Dr. Katharine Hayhoe
Atmospheric Scientist, Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently produced a report showing that the world needs to cut carbon pollution far more quickly than current rates to avoid severe consequences. But how can the global community achieve its climate goals when the conversation around climate change is often hyper-polarized?

To discuss this question and other issues, on the latest episode of the Columbia Energy Exchange host Jason Bordoff sat down with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist, professor of political science, and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Dr. Hayhoe has been a recipient of numerous awards, including TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers.

Over the course of the conversation Jason and Dr. Hayhoe discussed how she merges her faith as an evangelical Christian and her scientific professional work, what needs to be done to win hearts and minds on the issue of climate change, and the role that renewables and policy can play in addressing this global challenge. 

view the transcript

[00:00:02]

Jason Bordoff:  Hello and welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange.  A weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.  I’m Jason Bordoff.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently produced an alarming report showing that we need to cut carbon pollution far more quickly to avoid severe consequences.  And how can we achieve our climate goals when the conversation around climate change is so polarized.  I recently took part in a panel discussion on this topic at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas with professor Katherine Heyhoe.  And she made time to join us for this podcast discussion before our panel.  Katherine is a professor in the department of political science and the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University.  She’s been a recipient of numerous awards including TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers among others.  She’s also the creator of the entertaining and Educational Global Weirding Video series, you can find it on YouTube.  She’s an evangelical Christian, a daughter of missionaries.  She’s married to a pastor and over the course of our conversation, we described how she merges her faith and her scientific professional work.  What needs to be done to win hearts and minds on the issue of climate change.  The role that renewables can play in addressing the problem of climate change and what needs to be done to deal with this increasingly polarizing and partisan issue.  It’s a pleasure to sit down with Katherine Heyhoe, a fascinating conversation.  I hope, you’ll enjoy it.  Here it is.  Katherine Heyhoe, thanks for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:01:41]

Katherine Heyhoe:  My pleasure.

 

[00:01:42]

Jason Bordoff:  So first is I want to get on this is, a sense of your background, how you came to be doing what you’re doing now.  You direct the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University.

 

[00:01:51]

Katherine Heyhoe:  I do.

 

[00:01:52]

Jason Bordoff:  Lubbock, Texas.

 

[00:01:53]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Yes.

 

[00:01:54]

Jason Bordoff:  And many of our listeners probably have not been to.  Talk about what brought you there and what you’re doing now both in your scientific research and then also maybe what you’re better known to many of our listeners for which is the sort of external outreach and communication that you do on the issue of climate science.

 

[00:02:10]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Well, the reason, I do what I do is because I ended up in Lubbock, Texas and I have never been there even heard of it really either.  My family back in Canada still refers to it as Lubbock, Texas.  They recruited my husband.  We had the traditional two-body academic problem and I was the plus one that went along with them.  By then, I had figured out… This was back in 2005, 2006.  By then, I had figured out that there were a lot of people in the world who didn’t think that climate change was real.  And I also figured out that there is probably a lot of those people in Texas.  So when I was moving to Texas, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was, you know, doing my research looking specifically at high resolution climate projections and how we can use them to develop vulnerability and impact assessments for individual cities and regions around the world.  And moving to Lubbock, Texas, I didn’t know if I could continue doing my research or if people would be running the climate scientists out of town within a couple of months.  What actually happened was very interesting and this again is the reason why ends up doing everything that I do today.  Because within a couple of months of moving to Lubbock, I thought my first invitation to speak to a woman’s group.  They were curious about climate change.  They had a lot of questions.  So I, the reason why I switch fields originally from astrophysics to climate science was because I wanted to do something that was relevant that actually made a difference to people’s lives.  So when they asked me to come speak, I said sure, of course, I’d be happy to come.  So I went and I talked science, science, science.  And then I got all the questions.  And the questions had almost nothing to with the science.  The questions were why should I care about this? What am I supposed to do? So a couple of weeks later, I got my second invitation to a different woman’s group and I took my original presentation and I revised it and I answered the questions that I got and I went there with my revised presentation.  I got different questions about, more about how does it impact us in Texas or what am I supposed to do about it? So that was really the beginning of the whole, the whole thing.

 

[00:04:14]

Jason Bordoff:  So your, what I hear you saying is that the mission, the mission of a place like the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia to support the kind of scientific and academic and economic research being done in a place like Columbia to do technocratic, analytic work to help people understand, if you want to propose a policy like fuel economy standards, how do we assess the cost and benefits of that? If that makes sense? Does any of these make any difference? If we actually want them, is what I’m spending my days doing, having any impact at all? That’s my question for you.  If you were to help move the needle on climate change, how do we do that?

 

[00:04:53]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Yes.  Everything.  The answer is everything.  The answer is yes and yes and yes.  We need sensible policies in place that work so we can point to them as examples of solutions that are effective and I myself work with cities and with states.  I develop the climate projections that show the risks that we face and I help them prepare for very different features as well as to make smart mitigation choices to avoid what we can.  So we need the policies that are informed by good science and good solid analysis and facts and data.  But at the same time, we need the public well as well.  Because you could have the best science in the world.  You could have the best policies in the world but if you don’t have the public will to support that science and those policies, they won’t make a difference.

 

[00:05:35]

Jason Bordoff:  And what moves public opinion on this issue in your experience?

 

[00:05:39]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Unfortunately, today, the most basic emotion driving public opinion, I think is fear.  Fear of the rapid change that we’re seeing in the world all around us.  Clinging to whatever symbolizes the past to us because we’re so uncertain as to what the future holds.  Fear of the idea that the way that we’ve gotten our energy for hundreds of years could suddenly be harming this planet, the only planet that we can live on.  Fear of…

 

[00:06:05]

Jason Bordoff:  So does that mean when you show the, you know, statue of liberty under water and you have posters of like what’s coming of climate change.  Does that, I hear people sort of say, well that, rhetoric almost turns people off because it’s so catastrophic.  It’s hard to get your arms around and understand what does this actually mean for day to day lives which we are already seeing impacts today.

 

[00:06:24]

Katherine Heyhoe:  We’ve already, we have the research showing that.

 

[00:06:26]

Jason Bordoff:  I thought you’re saying the opposite because you’re saying, fear motivates people.  So scare them.  I thought, that’s what you’re saying.

 

[00:06:31]

Katherine Heyhoe:  No, fear of avoidance.  So the type of fear that makes you want to just pull the blanket up over your head.  But so then people say, as you just said, you know, people just say, let’s turn it around.  Let’s use fears motivator to spur climate action.  Let’s show people the statue of liberty under water.  You know what the continents would look like if the ice sheets melted and the land that, you know, a third of the world’s population lives on under water.  But that type of fear is a good motivation for short term action.  So we’re really good at running away from the bear or at least running faster than the person beside us, away from the bear.  But in order to really fix this problem, long term sustain the action and fear does not sustain long term action.  Hope, sustains long term action.  And so what I feel like we’re missing most at this point of time is a vision of a future that we all want to live in.  A hopeful vision, a vision that we can head towards.  But you know, at the Olympics you head towards the finish line.  You’re looking at the finish line and there is something there that you want.  And you’re running as fast as you can towards it.  But for us it seems like the future is a great fog and for many people, it seems like the future is not just, you know a great fog but it’s something that they are not sure they even want to be in.  And so we’re resisting many different aspects of change when we see this all across our society and climate change is one of those things where we say, how could what I am doing, what brought us the prosperous society, we have today, how could that possibly be harmful and if it is harmful, that makes me the bad person because I’m actively contributing to this in every single thing that I do every day.

 

[00:08:08]

Jason Bordoff:  And it did bring us prosperity, I mean, that’s the revolution dramatically increased standards of living, you know, human well-being on almost every metric ton.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that there would not serious impacts now.

 

[00:08:20]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Exactly.

 

[00:08:22]

Jason Bordoff:  The kind of and you’ve said, I think you’ve said that the primary factor in how people think about climate change is not how much information they have access to but it’s just where they fall in the political spectrum and you’re in a pretty conservative state and you’re part of a state.  And we have a political system that’s getting more not less polarized, it seems.  So what does that mean for how we engage people on the issue of climate change for people who say it doesn’t affect them or there is nothing they can do about it.

 

[00:08:57]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Climate change has been a casuality of identity politics to where we fall on the political spectrum is as you just said, the best predictor of whether we agree climate is changing or not.  But it’s because we have been told that agreeing that climate is changing due to human activities, agreeing with thermometers and basic science, they are going back 150 years.  We’ve been told that, that is somehow part of our identity.  And so what I try to do is I try to start detaching the issue from identity politics by beginning with a shared value.  A genuinely shared value.  If I’m talking with water managers, we genuinely both care about the whiplash cycle of floods and droughts we get here in Texas and how that cycle is amplified in a warmer climate.  If I’m talking to people who make their living off farming and producing and ranching then they care very much about productivity of the earth and the soil as well as the rainfall patterns that we get every year.  And if we talk to people who live in certain places who want a healthy vibrant community.  We want a healthy economy in that place that would support a family and our children.  And if I’m talking to people in communities in faith then we have a shared belief that we have responsibility or stewardship over this planet and that we are to care for people who are less fortunate than us and so by starting the discussion with shared values that are fundamental to who we are and then by connecting the dots between those shared values and why if you are that type of person, you’re exactly the type of person who care about the change in climate and its impacts and what we can do to fix it.  You’re removing the attachment to identity politics and we’re showing that even more profound identity that they already have is exactly the identity and the only identity they need to care about climate change.

 

[00:10:47]

Jason Bordoff:  And do you see that changing getting better, I mean, you talked about identity politics, partisan differences on this issue.  We did have bipartisan conversations about solutions to climate change a decade ago but it seems to be harder to do today.  You, if I remember the story.  Tell the story to our listeners when it came to more national prominence roughly a decade ago when we were rewriting a chapter for a book that was being edited on by _____ [00:11:16] and then that chapter was dropped because it talked about the reality of climate change and then rushing about _____ [00:11:21] so if I remember that correctly and so… So tell a story and then has any of that changing for the better?

 

[00:11:28]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Yes.  So I’ve been asked to write the first chapter for a new book that was being edited by New King _____ [00:11:34].  It was being published by John Hopkins press.  So essentially one of those academic light books.  And I’ve written a chapter and submitted it and really hadn’t heard much back beyond initial review.  The next thing I know, I’m getting phone calls, I think from CBS News saying how do you feel about your chapter being dropped from the book and I said, what are you talking about? I haven’t heard anything.  They say, well, during a townhall meeting apparently, somebody stood up and asked at Cambridge who is in the primaries then for the republican race, what do you mean having us climate scientists writing this chapter in your book.  And he said, oh no, we’re not doing that.  We got rid of her, words to that effect.  And now, he’s like putting _____ [00:12:13].

 

[00:12:13]

Jason Bordoff:  You would have known about it in advance now before the call with Twitter.  So you would have heard Twitter feed would have lit up that.

 

[00:12:19]

Katherine Heyhoe:  That’s right.

 

[00:12:20]

Jason Bordoff:  But and…

 

[00:12:21]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Nowadays, I find out whether I published a journal article first on Twitter.  So you know, when we submit academic journal articles, and they go through review and we are told, they’ll published sometime in the next few months, the next thing I know is somebody on Twitter has already saving my article and I didn’t even know it was published.

 

[00:12:37]

Jason Bordoff:  Do you, you mentioned a minute ago something very briefly but I want to highlight it.  You mentioned said in the course of communicating people and you mentioned communities is a faith.  So you’ve also said that for all the public speaking you do and scientific writing you do and YouTube videos, you do, the most effective thing you’ve done to communicate on the issue of climate change is let people know that you’re an evangelical Christian.  Can you talk about why that is?

 

[00:13:02]

Katherine Heyhoe:  It’s because of the power of connecting over genuinely shared values.  So in this country over 70% of people will self-identify as Christian and you can argue over how many really are, aren’t.  I think the surveys will, all the people who identify themselves as evangelical who voted for Trump only half actually go to church.  But leaving that issue aside.  If people call themselves Christians, then we have a shared basis of values that is actually coming to just about every single major world religion which is very interesting.  So the shared values are the fact that we believe we’ve been given responsibility or care for or dominion over creation and people use the word dominion of course to say well, we can do whatever we want and leave the planet as smoking ruin.  But we know that in our lives, if you have dominion over company or a corporation or city or region and you extract every last penny and just leave it completely destroyed and devastated, nobody would respect you for your leadership and your responsibility or your care.  We know instinctively that if we are in charge of something, we are to nurture it and to help it grow.  So we believe that we have dominion or responsibility over this earth and we also believe that we are to care for people who are less fortunate than us.  And that again is a common thread not through all the different branches and denomination of Christianity but you see this also in every single major world religion.  And it brings the discussion to a very different place.  So what I was experiencing was a couple of, you know, my first talk I think was to the[00:14:38] voters.  My second talk was to the university women’s club and then it went to the senior citizens home.  But part that the fifth or sixth public talk I was ever asked to give was to a Baptist church.  And that was the moment in time when I realized, I had already given a few public talks and it started to dawn on me that people were very much seeing me as ever.  They were seeing me as, oh, she’s a scientist.  So she has this very different set of values that I cannot connect with and understand at all.  And she’s talking to us about this issue that she thinks is really important but she doesn’t understand our lives and because our values don’t intersect at all, I don’t really understand why this should be important to me.  So I was already getting this sense that this is what people are feeling and so when I first got invited to speak to that Baptist church, I thought to myself, this is the time when I have to be willing to share with people that I do have something that is of very core shared value with them and the reason why I care so passionately about the change in climate is the exact reason why I think they should care too.  And in doing that and identifying with people it opened my eyes personally to the incredible power of shared values and starting from that place of unity rather than how we start so many discussions today, don’t we.  So in place in, you know, we’re far apart as possible.

 

[00:16:01]

Jason Bordoff:  And you’ve seen that, the effect of you’ve seen, I mean, tell me, if I’m right, I think but pulling, it’s kind of old now, evangelicals are less likely in the public at large to accept climate and so is that changing, is that outreach kind of having impact?

 

[00:16:19]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Well, we’ve done some studies with my presentations because I wanted to know of course as a scientist, you don’t want to be doing something, spending so much of your time and mental and emotional energy, investing in something if you felt like it’s pointless, right.  So what we did was we do pre and post tests before and after a lecture that I give or just to recording of a lecture at different Christian universities and colleges.  We’ve done this at a couple of different ones in the U.S.  and in Canada as well.  And we’re very curious to see, did listening to me talk for you know, 35-40-45 minutes, did that make a difference in people’s opinions? And every time, it did.  There is a statistically significant difference in just about all of the metrics that we use and we use a lot of the questions that come from the six Americas of global warming study because that’s a great source to you know to look at different questions and how people answer them across the U.S.  So we knew that we’re starting with a more conservative demographic but what we found fascinating that we’ve just finished a comparative study of three different colleges that are all evangelical but they have different ones, much very conservative, one is kind of middle of the road and one is pretty neutral.  What we found is that there is significant improvement in all three institutions but they improve to the same level, so the more conservative ones improved a lot more proportionally.  When I say improved, I mean, in terms of agreeing with the science and agreeing with the urgency of the problem and agreeing with the relevance of the problem to their lives and to their values.

 

[00:17:54]

Jason Bordoff:I wonder if that’s getting harder and that it seems like you’re suggesting people not seek solace in the comfort of groups that not agree with each other but find ways to and engage with people who seek out those who don’t.  Find a connection with them in different ways and then have conversations.  But this is like this is but we don’t talk.  Part of the country is watching MSNBC, part is watching Fox News.  There is, I feel like following you know looking at Twitter feeds reminds you to just how different worlds are that people listen to and how reinforcing the tools of social media are for those views.  So…

 

[00:18:32]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Exactly.

 

[00:18:33]

Jason Bordoff:  Since it’s getting harder not easier.

 

[00:18:35]

Katherine Heyhoe:  It is and I actually think and this is a different longer discussion but I think the social media has reinforced our polarization.  Because it’s increased our ability to filter the input we receive.  I mean, 40, 50 years ago, if you wanted news, you turn on Walter Cronkite.  And everybody turned to Walter Cronkite.  But today, we get news from exactly the sources that we want and it can be spun in anyway.  And so often, I’m even guilty of this myself on social media, we read the headlines rather than reading the actual article and a headline can take the exact same information, even it’s that same article and spin it completely different ways as well.  And so we’re living in this increasingly polarized society and the pure political polarization survey has been tracking polarization since 1994 and they have absolutely shown that the distributions of who’s conservative and who’s liberal in the U.S.  which used to be nice and symmetrical and normal and pretty close together in the middle, they’ve gotten way skewed out to the tails.  So people are being driven further apart.  And the fact that we have the ability to choose our echo chambers, I think has a lot to do with that.

 

[00:19:44]

Jason Bordoff:  And you’ve, so what’s effective in communicating with people? You are active on social media, you do give a lot of talks.  You have a video series, global weirding with Katherine Heyhoe.  Tell people what that is and what you try to achieve with it? What do you find works?

 

[00:19:59]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Global Weirding is a short digital series.  So it’s on YouTube and each video is about six or seven minutes long.  So it’s perfect for sharing on social media or watching while you’re standing on line.  Every single video starts with a question that I’ve heard at least a dozen times, some of them hundreds of times.  Isn’t it just a natural cycle.  The Bible doesn’t say anything about climate change, does it? I’m just one person, what can I do? Is it too late? What’s this two degree target that people keep talking about it? Does this latest hurricane have anything to do with global warming?

 

[00:20:32]

Jason Bordoff:  Those are all good questions.

 

[00:20:34]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Thank you and we answered them.  We are starting season three in just a few weeks.  Very excited about that and when we started the season three, each season has about 12 different episodes.  We’re thinking, well, do we really have more questions to answer and then we started to make up a list and then we realized, oh my goodness, we haven’t even talked about how to trust those climate models anyway? Aren’t they just stacked to give you the answer, you want and things like that.

 

[00:20:56]

Jason Bordoff:  And what, pick like one or two, what do you think one or two questions or myths are that are most pervasive? There is one or two things that you felt like, that was the strongest questions that you needed to correct.  What will they be?

 

[00:21:09]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Well, the most frequent science question that you hear any where is just a natural cycle isn’t it.  But what was so fascinating was that the two most frequently watched episodes were not what I would have guessed.  The number one most watched episode is what does the Bible say about climate change and that was one that I put in just because I get a lot of questions from when I talk to for Christian colleges and…

 

[00:21:36]

Jason Bordoff:  Some of our listeners may want to know the answer.

 

[00:21:37]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Oh, okay.  What does it say? Well, the word climate change don’t occur in the Bible and those people know that.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of information on the attitudes and the actions that we are to have towards our planet and towards other people.  So in Genesis, in the first chapter, the first book of the Bible, it talks about how humans have responsibility over every living thing on this planet and then in Revelation which is the last book of the New Testament, it talks about how God will destroy those who destroy the earth which kind of destroys the myth that oh, if God is in control, humans couldn’t affect something as big as our planet.  And then all throughout the Bible, there is all kinds of verses about God’s joy and pleasure in creation, the beauty of creation, the importance of plants and animals and other living beings and then there is a lot about caring for other people.  Caring for the poor, the orphans, the widows.  Caring for the very people who are most affected by climate change today because we know that disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable.  It multiplies the threats of hunger and poverty and disease.  And that is the reason, why we care is because it’s already affecting real people, real places to that.

 

[00:22:48]

Jason Bordoff:  And, you’ve talked about that as well but, I think you said somewhere I read, you know, one of the biggest disservices we’ve done with climate is framing it as an environmental problem.  What does that mean?

 

[00:23:00]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Yes.  As a… Environmental is a label.  And it has a lot of baggage attached to it.  If you say I’m an environmentalist, you expect to see somebody who bikes everywhere _____ [00:23:20], probably doesn’t show regularly.  Doesn’t really vote, you know, environmentalists are the lowest voting blocks in the United States.  And cares passionately about saving the whales to the point where if they were driving down the road and their vehicle is filled by recycled oil and they saw a baby human and a baby seal on the road, they would swerve to avoid the baby seal even if it meant hitting the baby human.  That’s their terrible stereotype that environmentalism has in many sectors of our society.  The reality is, is that if we are a human living on this planet, if we enjoy breathing clean air and drinking clean water and having a safe place to live in, having enough food to eat, those are the only values that we need to care about change in climate because we don’t have another planet.  This past summer, last summer actually, I had the amazing opportunity of attending one of Stephen Hawking’s last talks.  And Stephen Hawking spoke very strongly about the urgency and importance of acting on climate.  But then he said, maybe we should just tier for Mars.  And I sat there thinking myself, if you think, we’re gonna tier for Mars anywhere near the time frame needed to get a substantial portion of earth’s population to a different planet that is much less hospitable than the current one we have in response to a change in climate.  I do not know what you’re thinking.  And so my presentation at that event was two days later and I was presenting the same session as Martin Rees who is the Royal Astronomer of England and a long time friend and colleague of Stephen Hawking.  So I was backstage with Martin before we went on stage and I said, do you mind if I ask you something.  Do you really think terra forming Mars is a solution to climate change? And he looked at me and said, oh, no, he said.  Solving climate change is a doodle in the park compared to terra forming Mars.  And I completely agree as a climate scientist, I know that things are changing faster and to a greater extent than we predict.  We do not have time to look for exotic solutions as attractive as they might be, we have to fix the only planet we have and that’s why, it’s not environmental problem, it’s a human problem.

 

[00:25:31]

Jason Bordoff:  I was talking about that recently.  Jean McCarthy who I’ve worked with in the Obama administration and I felt it was interesting when she left, she went to the public health center at Harvard.  She said, this is a public health issue and we have to start talking about it as a public health issue.  So what are the solutions that from your standpoint? Where policy center, so you said, you know, it’s easier to solve the problem than to terra form Mars.  What, how do we solve it?

 

[00:25:59]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Well, that’s the gazillion dollar question.  That’s the question that not the fate of the planet but the fate of human civilization hangs on.  People often say, we have to save the planet.  The planet is gonna survive.  It’s human civilization that might not because we have built a vulnerability to change in climate into the fabric of our society.  Two thirds of the world’s biggest cities within a few feet of sea level, every acre of arable land in most developed countries parcel out already to the point where you can’t just pick up your farm it North of climate changes.  Our water is already over allocated to the point where we don’t have enough in dry years and the stresses are just increasing.  So how do we fix this problem? As a climate scientist, I feel like I’m almost in the easy position.  I’m the person who diagnosis the problem I hand it over to you and I say fix this thing.

 

[00:26:44]

Jason Bordoff:  I already want to put a more precise in the question but go ahead.

 

[00:26:48]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Yeah, well let me say this.  People argue and you’ve seen this and I’m sure, you can speak to this even more.  People are always arguing over what the best solution should be and from my perspective, we need solutions and we need as many as possible and we need them as diverse as possible because with a diverse portfolio of solutions, we are able to have a better chance of some succeeding and some actually doing what we want rather than trying to be incredibly prescriptive from the get go.  What do you think?

 

[00:27:18]

Jason Bordoff:  Well, I was gonna, well the question was, you know I ask which is partly response to that is you’ve talked, it’s a theory of change question.  So what motivates public opinion and support to drive toward bigger change and you’ve talked a lot about the importance of showing individuals things they can do, tangible things they can do to make a difference.  And because they say, it’s too big a problem, there is nothing, I can do and so I wanted to ask you about that because whether it’s turning off your lights, being more efficient, thinking about how much you fly.  You said, you try to like schedule your travel to be as efficient as possible.  What people hear are things that are either inconvenient, well, you know, there is benefit to traveling and what do you mean, I’m not supposed to fly or different especially emerging think about not just the U.S.  but rapidly growing economies.  They hear, well, I can’t grow the same way that you did and I have to sacrifice something or the things that are pretty easy to do like change your light bulbs or turning off your lights whatever.  No reason not to do them but they are not moving the needle in the way we need to move the needle to get on track.  So when I hear things like that I say, it’s great to give people tangible things they can do except it is so small relative to the scale of what’s needed which is going to be driven by the policies that change the investment incentives or really thinking about how to move very large amounts of capital that the world’s largest energy company or financial services firms and others are spending.  So what does that mean for how to empower individuals? Does that mean we want to give them the most things to do or it doesn’t mean, we’re not fully giving them a sense of how big this problem is and misleading in some way?

 

[00:29:00]

Katherine Heyhoe:  When I first start to talk to people about climate change and I started to get people to asking me what can I do about it, that was the question, I faced because again as climate scientists, we diagnose the problem in a million different ways.  We can tell you thousands of lines of evidence that tell you the planet is warming and it is humans and then you say, what are we supposed to do about it? We sit back and we fold our hands and we say well, you know, that’s not what we do.  But if we’re gonna engage in the public’s fear, we have to take responsibility to educate ourselves on the solutions that are available, so we can give people information.  So when I first started, I used to think of specific actions people can do.  But now, if you ask me what is the single most important thing people can do about climate change, talk about it.  Because studies have shown that less than a quarter of people in the United States hear somebody else talk about climate change more than once or twice a year.  During the last presidential elections, there was a lot of discussion in circles that we run in as to why there was no climate question in the debates.  It’s because no one cared.  The issue we face is not rejection or denial of science.  The issue we face is complacency and the fact that nobody thinks the impacts matter.  When you look at the Yale public opinion on climate, which is a really amazing resource.  You can find that just by Googling Yale public opinion climate.  They break down what people think about climate change by congressional district and by county and everybody in the U.S.  pretty much thinks that climate is changing.  The majority of people think it’s changing due to the human activities.  People think, it’s going to affect plants and animals.  They think, it’s going to affect future generations.  They are pretty sure, it’s going to affect developing countries.  Nobody thinks, it is going to affect them personally.  That is the biggest issue we have and why is that? Two reasons.  Number one, until recently, now this is changing.  But until recently, to see the actual impacts of the change in climate, we would have to travel pretty far away up to the Arctic down to low lying islands in the South pacific.  Now this is changing and we are starting to see the impacts right here where we live.  That’s reason number one.  Reason number two is because we just don’t talk about it.  So if I tell people one thing, it is talk about this.  And then people say, well, but I’m not a scientist.  What am I supposed to say.  Don’t talk about, you know the science and the enforcing and the climate models.  No, talk about hey, that was a pretty crazy summer, we just had.  Did you know that climate changes load in the base against us, making these types of summers, worse and worse.  My kid had a bad asthma attack or my air-conditioning goes really high or you know, our farm had a hard year because it was so dry and hot, we had to, you know, truck in hay from Kansas.  That was really expensive and now we have this huge debt.  Talk about things that are happening in the place where we live.  Number one but number two, talk about solutions.  And this is where our personal solutions come in.  The second step I tell people is step on the carbon scale, figure out where your personal missions are coming from.  Make smart choices in your life that you’re excited about, that you want to share with people.  I know, this is really nerd but I actually do really like my light bulbs.  I was having a great conversation with the painter just the other day about how much money we save from switching our light bulbs because he was up in the ladder changing _____ [00:32:18] look, it’s one dollar a year for this light bulb.  The old light bulbs would have been a lot less efficient probably about $10 a year.  And we’re having this whole discussion over how much money, you would save.

 

[00:32:31]

Jason Bordoff:  So we can bond over that.

 

[00:32:32]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Yeah, we can bond over that.

 

[00:32:35]

Jason Bordoff:  So I was building a house actually and so I was just kind of seeing it in my spreadsheets for solar panels on the roof and what discount rate I’m applying to it and when the payback will be and feeling good about like this is quite a sensible thing to do.

 

[00:32:47]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Exactly.

 

[00:32:49]

Jason Bordoff:  Even before I apply carbon tax myself, that as well.

 

[00:32:52]

Katherine Heyhoe:  So _____ [00:32:52] who is one of my colleagues he’s been in the climate science arena for decades.  He lived in Maryland and they have a great program there where you can get your solar panels.  He got his solar panels a couple of years ago and now whenever you see Mike, he has a spreadsheet of how much money he’s saving and how excited he is.  And it is awesome.  But it isn’t just about ourselves, it’s important to go out and look for solutions that other people are doing too.  Because we can say, we can do everything we can, but what about China, what about India.  And so it’s really important to recognize that coal companies in India are investing in solar power.  That China leads the world in wind and solar energy technology.  That their museum of coal mining in Kentucky put solar panels on the roof.  That there is more jobs in the power industry in solar energy than there is in fossil fuels.  So recognizing the changes happening not just in the places where we live but it’s happening around the world.  That is what gives us hope and that is what enables us to feel like it is possible to fix this problem and that is what helps us talk about it.  Because one of the reasons, we don’t talk about it is we know, we’re afraid of, you know, getting into a fight with uncle Joe over the climate science.  But I think another and even more important reason, we don’t talk about it is because it’s depressing.  It is just depressing to talk about the fact that everything we do.

 

[00:34:05]

Jason Bordoff:  Even when I listen to what you just, that there are very exciting trends in clean energy, my immediate thought as you said it was, but coal is also growing.  Coal use went up last year, emissions went up last year.  I think that will be true again this year.  Global energy demand is growing.  So we’re nowhere close to being on track for where we need to be.  And it’s interesting to kind of, I talk a lot with friends about the theory of change in terms of optimism versus reminding people how far off track we are and what motivates support most effectively.

 

[00:34:35]

Katherine Heyhoe:  It’s a balancing act, isn’t it because if you go too far in the fear direction, fear ends up paralyzing us and as we were talking about earlier, we’ve even done some work showing that if you get too far to the anxiety, to the alarm side of spectrum, you can end up to stropping of the ant and disengaging.  But on the other hand, if you feel like oh everything is fine.  Other people are fixing it.  I don’t have to worry about it.  That’s not true either.  We need a healthy balance of optimism and realism, I think to move forward and it’s really hard to strike that balance.

 

[00:35:06]

Jason Bordoff:  Unfortunately out of time.  But Katherin Heyhoe, this is fascinating discussion.  Pleasure to spend time with you.  Thanks for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:35:12]

Katherine Heyhoe:  Likewise.

 

[00:35:13]

Jason Bordoff:  Thanks to all of you for listening.  For more information about the Columbia Energy Exchange and the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at Energypolicy.Columbia.edu or follow us at Columbiauenergy on social media.  We’ll see you next week.