The Nature of Things·Profile

You don't have to be an environmentalist to talk about climate change with doubters

Talking is the most important thing we can do, says climate scientist — and we should start in our own community

Talking is the most important thing we can do, says climate scientist — we should start in our own community

How do you talk to someone who doesn't believe climate change is happening? Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe believes changing minds starts with finding common ground and connecting over shared values like family, community and even religion. 

Hayhoe, who is originally from Toronto, is co-director of the Texas Tech University Climate Center. She is an evangelical Christian and married to bestselling author Andrew Farley, also a pastor and radio host. 

Hayhoe frequently gives public talks on climate science, communication and faith. Her TED Talk "The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk About It" has been viewed over 3.6 million times.

Hayhoe was interviewed for Rebellion, a documentary from The Nature of Things, and she shared some advice on how anyone can talk to climate change doubters.

You don't have to be an environmentalist to talk about climate change

We think that to care about climate change, we have to be a certain type of person — we have to be an environmentalist or a tree hugger, somebody who eats granola and bikes to work, wears Birkenstocks. But the reality is we only have to be one thing and that is human.... 

Climate change is one of the most divisive issues in our society today. But by talking about it, by having conversations with people, we can start to heal that divide.

Talk to people in your own community

Take a look at yourself. Who are you; where do you live; what do you enjoy doing; what organizations are you part of; what is your cultural heritage; what is your faith tradition, if you have one? Whatever you already are makes you the perfect person to talk to people who share that background and those interests.

So for me, I talk to people who live here in Texas because I live here in Texas too. I speak to fellow Canadians because I'm a Canadian too. I speak to people of faith, especially Christians, because I'm a Christian too. I love winter sports, so I talk to people who enjoy that.... 

Those topics are exactly where you can begin conversations with like-minded people on those issues about how climate change is affecting things that you already care about today.

Appeal to what people already care about

I see myself as holding up a mirror to remind people who they really are and what they truly care about. I don't believe it's about changing hearts. I believe it's about changing minds. So people can understand that they already care about this issue; they just haven't realized it…. 

I was once asked by a colleague, a NASA scientist, "... I know a lot about [climate] science, but how can I connect with people about climate change?" So I said, "... Well, what do you enjoy doing?" He said, "I really enjoy cooking. I cook a lot with my friends." I said, "Well, that's perfect. You can talk all about how climate change is affecting everything from specialty crops, like coffee and chocolate and beer, to how rising [carbon dioxide] levels are decreasing the nutrient content of our food."

Climate change affects everyone

What's at stake here is everything because we all live on planet Earth. So every single one of us will be affected [by] climate change.... We're not fighting just for this planet — it will still be orbiting the sun after we're gone. We're not fighting only for certain populations; we are fighting for all of us.

Watch Rebellion on The Nature of Things.

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