Kai Wright: Hey, this is Kai. You are probably getting tired of this housekeeping note, but I'm going to give it to you one more set of times this week. We've changed your feed. We're now breaking up the show in segments. So what you're about to listen to this is the first segment this week. Later this week on Thursday, you'll get the second segment. That's how it's going to go from now on and if you want to get the whole show, go to our YouTube channel, go to WNYC on YouTube, and you will find the whole show all at once. That's it. There you go.
Regina de Heer: Since you deeply care about climate change, what do you value, what part of your value system makes you care deeply about the issue?
Bill: That the world of the future may be very different from the world I grew up in and not in a good way.
Kris: The belief in the interdependence of all beings.
Joshua: I've always really been in tune with mountains and nature and I really liked forests, liked to go hiking.
Bill: Buddhism, the teaching of interdependence and interconnectedness really comes to bear both our connections with all other people then also with people in the future and people in the past.
Rev. Dr. David: From our Christian perspective, love of neighbor and that we are interconnected and that we live in fidelity to God and in faithfulness to our neighbors by doing those things for the common good.
Suzanne: I value what our children are going to inherit and what our great-grandchildren are going to inherit.
Kai: Welcome to the show. I'm Kai Wright. Those voices you just heard are from a listening session that our producer Regina de Heer held with the Faith Alliance for climate Solutions, which is an interfaith climate advocacy organization based out of Northern Virginia. It is a big week in news about the changing climate. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has finally found a climate deal he can support. The bill is supposed to be up for a vote later this week, assuming nothing falls apart.
A wide range of observers are calling it the most ambitious legislation ever to confront climate change. Depending on your temperament, you can either take that as a very promising piece of news or a maddening indication of just how much time has been wasted. Anyway, in other climate-related news, both Exxon Mobil and Chevron hit record profits in the second quarter of this year. While senators debated inflation and gas prices, and whether it was the right time to take action on climate this spring, Exxon was banking 17.9 billion in three months. Chevron made 11.6 billion in profits in that same time.
Listen, the juxtaposition of these facts, the slow action in Washington alongside the rapid amassing of profit among fossil fuel companies. It does make some of us feel like this is all futile. What can we possibly do as individuals to change this equation? Well, Katharine Hayhoe is an award-winning atmospheric scientist who wants to guide us all away from just those kinds of dark and helpless thoughts. She's chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, a professor at Texas Tech University, and author of the best-selling wildly popular book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. Professor, thanks for coming on.
Professor Katharine Hayhoe: Thank you for having me.
Kai: Before we get into the book and essentially the therapy session I'm going to ask you for tonight. What's your reaction to the news out to Washington? How would you characterize the bill that Democrats hope to pass this week?
Professor Hayhoe: Well, I think that you summarized it really well. It's a huge step forward, an enormous step forward to reducing our carbon emissions and investing in a clean energy economy. At the same time, first of all, you can't count your chickens until their hatch, so to speak indeed. Second of all, we still need more. It's no surprise that people feel concerned, worried, anxious, panicked, overwhelmed. That is a rational and logical response to what we're seeing today.
Kai: Well, so you say, if we want to contribute a solution, those of us who are anxious and overwhelmed and concerned and all of that one thing we can do is talk about it. We're going to get into the techniques you offer for doing that, but I just want to start with the why on that. Why is talking about it the thing?
Professor Hayhoe: Well, it's the first thing. Obviously, if all we did was talking then that wouldn't fix the problem, but how do humans do anything together through communication? What happened was when I first started talking to people about why climate change matters and why we need to do something about it, the natural question people would have is, okay, so what should I do?
I said, well, measure your carbon sub print, eat more plants, look at how you travel. All of those traditional things that we should do and are all good to do, don't get me wrong. Then I did the math and I realized that if everybody who was worried did everything that they could to reduce their personal carbon footprint in this society, that wouldn't even fix a quarter of the problem so no wonder we feel like I've tried so hard and I just can't make a dent. Then I started to look at how things have changed in the past. This ties directly into the themes that you look at in your podcast.
How has social change occurred in the past? Most times it was not because a president or a CEO or big, rich, wealthy, famous person woke up one morning and said, the world has to change. Women have to get the vote. Civil liberties have to be enacted. Gay marriage has to be possible. It was because individuals of no particular power or wealth or fame use that one thing we all have, which is their voice to advocate for that change, to talk about what we need to do and how we can do it and that is the first step to the societal change we need to fix climate change too.
Kai: When we're talking about, oh, you got to talk about it. It's not sit in your living room and ring your hands. It's be an advocate. That's what you need by talking about it.
Professor Hayhoe: Exactly. I think of talking about it as having two sides to the coin. The first side is we have to understand the risk of inaction, but it's not about the polar bears and the ice sheets unless you are a polar bear who lives on the ice sheet.
Kai: Then it's very much about those things for you.
Professor Hayhoe: Yes. I know there are frequent listeners to your program, but other than that it's about how it matters to us. I talk to people where I live in Texas about how it's affecting us in Texas, or how it's affecting wildfires in California or terrible flood risks in Kentucky or Missouri like we've seen this past week. How it might affect you if you're a parent, you care about your kids. If you love tennis or outdoor activities. If you're a gardener. If you're a foodie. If you like beach vacations. If you're a person of faith. If you're a business person. If you value national security.
Begin where we already care, connect the dots to how climate change is affecting us. That's the first half, but then the other half is the rewards of action. What can we do individually? What can we do together as an organization, a corporation, a school, a group of people, everybody who walks their dog together, our family, our church, what could we do together to make a difference? Those two things together are what we need to move forward.
Kai: Values are really important to you. Why we care about these things, we have to start there. What about you? What is the value that drove you to care about climate change in the first place?
Professor Hayhoe: Well, it's not just one value. It's almost every value I have. What I realized is I don't have to make everyone care about climate change for the same reasons I do. I just have to try to figure out what reasons they already have to care and connect the dots. I recommend doing an inventory and I'll just do a sample of mine and then I'm going to ask you for a couple of yours too. First of all, I am a mother and I want a better world for my child.
I know that if we don't fix climate change, he won't have it. I'm a Canadian. I live in Texas and I see how climate change is affecting both my home and the place I live on a daily basis and affecting the health and the welfare of the people who live there, as well as all the other living things. I love skiing. To ski, you need snow and snow is going one way fast because it's getting warmer. I am a Christian and I truly believe, and this is common, not just to Christianity, but to almost every major world religion in the world, that we are to be good stewards of this amazing planet we live on and we are to love our sisters and our brothers and care for their needs.
Today, climate change is affecting most vulnerable people among us. The people who are already marginalized. There are people who already do not have a voice, they are the ones who are most affected by climate change. For me, that was the bottom line that made me decide to become a climate scientist, realizing how completely unfair and unjust climate changes.
Kai: Just to dwell on the faith question for a moment, because it really is sadly in the political conversation counterintuitive. At least in the headlines, we don't hear evangelical Christians or we don't see people who identify as Christian saying, "Hey, my faith is what drives me to care about the climate and the way that you are doing." I gather for you that goes all the way back to being a little kid in Columbia, I believe it was. Can you take us back to those early days?
Professor Hayhoe: Well, we moved down to Columbia in South America, not British Columbia when I was nine years old and growing up down there as a child made me see firsthand and then later understand as an adult, just how vulnerable people are to natural disasters like floods and droughts and storms and heat waves and more when they don't have all the resources that we just take for granted here like air conditioning, insurance, the national guard, flood warnings, all of those things that we just take for granted, even though we still have disasters here today, a lot of countries and places don't have those.
How does that tie into climate change? Climate change is taking these previously natural events and supersizing them, making them bigger, stronger, more dangerous, and more damaging. Once again, not just on the other side of the world, but right here in the US, the people who are the most vulnerable, the people who live in the low-income neighborhoods, the Black and the brown neighborhoods, those are the people who are often most affected and who are most at risk and find the most difficulty and have the least help in recovering from these increasingly dangerous disasters that are fueled by climate change.
Kai: Yes. In facing that kind of stuff, you said we need rational hope. That's the phrase I've heard you use is rational hope. In the context of right now and maybe in the context of this bill that's coming from Congress, what is rational hope?
Professor Hayhoe: That is a really important question. I'm so glad you asked because these days I see just as much despair and do-more-ism as I see denial. Denial is, "Oh, it's not real. It doesn't matter. We don't need to do anything about it." Denial results in an actual do must, but do-more-ism says, there's nothing we can do. It's too late. It's over, the goose is cooked. That also leads to an action and that will also do must. When I say our actions can make a difference, people reply like the man on Twitter just earlier today, hopeium. You're giving a drug to the masses when there's really nothing they can do.
Kai: Changing hope stuff.
Professor Hayhoe: Exactly. The reality is I'm a scientist and I look at the future. That's what I do. I look at what the future will look like in the places where we live, depending on the choices we make today and in the near future. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, based on my own work, that there is a night and day difference between the future where we transition to clean energy and ween ourselves off fossil fuels, versus the future where we sit on our hands and do nothing.
The future is literally in our hands, but we have to realize that hope is not the guarantee of a better future. Hope is not, "Oh, everything will be okay. I'll just fold my hands and wait and somebody will fix it for me." That's not hope. Rational hope begins by saying it's bad and it could get worse, but there's a small chance that it could get better if we do everything we can and that's what I'm fighting for. That's what I call rational hope.
Kai: I'm talking with Climate Scientist, Katharine Hayhoe about why the most important thing those of us who care about climate change can do is talk about it and start by talking about our values. Her book is called Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. We can take your calls. If you've got a question for Professor Hayhoe, we'll take your questions after a break. Stay with us.
Regina: Hi everyone. I'm Regina, a producer with the United States of Anxiety. A few weeks ago, Kai talked with author, Danielle Smith, about the Black women who have defined pop music and about how the summer jam is so intimately connected with the memories we all have. For the rest of the summer, we're building a Spotify playlist with songs selected by you and by our team. Here's a contribution from our senior digital producer, Kousha Navidar.
Kousha Navidar: I picked Quimbara by Johnny Pacheco and Celia Cruz.
This song legit has everything I would want in a summer jam. The rhythm, the voice, the killer brass section. I have danced down the street listening to the song in my headphones for 20 summers now. It never gets old. This song also reminds me of my dad who introduced me to Celia Cruz. That brings a lot of sweet memories, which is perfect for summer.
Regina: Thank you so much Kousha and if you would like to be involved in this special project as well, email us a voice recording telling us your song choice and why you chose it. You can send the recording to email@example.com, that's firstname.lastname@example.org. You can be a part of the playlist and our next conversation with Danielle Smith. The playlist is already live on Spotify so start streaming it now. You can find a link in the episode description. Thank you so much and we look forward to hearing from you.
Kris: I'm a unitarian universalist.
Joshua: Intern pastor at Rock Spring United Church of Christ.
Bill: I'm a Buddhist.
Suzanne: A naturalist.
Rev. Dr. David: Pastor in the Lutheran Church.
Regina: Have you changed your life in any way due to climate change?
Andrea: I ran for office in 2007 and I was a climate champ, one of the earliest in office and we created the first countywide energy strategy in the country.
Eric: I retired so that I could spend full time working on climate change
Suzanne: Have done composting for years.
Kris: My house is heated with a heat pump. I have an EV. I have solar panels on the roof.
John: I had about 437 acres out in West Virginia. I'm getting old so rather than trying to sell it, I've donated it to two local land trusts.
Joshua: I've been really focusing my ministry on climate justice and trying to move things into that lens.
Kris: I bring up the climate catastrophe every day, everywhere I go.
Bill: It's going to take not just the head, but the heart to address climate change.
Eric: Joining with others in your faith community to act on the biggest moral challenge of maybe civilization.
Bill: We have members from over 15 local congregations. It's been helpful both as a space to take action and also provide a space to process our feelings and bring other people into the conversation.
John: Most of us, I think here are at least reasonably well off and can contend with this crisis much more than the people in poverty or places that they can't move. We owe it to our fellow human beings to show the love towards them as well as everybody else, that this is a crisis and we will not survive as a people without working together on this.
Kai: Welcome back. I'm Kai Wright. Those were more voices from the listening session we held earlier this week with the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, which is an interfaith climate advocacy organization based out of Northern Virginia. I'm joined by climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and we're talking about the strategies she articulates in her bestselling book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.
We can take your questions for Professor Hayhoe. Call us at 212-433-WNYC. That's 212-433-9692 or if you're watching on YouTube, you can just drop the question in the chat. Professor Hayhoe, here's a question we got from one of the people in our listening session with the Faith Alliance earlier this week. Here's Jo from that group,
Jo: I would like to ask from the perspective of her experience, what are the best arguments she think that we could bring to the non-believers not to get convinced because there is a sector of population that you are not going to change. Not to bring them to common board, but at the minimum, not to destroy the work that is being done. What kind of arguments we can have? Because we cannot move without acknowledging existence of all of these negative polarizing forces that are in society nowadays. Thank you.
Kai: What do you say to Jo?
Professor Hayhoe: I want to highlight a point that Jo made, which was really important, and that is that the people who are truly dismissive, who would dismiss, my definition of dismissive is literally if an angel from God with tablets of stones saying global warming is real, appear before them, they would dismiss him. They dismiss 200 years of climate science, 2,000 climate scientists, 2 million climate science studies. Those are the dismissives. They are only about 8% of the population.
Now, many of us know one or two dismissives. They get the sense that they're everywhere and on social media, they're very common, but they're only 8% and we don't need that 8% to move forward. What we do need is the politicians who are stopping that action, not just at the federal level, but at state level, and at city level, and even below that. We need those people to move. Often they might sound dismissive, but internally they're not actually dismissive. They just don't know what to do that would be compatible and consistent with their values and with that of their voters.
Kai: At the same time, I have to say, it's that 8%. This is actually part of what is so maddening is that there's an 8%, they're very loud in social media but they're very well represented in media often but they are also overrepresented in Congress. That's what stops me emotionally often is the knowing that it's just 8% almost makes it worse than makes me feel more powerful.
Professor Hayhoe: It does. It's the tip of the tail wagging the dog, that's the situation. What I think is really important is first of all to recognize that again using our voice is an effective way to change, using our voices to talk to elected officials but it isn't only about the federal level. In fact, often the change is happening last. It is at the end of the parade. If we look at what's happening in cities from Washington DC to Chicago to California, if we look at what's happening in States, what about corporations?
One of the headlines I saw in the faith community just a couple weeks ago were 35 faith-based organizations formally divesting of fossil fuels. If we look at what's happening with universities and colleges, with tribal nations, with organizations all around the US and around the world, we can see that oh my gosh that giant Boulder of climate action that we feel like is stuck at the bottom of the hill with only a few hands on it and it's not moving an inch. No, that giant Boulder is actually at the top of the hill. It is rolling down the hill and it has millions of hands on it. If we had ours it will go faster. Eventually, the federal government will catch up.
Kai: Let's hear from another questioner we had in our listening session with the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions. This is a pastor who's on the board of the Alliance. I think speaks a little bit on something you were talking about earlier.
Participant: We're an interfaith organization. We have found that the Christian faith communities who are involved tend to be progressive. We're having a hard time involving more conservative Christians including evangelicals in an interfaith movement. Wonder what advice you have for developing ecumenical and interfaith partnerships that include evangelical Christians.
Kai: Do you have advice for that?
Professor Hayhoe: I do. First of all, I want to highlight something really important which is in the United States, the word evangelical means something very different than it means elsewhere around the world. The head of the world Evangelical Alliance which represents 600 million evangelicals around the world was an official delegate to the Paris climate conference. That's how seriously global evangelicals take climate change. I'm actually the world Evangelical Alliance's climate ambassador.
What happened in the US? In the US, the word evangelical is now political term for many. In fact, a survey last year showed that 40% of the people who call themselves evangelical in the US don't even go to church. Where are they learning about things? The church of Facebook, the church of Fox News, the church of their social media feed. We have to realize there's a lot of people whose statement of faith is written today primarily by their politics and their ideology and only a very secondary way by the Bible. If the two come into conflict, they will go with politics over the Bible.
With those people, it's not about reminding them of what they believe, it's about going right after the ideology and the politics which in some case is saying, "Oh, you support a free market. Let's talk about how fossil fuels are subsidized more than renewable energy. Let's talk about how clean energy is the latest thing to invest in for the future." We have to realize a lot of people call themselves one thing but that's not actually a faith label.
Kai: That's so interesting. Don't engage it as a faith conversation is what you're arguing because that's not actually the value that's at play.
Professor Hayhoe: Exactly. It is a political label but for a lot of others, it still is a theological label but they've been led astray by their politics. They've mixed up. Their statement of faith is half Bible, half politics and they don't know the difference. There I would say don't focus on bringing evangelicals into an ecumenical movement first before engaging them with climate action because you're creating a gate.
Let me give you a more obvious example. I care about climate change because I'm a skier. Does everybody in the world have to become a skier before they can care about climate change? No, of course not. Does everybody have to be on board with ecumenical efforts before they care about climate change? I would say no. I would say every single major world religion including each denomination of Christianity has every reason they already need to care. If we meet them where they're at and show them how their own beliefs make them the perfect person to care, that is what gets them on board.
Kai: Let's go to Justice in Manhattan. Justice, welcome to the show.
Justice: Hi thanks. I wanted to ask you if you knew about the Howie Hawkins campaign for president 2020 that would achieve 100% clean energy within 10 years?
Kai: Well, thanks for that Justice. Go ahead, Katharine.
Professor Hayhoe: I'm ashamed to say that I did not know about that. In my defense, I will say that I am Canadian. I follow our politics slightly more closely than US but I should know about that. Thank you so much for bringing that to our attention.
Kai: Well but to build on that just to think about what are appropriate political goals I guess, I don't want to use that phrasing. I'm trying to figure out how to ask it but when you are looking at elected officials and you're looking at whether they're responding to the things that we should be doing, what do you feel like is it? What is your litmus test for this is an appropriate level of engagement that we should expect from our elected officials as we're advocating?
Professor Hayhoe: That's a great question. There's no perfect set of solutions. There are bipartisan solutions. There are conservative solutions. There are liberal solutions. There are solutions across the whole political spectrum in terms of the type of policy that you can apply. I'm not looking for a specific type of oh this is the policy, I'm looking for people who take it seriously and who realize something really important.
That is that climate change is not a standalone issue. I care about this, this, this, this and I care about climate change too. The reason we care about it is because it is as the military calls it a threat multiplier. It takes every bucket we already care about and it makes it worse. If we care about issues of socioeconomic inequality, justice, poverty, racism, sexism then we care about climate change because it is quite literally exacerbating those issues.
On the other hand if we care about national security, internal security, the health of the economy, immigration, issues that people might care about from a different part of the political spectrum, we have every reason we need to care about climate change too because it's affecting them too. I would want someone who said these are my priorities. I recognize how climate change affects every single one of them. These are the serious steps that I'm taking to cut our emissions and to build resilience to the impacts that we can no longer avoid.
Kai: Another question that's real practical like that I think a lot of people have and you alluded to this earlier is like well, what do I do in my own life? While avoiding what feels like fads sometimes and you make one change and then you're told oh, that's not the right thing. Planting trees for instance has been a very popular thing politically and in movements lately. Now, there's a debate about whether or not if you don't plant the right trees you're actually doing more harm than good. How do you help people think through that level of engagement? I know as you said earlier, you have made many changes in your own life. How do we make those choices?
Professor Hayhoe: I'm going to give you one line first and then dig a bit deeper. The one line is this do something, anything and talk about it because that is what begins social contagion. When we tell somebody else what we did. We said maybe you could try it too, or maybe your school could try it too, or maybe your company could try it too. That's how change begins. What I do is I do adopt two new habits every year and I keep them going through the year.
Then I take two new ones on after that but I try to look for win-win wins. Like what? Let me give you an example. Due to historic redlining which I'm sure you've talked about on your program racist practices, years of insurance and mortgages. A lot of low-income neighborhoods are more prone to flooding and they can be over 15 degrees Fahrenheit hotter during a heat wave than better-off neighborhoods in the same city.
They have poorer air quality. They have no green spaces. There's no place for people to play and be outside which affects our physical and our mental health. For example, in some cities like in Chicago, there's efforts where you can help with greening lower-income neighborhoods. What does that do? First of all, it provides green space for families and kids to play outside. Trees filter the air and clean up the air that we breathe and improve our health. Green spaces absorb water when it rains reducing flood risk. They provide canopy resilience during heat waves which are getting worse.
They take up carbon too which takes it out to the atmosphere where we have too much of it. Those are the types of win-win-win-win-wins. Not to mention the fact that you're outside, you're doing something with your friends or your family. You're making a difference in your community. Count the wins. I think we must be up to 10 by then. Look for those types of things where you can really make multiple differences and you'll never be sorry.
Kai: You'll never be sorry. Let's go to Pamela in Elmhurst, Queens. Pamela welcome to the show.
Pamela: Oh, wonderful. Thank you very much for taking my call. I'm a member of a Christian community. I've noticed that a lot of the resistance is coming from, let's say, the evangelical or the fundamentalist, I'll say born again segment of Christianity, that contends that we shouldn't really be bothering so much with trying to do something about climate change because the events, the disasters that we've been seeing over the recent years, are indications of the End Times.
Therefore, trying to do anything to alleviate these problems is really a waste of time. These things have been predicted, they always point to particular passages and revelations--
Kai: Pamela, I'm going to stop you just because the time is short, but I think we got the question. How do you respond to that idea?
Professor Hayhoe: Well, that idea is actually the second most popular Christiany-sounding objection I hear.
Kai: Oh, wow.
Professor Hayhoe: The first one is, "God is in control so nothing we do matters." The second is, "Oh, the world's going to end anyway so why do we care?" I have a little global weirding series on YouTube, it's a PBS Digital series called Global Weirding. One of our most watched episodes is the one that addresses these two myths. It's called, What does the Bible say about climate change? To answer these questions, what is the science? You go with the Bible.
Turns out back 2000 years ago people were people and in the book of Thessalonians, Paul was writing to people who were basically folding their hands, putting up their feet in the lazy way of life, and saying, "Oh, the world's going to end anyway so why does it matter?" He's like, "Get a job. Take care of the widows and the orphans. You have things to do here and now." There is no excuse for not loving your neighbor. That is what we're called to do and what we're called to be recognized as and pretending that what's happening right now doesn't matter when people are suffering, that is the exact opposite of love.
Kai: If you go to the Bible and therein lies the answer. You will share with us the links I hope to those two episodes and we will put them in the notes for this episode so people can find the full answer to that question. Katharine Hayhoe is an award-winning atmospheric scientist. She's chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, a professor at Texas Tech University, and author of the best-selling book Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. Thank you so much for this time, Professor.
Professor Hayhoe: Thank you for having me.
Kai: United States of Anxiety is a production of WNYC Studios. You can follow us wherever you get your podcasts or check us out on WNYC's YouTube channel where we also stream the show live each week. We're produced by Emily Botti, Regina de Heer, Karen Frillmann, Kousha Navidar, Rahima Nasa, and Jared Paul. Matthew Morando is our live engineer. A special thanks to our intern Katie Steele who leaves us this week. We've loved having you, Katie. I'm Kai Wright, and you can find me on both Instagram and Twitter at Kai_Wright. Thanks for spending this time with us tonight. I will talk to you next time.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.