future is the price of renewable energy. You know, so even if policies at the federal government level aren't in place, the price itself is coming down. And so you mentioned in your book that the price is becoming very competitive and that big tech firms bought more renewable energy than anyone else in 2019. So do you think that this could be enough to address climate change?
Katharine Hayhoe: I don't think there's any silver bullet that's gonna fix the whole thing because we need everything on the table. We need efficiency solutions. They don't sound quite so cool, but they could actually make a huge dent in our carbon emissions.
We need clean energy solutions for our electricity, we need to electrify everything that we can. We also need zero carbon liquid fuels. We need smart ag practices. We need nature based solutions that put carbon back in the soil and back in the trees and back in the biosphere where we want it, rather than up in the atmosphere where we have too much of it, we need all hands on board.
And so in my book, I talk about active hope, about going out and looking for good news. And absolutely, finding out that, you know, 90% of new energy installed around the world last year during the COVID pandemic was clean energy. It's just, mind-blowingly amazingly hopeful. But also when I see things changing where I live in Texas, where you live in New Mexico, where we see cities taking action like Houston and Dallas, when we see army bases powering their activities from clean energy.
When we see native American tribes getting in on it and leading on clean energy and smart ag practices and investing in nature-based solutions. When we see farmers and ranchers and land-owners practicing conservation agriculture and restoring and protecting ecosystems. Wherever we look, once we start to look, hope truly is all around us.
Emile Elias: Thanks Katharine. And I want to build on this idea of renewable energy and energy. And one of the chapters in your book is titled why energy and not fossil fuels is a moral necessity. Can you talk a bit about energy in terms of being a moral necessity?
Katharine Hayhoe: Yes. So that sort of riffs off the argument that I often hear here in Texas, and you've probably heard it too, where people say, oh, look at all those low income countries, they need fossil fuels, just like we had. And we, it would be terrible. It would actually in fact, be immoral or evil to deprive them of those fossil fuels.
Well, first of all, I would say nobody is depriving them of fossil fuels. The Paris Agreement was voluntarily agreed to by every country around the world. And then each country brings their own nationally determined contribution.
Nobody's telling them what that contribution has to be. But, going a level deeper telling low-income countries, oh, well you only get to develop the way we did 200 years ago is not only out of date, it is frankly patronizing and even potentially colonialistic by saying, oh, well we used coal 200 years ago. So you have to use coal now. You can't use wind and solar yet. You need to get to the next stage of development before you get those and cell phones and electric vehicles. Well, of course we know that's not what's happening. You go to any country in the world and people who have no telephone grid whatsoever. Everybody has cell phones already.
We've leapfrogged right over the old technology onto the new. Why is energy a moral necessity though? It's because specifically electricity, more than any other form of energy is most highly correlated with human well-being. When we are able to refrigerate our food, when we are able to charge phones that we use to communicate with people, when we're able to power lights at night so our kids can study and stay in school, when we're able to walk outside at night because it's lighted and it's safer.
Electricity is most profoundly correlated with human wellbeing. And when you look at low-income countries and when you look at the billions of people who live below $2US a day, one of the biggest things that lifts those people out of poverty is access to electricity. But today they don't have to get into any more the way we did 200 years ago, because in a lot of those low income countries, a big part of why they're low income is because they don't have vast fossil fuel resources. And the few that do like Nigeria or Venezuela, those proceeds go to enrich a very few, very, very, very few oligarchs at the top of the pyramid, so to speak.
And the rest of it just goes to an external multinational corporation. So they're not actually investing in people's lives. And in many of those countries, they don't even have the fuels to begin with. So if we're saying, oh, you need to develop like we did, it's even worse because you're saying, you need to use the fossil fuels we did, and we have them and you don't. So we will sell them to you.
That's even another level of injustice right there, but they do need energy. And most of those countries have ample sun and ample wind, as well as all kinds of geothermal resources, tidal resources, and more. And so that's why one of my favorite stories in my book is about the organization Solar Sisters.
They're only one of many good organizations, but Solar Sisters is working with women specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa, some of the poorest parts of the world. And of course, women are disproportionately affected by climate change. But investing in an empowered woman is a climate solution. In fact, it's my personal favorite climate solution because it enables women to feed their families, to send their kids to school, to have financial security, to provide electricity for themselves and their neighbors and their region.
Oh. And also it helps with climate change, too. I love those win-win win-win. Oh, and yeah, sure, it helps with climate change solutions. Why not, right?
Emile Elias: Thanks. And I want to build on this idea of the win-win and you mentioned sort of in your cadre of climate solutions, nature based solutions. And in your book, you talk about Matt Russell and he's a farmer from Iowa who was quoted as saying, farmers and rural Americans - that's who's going to solve this. And so I feel like there's a win-win here. And I'm wondering if you can talk about how can farmers offer climate solutions, and how can climate solutions offer the answer for him and his fellow farmers to stay in business?
Katharine Hayhoe: Oh yes. So, so often farming communities today are pressured by big industrial conglomerates who do things at scale, pushing out the farmers who have farmed that land for multiple generations in that place. And part of that is because they need to be able to make the revenue. So how could farmers' lives be improved through climate solutions? First of all, they're already being impacted through climate change, as invasive species and pests move poleward, as precipitation becomes more irregular; too much, and then not enough, as temperatures increase, which can damage crops.
They're already seeing the impacts, especially, you know, in the Midwest with spring flooding, farmers can't even get into the field to plow. There's all kinds of impacts that they're already experiencing. So how would climate solutions help? Well, first of all, carbon is a good thing. Carbon is the building block of life here on this planet.
And what's happening right now is we just have an imbalance in the climate system where we have too much carbon in the atmosphere. But the good news is we could do with a lot more carbon in our soils and in our ecosystems. Carbon in the soil is an incredible fertilizer. Like, one ag professor at Iowa State said to me, he said, it's like Miracle Grow on steroids.
So he, he looks at how you can take agricultural waste products that you wouldn't be using for anything else, you burn them at high temperature called pyrolyzing them, and the carbon falls out as a gray powder, along with other products and oils that you can use for other applications. You take that gray powder, which is called biochar, and you plow it back into the soil.
You put all that carbon that the plants just sucked out of the atmosphere through this amazing technology called photosynthesis that we've known about for billions, you know, it's been around for billions of years. So that the plants suck the carbon out of the atmosphere, we use the part of the plant that we can, you burn the waste, you get the carbon out of the plant, you plow it back into the soil.
And it's an incredible fertilizer. And it prevents that carbon from going into the atmosphere. So he showed me a picture of these two pots that he had planted a tomato plant in. And then he took a picture like six or eight weeks later. The one-pot had a very respectable looking tomato plant in it with like, four or six tomatoes on it.
The other plant pot had so many tomatoes, it was more tomatoes than leaves. And he was like, guess which one I put the biochar in, and I'm like, I think I can guess. So that's only one of many conservation and regenerative agricultural techniques like cover crops, where farmers grow cover crops which prevents erosion, which also helps to retain water in the soil.
And then they plow the cover crops back into the soil when they're ready to plant. And all of that carbon trapped by the cover crops goes back into the soil. There's all kinds of things that farmers can do to help boost their productivity, and boost their crop production and increase the quality and the health of their soil.
That increases the quality of the carbon, the nutrients, the microbes in their soil. Tony Rinaudo is an agronomist who's worked with World Vision Australia for over 40 years. And he's worked in some of, again, the poorest areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, where people are primarily agricultural and they depend on what they can grow to feed their family.
And if their crops fail, then they can't feed their family. They have nothing else. And so that's one of the parts of the world where famine just sweeps across the landscape on a fairly regular basis. Well, of course what's happening with climate change is droughts are getting even stronger. Rainfall patterns are getting even more irregular.
So the risk is increasing, that already existed. So what he realized is, is that when you practice agroforestry, in that area, when you plant trees among and around your fields and your crops, those trees help to trap the water and the nutrients and to keep the soil in place. And it actually increases your crop productivity.
So in working with farmers, a single man, working with farmers in this area who, you know, he convinced one person to try it and then their neighbors watched them like, oh, that seems like it works, we'll try it too. So gradually and patiently getting more and more people on board. There is now enough food grown in that area to feed 2.5 million more people through the actions of a single man alone.
So farmers can be a huge part of the solution, but they also stand to make money from this. Let me just give you two very brief examples. So number one, almost every economist in the world agrees, and I talk about this in my book, that putting a price on carbon is the most sensible way to kickstart the new clean energy economy.
So in other words, sure. You still want to drive a gas guzzler, drive the gas guzzler, but pay for the damages that it’s causing to other people, because it's not fair that they pay for your damages. It's like secondhand smoke. If you want to smoke, you go ahead and you smoke. But if you've been blowing it in somebody's face and they're the ones who develop lung cancer, it's not their fault, it's yours. You should be responsible for the damages.
If you put a price on carbon so people pay the price when they burn the carbon, what if farmers can document, and this is a big part of what the Nature Conservancy helps with, what if farmers can document how much carbon they're putting back into their soils?
They could get a check in the mail for it, which would be a great new source of revenue. Then what if they set aside part of their land for clean energy installations? So here in west Texas where I live it's sunny, what like 330 days a year. And I've calculated that if we just took an area that was a hundred by a hundred miles on each side, which is, you know, somewhere between Lubbock and Amarillo, probably about the equivalent of six cotton farms, the way they farm out here. If you took this area and you filled it with solar panels, not new tech, just existing tech solar panels, that would generate enough electricity to supply the whole United States with power.
And I have to say, I put my, I put my calculations on Twitter and the one and only time I've ever interacted with Elon Musk was when he fact checked it. And he said, yes, I agree. I've done the same calculations. So I have a great deal of confidence in those numbers. Now, of course, I'm not advocating for one giant solar farm in one part of the world.
But my point is is that we have a lot of agricultural land where you can put solar up or you can put wind in and you can still farm around it, or you can ranch around it, or you can grow pollinator friendly plants around it, like Fresh Energy in Minnesota advocates for. So in Illinois, which is a very cloudy area you know, in the winter there's a lot of clouds, but they still can generate power.
They've I read one calculation where it wasn't just a calculation, it was a farmer who did this. He had 600 acre farm, which is a mid-sized farm, but one where he was still struggling in tough years. He dedicated 10% of that area to solar and he made the equivalent amount of money off that 10% of his land that he would make in an average crop yield off his whole land.
So on an average year, he doubled his income, on a poor year he still had the same income. So there's all kinds of potential for farmers to not only be part of the solution, but to actually make money on this. And that money goes into our rural areas. It supports our rural economies. And here in west Texas wind energy has revitalized some small communities that have just been hemorrhaging their young people, because there's no tax base. There's no public services. There's no good schools. There's no health clinic. In comes the wind farms, in comes the jobs and back come the young people to the places they're from where they can raise a family in the place where they're from and they can have a good, well-paying job.
And that, yeah, you're smiling. I'm smiling. I mean, how can that not make you smile and give you hope.
Emile Elias: I really appreciate those win-wins and those solutions that work for everyone. And you talk a lot about that in your book, and you also talk a lot about climate change communication, and you give some excellent advice.
One of the stories from your book that sticks in my mind is about a woman struggling to talk with her grandmother about climate change. And you found commonality both in location and also in knitting. Can you share that story for our listeners and how it represents what you've learned over time about the fundamentals of climate change communication?
Katharine Hayhoe: Yes. Well, I love that story because I am a knitter myself. And what that exemplifies is there is almost always a place to begin a conversation with someone who we know that we can begin over something we share. And if we can't find anything we share with a fellow human being, and in rare cases, that may be the case. That means we're not the right person to have that conversation.
When, I don't know what I have in common with someone, I don't begin by talking. I begin by asking questions. I want to know more about them. Where are they from? You know, what did they study? What do they do for work? What do they love doing? What are they passionate about? What are they really into? What are they enthusiastic about?
I ask them questions to get to know who they are, and I've done this many times. And just about every single time again, not always, there's always the exception that proves the rule, but just about every single time I can find something that I can connect with them over, like the fact that they grew up going as a child to a place that was really special for them. And they see it changing over time in front of their eyes. I have had that same experience myself, and that's part of why I care about climate change. Or somebody might be a winter athlete and they need snow. Well, I am too, and I love snow too.
Or they're a parent. They weren't able to let their kids outside to play this past summer for weeks on end because of the wildfire smoke, choking the air. And they're really worried about it. They didn't connect the dots to climate change, but man, that smoke was everywhere and their kids started coughing and one of them has asthma and we can absolutely start there.
So, a couple of years ago, I was giving a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science holiday lecture in Washington, DC. And it was right after I had finished collecting about 800 responses to my question to people, what gives you hope? So I designed a whole lecture around what gives us hope. And I was giving this lecture on it and talking about how hope really boils down to adding our hand to the giant boulder, getting that boulder rolling down the hill, even faster by adding our hand and using our voice to encourage others, to add their hands as well.
So I gave several examples and then afterwards, one NASA post-doc came up to me and he said, okay, so all the examples you gave are great, but I really want to talk about it with my friends, and I don't know where to start. And he said, I feel, it feels almost ridiculous because this is what I study and I don't know where to start. So I said, well, what do you do with your friends? And he said, we cook together.
We love cooking together. And we love eating together. I said, well, there you go. That's where you start. Start by talking about climate, how climate change is affecting the nutrient quality of our food. It's affecting the quality of our beer and our wine and our bananas and our chocolate and our coffee.
He was from South America. So I said, learn about how climate change is affecting specialty crops from South America and bring that into the conversation. It's a very natural thing to bring in when you're cooking. So then a young woman came up to me and said, well, I really want to talk about it with my grandmother. How do I do that?
So I said, well, what do you do with your grandmother? You know, what do you do? Like, do you talk with her? Do you do something with her? And she said, well, have we knit together. And so being a knitter, I said, aha. I do know the answer to that one. What if you take the warming stripes, which were just an incredibly simple and so effective visualization that Ed Hawkins has created. Ed Hawkins is a climate scientist in the UK at the University of Redding.
And he created, first of all, something called the Warming Spiral that shows how global temperature is increasing over time. And it was actually used in the closing ceremonies to the Rio Olympics. That's how powerful an image it is. And then he created something called the warming stripes, where he took, he takes an average annual average temperature record, from any location around the world, and just color codes it. So if a year is cooler than average, it's blue. If it's about average, it's white. If it's warmer than average, it's pinkish. And if it's quite a bit warmer than average, it's red. And you can see this sort of color bar laid out where it's bluish at one end, and then it goes through to the white-ish and then it starts ending up more red at the end.
So I said, why don't you find the warming stripes for the place where your grandmother lives or the place where she grew up. You can easily turn them into a knitting pattern. In fact, there's a company called Tempestry that's already done that. They'll give you the yarn and everything, all, you know, color coded. And knit yourself a scarf of the warming stripes together.
And not only that, but get your grandma to tell you stories of, oh wow, this year is really dark blue. Tell me about that, year grandma. Oh, I remember that year. It snowed so early in the year and we had to, you know, and then as you knit through and it gets darker and darker red talk about, wow. Well, what changes have you seen happening?
You're not only connecting over a shared value, you're going even deeper. You're actually respecting and asking for their wisdom, their lived experience, their knowledge. You're communicating respect, appreciation, admiration, and you're hoisting them on their own petard so to speak because they're the ones telling you how climate is changing.
So. I had somebody ask me just the other day, they said, why don't more people know about the warming stripes? Because I said, it's so effective. You can get a mask with the warming stripes. You can get flip-flops with the warming stripes. You can get leggings with the warming stripes, you get a t-shirt with a warming stripes on it.
What a great conversation starter. Just walk around with the warming stripes on and people would be like, what is that? And you'd be like, oh, I'm so glad you asked! What a conversation starter, Right?
Sarah LeRoy: Yes. So we have a post-doc in our office and she walked in my office the other day and she was wearing a mask with the warming stripes on it. And I was so excited. I knew what I was like, are those the warMing stripes? And I knew what it was, but I was asking her. You know, I'm guessing that she walks around and people ask her what it's about. And it's a great conversation starter. She is from Scotland by the way. And I'm pretty sure that she had brought that with her. So, yes, that's great.
So I wanted to change gears just slightly. You briefly touched on this earlier and you discussed it in your book too, about how educating and empowering women and girls is a solution for addressing climate change, especially in poor countries and populations. So could you provide some examples of this and discuss it further?
Katharine Hayhoe: So one of the responses to climate change that sort of, most, most sets me off is when, typically a man, not always, but I would say 99% of the time I have actually checked this. A man from a wealthy high-income country says, oh, the problem is just all those women having too many babies. If we just control the population of the world, that would fix the problem.
Well, okay. First of all, if we removed every human off the face of the earth, sure. That would fix the problem, but it's not in a way that I'm personally comfortable with. But second of all, it is not a case of numbers. It's a case of disproportionate use of resources. Here's why. The 3.5 billion poorest people in the world, which is almost half the world's population.
They've produced 7% of global emissions. 7%. So if you, as I talk about in the book, if you have like a Thanos type Marvel movie moment where you had some, you know, supervillain snap their fingers and remove half the people off the face of the earth, if it were all the low-income people who are disproportionately suffering the impacts of climate change, yet have done nothing to cause the problem that would have little to no impact on the actual problem itself.
So it isn't a case of the number of people we have. It's a case of the injustices of the very few, hoarding the majority of the resources. And we see this, unfortunately with vaccines today, as well as with fossil fuels, at the expense of those who have done almost nothing to cause the problem, but at the expense of those who are bearing the brunt of the impacts.
And so wherever we look, whether it's right here, where we live in the US or on the other side of the world, it's people who are already marginalized, people who are already vulnerable, people who already have the short end of the stick already, who are being hit by climate change first and foremost.
So that includes black and brown low-income neighborhoods right here, where I live in Texas. They are already located more often in flood zones. They already have hazardous waste or landfills close to them. They already have poor air quality. They already have huge urban heat island effects due to historic racist redlining practices. And then climate change is loading the weather dice against them, making all of that worse.
You look at the small shareholder farmers in Africa, you look at Malawi where five years ago they outlawed child marriage. And so child marriages started to go down. They made it against the law to marry off a daughter before she reached the age of 18. The age of consent. Well guess what? The last couple of years, child marriages are ticking up again.
Why? Well, when you talk to youth activists in that country, scientists haven't done a formal attribution, but you talk to youth activists and you say, why is this happening? They say it's because our droughts are getting worse. And when the droughts are getting worse, when people can't feed their families and they literally are starving, there is nothing else to do.
If somebody comes along and offers a dowry for the daughter, even if she's, I mean, this is horrible. I like, it's hard to even say it, you know, even if she's like eight or nine or 10 years old. So then, then when disaster hits, when disaster hits, what happens, education systems, basic health systems, food systems, water systems are destroyed.
The burden falls disproportionally on woman to find the water for their family, to find the shelter for their family, to find the food for their family. All of a sudden if basic health care is non-existent, having a baby becomes a life-threatening event. Women and children are disproportionately at risk, but empowering women is a powerful climate solution.
And I love Katherine Wilkinson's Ted talks. She has a Ted talk that talks all about how educating and empowering women are, is a climate solution. And in brief, the more educated a woman is, and I'm just talking about like elementary school education or middle school education, the lower the infant mortality rate.
And you might say, well, isn't that counterintuitive? Why do we have high, high birth rates? It's because high birth rates occur when women are disenfranchised, when women have, when infant mortality rate is like 50%, when to even have a few living children, you have to have 8, 9, 10 children just to have a couple who survived to adulthood.
When women are not empowered with basic health care. When women do not have the ability to choose how many children they want to have, when women live within a patriarchal society where they're not allowed to choose how many children they have, that's where you see the extreme high birth rates in grinding poverty, and in, in societies where women are oppressed and they do not have the ability to make financial decisions, to, you know, to till their own land, to own their own land, to own their own businesses.
And so when women are empowered, they choose to have fewer children and those children live longer, healthier lives. They can invest in owning a business or selling solar energy, like with Solar Sister or making agricultural decisions for their own land. And again, and again, when women are empowered, the community benefits. The next generation benefits. Oh. And climate change benefits too, so why not?
Sarah LeRoy: So speaking of kids, you refer to a study in your book where they found that teaching kids about climate change made their parents more concerned about it. And I have also heard the same thing with recycling. When you teach the kids how to recycle, they then go home to their parents and they get their parents to recycle more.
There's that peer pressure from your children is pretty strong. I know that the next generation is where a lot of my hope comes from and seeing my daughter care so much about the environment and the world and asking me questions about climate change. So what are your thoughts on how children will shape our future?
Katharine Hayhoe: Well, it's really interesting because when I did that survey of hundreds of people, asking them what gives them hope? The number one answer that I got, and I, this was totally like people gave me whatever answer they wanted, there was no A, B, C, or D. The number one answer I got from about a quarter of the people boiled down to some part of the next generation children, my children, my grandchildren, the youth climate movement, something to do with young people.
So I sat down and I started to ask people, okay, why is that? Is it because you think they're going to fix it for us? And granted, if they had the power, I think they would fix it for us. But everybody said, no, that's not why it's because they embody hope.
They are the future. Children are the physical embodiment of the idea that there is a future. Why do we have children? We have children in hope that there will be a world for them to grow up in. Having a child is almost the ultimate expression of hope. And that's why it's so sad for so many people that are deciding to not have children.
Not that they can't, because that's a perfectly personal decision and people are free to choose whichever way they want, but people who are deciding not to have children because they don't have hope. And that just absolutely breaks my heart because you know, I'm not advocating for going out and having a dozen children. The earth is already full of people. I have one child myself.
But, that is my hope. I bore that child in hope that there would be a better world. And I fight even harder, 10 times harder now, because I have that child to fight for. And that's part of why I helped to create the Science Moms organization that many others, including you know, Joellen Russell from Arizona and others are part of. That is all about helping moms, 83% of whom are worried about climate change here in the US today, helping moms use their voices to advocate for their kids' future, because that's why we fight. And our kids are amazing and our kids are showing us the way. They are showing us what change looks like. I just got back from, from Glasgow a couple of weeks ago from the big climate meeting there.
And one of the most hopeful things I saw there was that young people are integrated across the whole process. They're not only marching in the streets and when they do march in the streets, they're accompanied by people of all ages and all sectors and all places you can imagine. It's not just young people marching, even though they get most of the headlines, which is great, but there are grandparents marching with them. There are parents marching with them. There are people from native American tribes and indigenous peoples and businesses and political parties and churches and universities.
Everybody's marching these days, and the young people started it. But inside the process, I saw so many young activists. I heard from everybody from the UAE government to Nestle and Ikea saying that they have set up youth advisory panels and they have made it mandatory for decisions about climate change, to have to consider the input of their youth advisory panels.
I was just like, if that does not give you hope, what does? And I met many of them negotiators, now, of course, the senior negotiator for each country is usually someone who's quite seasoned, but I met many negotiators who were young people in their early twenties who are passionate about climate change, who have grown up in a world where they didn't know anything different.
The climate has been changing the whole time they've been alive and they've been able to see it with their eyes and they were there as negotiators because they're so passionate about it. So believe me, young people in and of themselves are certainly enough to give us hope, but what truly gives us hope is the idea that there is a future. And what young people do is they embody that future for us. And that's why we are all fighting, is for that future, for everyone, every place in everything that we love.
Sarah LeRoy: That's perfect, Katharine. And that actually leads right into my next question about self-efficacy and collective efficacy. And you mentioned this right when we started this episode and what gives you hope, but could you explain for our listeners what it means for someone to feel self-efficacy, how it can help change people's behavior, and then additionally, how collective efficacy adds to this.
Katharine Hayhoe: So efficacy is a social science-y word for a very simple concept, which is if I do something, do I think it can make a difference. If we do something, can we make a difference? And if we don't think it can make a difference, and if we don't think we, as individuals can make a difference, why do it?
Because it's a waste of our time and our energy, and everything else that we have. So why don't we have efficacy? It's often because we don't think anything is being done. And so why bother trying to help if nothing's going to change anyways? And why is that? It's because most of our headlines are doom and gloom. If it bleeds, it leads. If it's bad news, it's clickbait.
You put up a good news story and it gets like, 10% of the clicks of the bad news stories. So we're just inundated with bad news. Day in, day out that is angry. Anger filled, frustrated, makes you feel depressed or paralyzed. So what we do is we end up picturing even those of us who are very concerned about climate change, which is the majority of people in the US now. 70% of people are worried about climate change in the US.
And again, 83% of mothers and 84% of young people. But the biggest gap we have is not between the people who are, or aren't worried about climate change. That gap is about 30%. The biggest gap we have is between people who are worried about climate change and people who are activated. That gap is more like 60%.
It's twice as big. Why are we not activated? Because we lack efficacy. Because we picture climate action as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of an impossibly steep cliff with only a few hands on it, like Al Gore and Jane Goodall and sir David Attenborough, and they're doing their best to push it up that hill.
And it's not budging a single inch. So why add mine? Because if I add mine, it won't move. That is lack of efficacy in a nutshell. But when we practice active hope, when we actually go out and look for what my city is doing. And often when I go places, I bring up specific examples of what their city is doing or what businesses are doing in their area, or what their state is doing.
And most people say, I had no idea! I had absolutely no idea that this was happening. So bring up these, these, when we go and we look for solutions, we realized that giant boulder of climate action is already at the top of the hill, rolling down the hill in the right direction with millions of hands on it.
And if, if I add my hand to a rolling boulder, it will go a little bit faster. If I use my voice to encourage my university, my place of work, my office, my family, my neighborhood, my organization, my church, my kids' school. If I use my voice to encourage them to add their hands, it will go even faster and I'll even see how much faster it's going.
That in a nutshell is efficacy. And where do we find that efficacy? We find it in actually looking around and seeing what people are doing and doing it ourselves. In my class, I give my students a range of activities they can pick from. And one of them is for one week, do something. Do something for one week, which could be, it could be having a conversation with somebody or multiple conversations.
It could be posting on social media. It could be looking at what you eat. It could be looking at how you travel. It could be looking at how you use energy in your home. You know, there's a whole range of things that you can look at. It could be joining an organization and finding out more about what they do. To see how you could support them.
So I give them a whole range of things I say, do it, and then write about what you learned, what did you see? And so I love it because some of the students said, well, I started, you know, this is what my electricity bill was like, and I started doing this. And then I looked at what my bill was like, and I saved 20 bucks just by doing a few simple things.
And all of a sudden their efficacy was off the charts because they realized they just took a few little steps and boom, they save 20 bucks, which for a student is quite a bit. And that was just a few little things that they did. And then somebody had a conversation with their mom that they've been avoiding for years, and they’re like, it actually went great. I can do this with more people.
So when we do something and we see what a difference it makes, that's what gives us efficacy. When we look around and see what other people are doing. And that's what my book is all full of stories about what other people are doing, not big famous rich people, not really, you know, not necessarily like the Bill Gates of the world, of the Elon Musks, but just really ordinary people, what they're doing and how that's making a difference, that gives us efficacy.
And it is a self-reinforcing, true positive feedback cycle. Where the more we do and the more we see what everybody else is doing, the more hope we have, the more hope we have the more efficacy we have, and more efficacy we have, the more we do and it just feeds back on itself. And sometimes we need to take a break.
Sometimes it gets exhausting, but if there's a million hands on the boulder and you just take yours off everybody else is like we've got it, take a break. You're good. And then, you know, do what you need to do. Spend time in nature, spend time with people you love, spend time doing the things and with the people in the places where you love to sort of refresh yourself and remind yourself why you're doing this, then come back, add your hand to the boulder.
And it will be going a little bit faster when you add your hand than when you left it. Because more people joined in the meantime.
Emile Elias: Excellent. And that builds up to my next question. In your book, you mentioned hope as a practice and so doing something that's really feeds into that idea of hope as a practice. And so now we've started a new year and that often gives people a lot of hope. They look at what the new year holds, they think about resolutions. And so in your book, you noted that you usually pick a certain climate solution to focus on each year and try out for yourself. So not only are you telling your students to do something, you're doing new things yourself. And so I wonder have you decided yet, or what you plan to do in 2022?
Katharine Hayhoe: I haven't decided yet, but each year I do adopt two new habits, and I keep the ones from the year before as well. And I don't just do them, I talk about them because that's how we amplify the effect of our footprint. Our footprints are not big enough to change the system, but our shadow is big enough to change the system.
And how do we engage our shadow, how we interact with other people, how we influence those around us by communicating. In some cases, it might be literally talking. In other cases, it might be sharing on social media. In other cases, it might be doing something where people can see you. Like I talk about in the book, how, when I first got my plug-in car, I left it plugged in outside the house, because that was where the power outlet was and all of our neighbors stopped and they said, what is that? Where did you get it? Does it have a gas pedal? How much did it cost? Wow, that's really cool. I like that. So that's a form of talking too.
So, every year I do two new things and I talk about how, you know, I changed my groceries habits to reduce our food waste. I got rid of our freezer to hang up the clothes. Last year I eliminated plastics from our shampoo and our face wash in the bathroom, tried out a bunch of different bars and let the family vote on which one they liked best before we, you know, figured out which one to use. Was horrified to learn that gas stoves produce massive amounts of indoor air pollution that radically increase the risk of asthma in children. I mean, gosh, I should have known that. I feel like, you know, I'm an atmospheric scientist. For some reason, I knew natural gas stoves were burning natural gas and producing carbon, but I didn't think about all the carcinogens and all the air pollutants that were being produced too!
So, I had a gas stove, and we moved and I was planning to take my gas stove with me ‘cause I loved it. I love cooking and I love that gas stove. Found out about that, that was my second action right there. Left the gas stove where it was, you know, kept the induction, the old induction stove that they had already.
Didn't buy a new one. Figured out how to cook with an induction stove. And now I do like it and I appreciate it very much, but that was a huge thing that I could do again for my family, for the health of my family. Oh. And it cuts down on our carbon emissions too. So what am I gonna do this year? I'm not sure.
I already have the plug-in car. We already have the solar panels, already changed out all the light bulbs. I'm going to think about it and in January I'm gonna make a decision. And the most important thing I do of course always is share that decision and talk about it and talk about the benefits. Talk about what I'm excited about.
Oh, actually, you know what, I already did do one thing. I already started, and this is going to be my thing for next year. I took out. So I took out the plastic from the bathroom because a lot of plastics actually made from petroleum products. And if you don't burn it, it doesn't produce carbon emissions, but it's still supporting the fossil fuel industry.
So, this, this coming year, I'm taking the plastic out of my dish detergent and out of my laundry room. There's lots of great programs like Drops that have, you know, recyclable packaging and they don't use plastics. And they're great detergents that you can use in the kitchen and you can use in the laundry room. So that's one of the things that I'm doing this next year.
Emile Elias: And you're inspiring me to do something similar. So thank you for that, for talking about it and having us think about this. And since I read your book, I went out and tried the laundry strips. They work really well, so, no plastic there. So you're inspiring a lot of us to think about how we live and think more broadly.
So thank you so much, Dr. Katherine Hayhoe for writing this book for sharing your personal journey for sharing your own solutions. Do you have any last thoughts that you'd like to share with our audience?
Katharine Hayhoe: I would love to close us with the two quotes that I chose to end the last chapter of my book, because hope is not just wishful thinking and hoping everything's going to be okay.
And somebody will come along and save us. Hope is an active practice that begins from a dark place, but holds that chance of a better future. And so the, the two quotes I chose to end the book, I think just really encapsulate that and encapsulate the fact that this is a fight. And what determines whether we reach that better future is us.
And so the last chapter in my book is called finding hope and courage, which implies action. Right? You have to go out and you have to find it. It's not going to find you. And these are the two quotes I used. First of all, from Katherine Wilkinson, who was one of the two authors along with Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who put together the wonderful compendium of woman's voices on climate change called All We Can Save.
She said this, she said, thinking about where we are today, “it's bad and it's going to get worse. But there is that chance of a better future.” And here's what she said. She said “it is a magnificent thing to be alive in a moment that matters so much. This is the moment that will be written about in the history books, but it's up to us, whether there will be history books.”
And then the second quote comes from the opposite end of the spectrum from 2000 years ago, it's attributed to St. Augustine. It says “hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage, anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
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