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RPC Eco-Letter 07: Katharine Hayhoe on Climate Conversations

It’s been a while since I’ve sent one of these letters! Summer always seems busier than I expect. In this newsletter, I am sharing some insights on climate communication based on the work of Katharine Hayhoe. I also have some recommended news stories below.

Peace, Jesse ---

Katharine Hayhoe and Saving Us

Katharine Hayoe is a Christian climate scientist and a Canadian living in Texas. With this unique identity, she has become a leading expert on climate communication. I recommend her book Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. Hayhoe says one of the most important things we can do to fight climate change is talk about it. Below are some of my notes on what does and doesn’t work when conversing about climate change.

What Doesn’t Work

  1. Facts alone probably won’t convince others. We’d like to think of ourselves as basically rational thinkers. But really, most of us make up our minds based on identity and then find reasons to justify our position. Informing someone of the science of climate change will not likely change the mind of a skeptic.

  2. Fear is not a great motivator. It’s tempting to start climate conversations with explaining how bad things are and how terrified we should be. It is true that the science is very alarming. Yet, fear only works as a motivator if we have a concrete action to take in response. Otherwise, it tends to paralyze us, limit creativity, and lead to inaction.

  3. Shame does not help. It’s easy to come across as judgmental when talking about living more sustainably. Part of the problem here is that we often focus on our individual actions. We need to work together to create structural change and make it easier for people to make the right decisions.

What Does Work

  1. Look for what you have in common with others. Do you both have kids? Are you both Christian? Do you love the place where you live? Are you coffee drinkers? Do you like Sriracha? Almost anything we care about can be linked to climate.

  2. Focus on what is affecting us now. We sometimes delay action because the climate crisis can seem distant and abstract—think polar bears and tropical islands. But really, it’s impacting our lives daily. More days of extreme heat lead to negative health impacts and increased violence. Flooding damages properties, increases mold, and causes sewage overflow. We might have friends or family experiencing wildfires, hurricanes, or drought. The crisis is here and now.

  3. Look for inspiring, practical solutions. Many people are afraid that solutions for the climate crisis will make our lives more difficult. It’s true that we will have to give up some things. But climate solutions often benefit us in multiple ways. For example, cutting down on fossil fuels will improve air quality. A plant-based diet reduces emissions from agriculture and benefits our health. Protecting forest ecosystems can reduce the risk of new zoonotic diseases. (Read more on the health impacts of climate solutions.)

For more of Katharine Hayoe, watch her TED Talk, listen to her interview for On Being, or go to her website.

Other News and Recommendations

* Not Too Late: Not Too Late, started by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua, “is a project to invite newcomers to the climate movement, as well as provide climate facts and encouragement for people who are already engaged but weary.” I recommend reading the FAQ and following the project on social media.

* Supreme Negligence: Amy Westervelt writes, “The West Virginia v EPA ruling is about the least-bad ruling we could have expected, but it’s a harbinger of worse to come.” * Climate change could trigger toxic disasters along Lake Michigan, new report finds: “A report… warns that rising lake levels, strong wind gusts and high waves are inching closer to flooding hazardous spots in northern Illinois, including coal, nuclear and Superfund sites.”


Make Way for Goslings by Jesse Miller

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