The Current

Talking about climate change requires honesty and connection — not just arguing, says author

While the climate change debate can be heated and create division, Katharine Hayhoe has a solution. She wants people to change the conversation and focus on connection, rather than division.

'Every single person already has every reason they need to care about climate change,' says Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe says she is hopeful that more people can see the reality of climate change and how it affects their lives. (Ashley Rodgers/Texas Tech University)

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Debates about climate change can often become heated, but Katharine Hayhoe says that most people who are labelled as climate change deniers aren't actually deniers at all — they just have questions.

"They were [asking] real questions, [like]: why does it matter to me? And is there anything we can do to fix it that doesn't involve destroying the economy and taking away everything I hold dear?" Hayhoe told Matt Galloway on The Current.

Hayhoe has given talks about climate change in the United States and Canada. She is an atmospheric scientist, and professor in the department of political science at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

Her new book is called Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. She wants people to change the conversation and focus on connection, rather than division. 

"The best place to start these conversations is not, first of all, by just picking out the science, so to speak, and metaphorically hitting people over the head with it. More facts aren't going to fix this problem," said Hayhoe.

Instead, she says the conversation should start with connecting with people, and showing them why climate change is important to them. 

The Dixie Fire burns at night in Taylorsville, Calif., on July 27, 2021. (David Swanson/Reuters)

If people are willing to have a real conversation about climate change, she says, that can go a long way.

Hayhoe started having more of these conversations when she moved to Texas and met people she considered smart, but who had different opinions on climate change.

"I'm convinced that just about every single person already has every reason they need to care about climate change," said Hayhoe.

"If they don't know what that is, it's simply because they haven't connected the dots between what is already at the top of their personal priority list and how climate change is affecting that today."

Faith and climate change

Hayhoe says her Christian faith was a big reason she became a climate scientist. The Bible's call to love people, and help those who need it, made her want to be part of the solution for climate change.

"Genesis 1:1 says that God gave humans responsibility over every living thing on this planet," said Hayhoe.

"All through the Bible, it talks about caring for others, taking care of the poor, the widows, the orphans. It talks about things that we are to do in order to express love to people."

While Hayhoe's faith helps her connect with people who have questions about climate change, she says it isn't the only way she's been able to find common ground. She's also connected with people over conversations about knitting, being a mom, and vacation spots.

People attend a climate change protest in Montreal on Sept. 26, 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"Begin the conversation, rather, with something that you have in common with the other person or people," said Hayhoe. "If you don't know what that is, ask, get to know them. Listen to their answers."

Hayhoe said big issues like climate change receive more pushback, because the actions to address it, from carbon taxes to shifting away from a fossil fuel-driven economy, have a direct impact on people's lives.

Hayhoe is hopeful that once people start making little changes such as changing to more efficient light bulbs or reducing food waste, bigger changes will follow. She says most people want to be seen as good, and want to do things that can help

"I study the difference that our choices make in the future, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that our future is in our hands, every choice matters, every year matters, every bit of warming matters and every action matters."

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Lindsay Rempel.