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Katharine Hayhoe – One of the World’s Most Renowned Climate Scientists: the Science, Impacts, and Psychology of Climate Change

Apr 10, 2020

Katharine Hayhoe is one of the world’s most renowned climate scientists– she has a ted talk with over 2.5M views, and in 2017 was named one of Fortune’s world’s greatest leaders. Katharine is a professor at Texas Tech University and has been published in over 125 peer reviewed papers, abstracts, and key reports including the National Climate Assessment. We speak with Katharine about the science, the impacts, and the psychology of climate change.

This week in Agriculture Adapts:

– Why the U.S. Military calls climate change a “threat multiplier”

– The impact of climate change on agriculture: risk, resilience, and profitability

– Faith based communication on climate change: the secret to a fruitful discussion is common ground


Links to topics mentioned in the episode:

Global Weirding

Katharine’s Ted Talk

Iowa Interfaith power and light

Katharine’s Facebook

Katharine’s Twitter

00:00 / 00:00

Borna (ClimateAi) 0:03
This is Agriculture Adapts by ClimateAi. Every week we speak with industry leading executives and farmers noggin dynamics to get a 360 view on how the agriculture sector is innovating to stay ahead of a changing climate. I’m your host Borna Poursheikhani and I am your co host Himanshu Gupta. We’re a team of climate scientists and agriculture entrepreneurs trying to make farming more resilient, profitable and equitable as we transition to a new age of agriculture. This podcast is our journey as we explore the hurdles and opportunities that lie ahead for the industry that feed the world.

Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of agriculture adapts with us today we have Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist, a professor, the director of the climate center and an associate in the public health program of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, all at Texas Tech University. She has been published in over 125 peer reviewed papers, abstracts and key reports including the National Climate Assessment On top of her career as a leading climate scientist, she is a master communicator and an innovator of the social dynamic straddling climate conversations. She has a TED talk with over 2.5 million views. And in 2017, she was named one of fortunes world’s greatest leaders. Katherine, thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. So the way we like to start this podcast is usually by kind of hearing your story in your journey.

Katharine Hayhoe 1:20
So I was originally planning to be an astrophysicist. I had almost finished my undergraduate degree, I had already started doing research and was contributing to some publications. And I needed one more class to finish my degree before I moved on to graduate school. So I looked around, and I’d already taken, you know, children’s literature and I finished a minor in Spanish. And there was this brand new class over in the geography department on climate science. And I thought to myself, well, that looks interesting, why not take it? So I took it and it completely shocked me and it completely changed my life. Because in that class, I learned that climate science is not just for climate change, I should say is not just an environmental issue. It is an environmental issue. But climate change also affects our health. It affects our food and our water resources. It affects political stability and refugee crisis. Even more importantly, it affects poverty and hunger and disease, and lack of access to clean water. Climate change really is a humanitarian issue. So not only that, but it turns out that climate science is the very same physics that I’ve been learning in my astronomy and physics classes, nonlinear fluid dynamics, radiative transfer, even orbital mechanics. So here, I was serendipitously with the exact skillset that you need to study one of the most urgent problems in the world because that was also what I learned in that class, how urgent it is. I thought to myself, How can I not spend everything I can helping to fix this problem? Because it’s so urgent, surely, I’ll be able to go back to astrophysics soon. And that was more than 25 years ago.

Borna (ClimateAi) 2:49
Just kind of on that point. I mean, you’ve been part of like many critical writings, publications, you’ve done a lot of amazing work. And I think it’d be really interesting to get your like one to two sentence An overview of just what is climate change if you were to synthesize it into a few sentences or some tangible impacts.

Katharine Hayhoe 3:06
So if I had to summarize climate change in two words, I would pick two words that come from the US military. And that is a threat multiplier. In other words, climate change, nine times out of 10. It’s not creating new problems we’ve never seen before. It’s taking the problems we already have, and it’s making them worse. So in other words, we’ve always had droughts and floods. That’s a normal part of life on this planet. But as the world gets warmer, our droughts are getting stronger and longer, and our heavy rainfall events are getting much more intense. And our floods in many areas, including the Midwest and the Northeast, are increasing an extent and severity to climate change takes what we already care about, whether it’s our food production, our crops, our economy, the safety of our homes or health, the economy itself, political stability, like I said before, it takes all of these things, and it exacerbates the risks and the challenges that we are face, making them worse.

Borna (ClimateAi) 4:02
Yeah, and I think I mean, a lot of those points will resonate with our listeners. But Midwest floods in particular for a lot of Ag space. There’s always mentioned this concept that there’s an overwhelming body of literature that is proving climate change. In your words, what is this overwhelming body of literature? And how has the history of climate change evolved over time? Like, where were we, you know, 20 years ago? Where were we 50 years ago? And where are we today? And how are we more sure now than we were then?

Katharine Hayhoe 4:26
Yes, another fantastic question. So we have known since the 1850s. That digging up and burning coal at that time, and later, natural gas and oil are producing heat trapping gases that are wrapping an extra blanket around the planet. And that is the number one reason why the planet is running a fever. I have a YouTube series called Global weirding. And one of those short episodes is called How long have we known about this? And I actually go through the historical figures and the scientists that did that original research in the 1850s. By the 1890s. We understood enough About the physics and the chemistry of the climate system that Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist was able to sit down and calculate by hand how much the planet would warm if we doubled or tripled levels of co2 in the atmosphere. By the 1930s, we had temperature data from enough places around the world that a British engineer called guy calendar was able to collect all of that data, put it all together, calculate a true global average, and show that indeed, the average temperature of the planet was warming due to our combustion of fossil fuels. He published that work in 1938. By the 1960s, about 55 years ago, scientists were so convinced not only of the reality of the problem, but the severity of its impacts, that they formally warned a US president of the dangers of climate change and the need to act and that US president was Lyndon B. Johnson. So at this point, when it comes to the science of understanding that climate is changing, humans are responsible and the impacts are real. We are just crossing our T’s and dotting our eyes. Eyes at this point on that document. So why is there still so much controversy over the science? It’s not because people genuinely have an issue with the basic science. If they did, they wouldn’t be using stoves or refrigerators or airplanes either because they work on the same physical science that climate models do. The reason is this, it’s solution aversion. We have been told that the only solutions to climate change are harmful, negative punitive solutions, destroying the economy, giving the government control over my personal decisions, letting the United Nations or China ruled the world. I’ve even heard in Christian circles that the only solution to climate change is abortion, killing all the babies. And frankly, if those are the only solutions to climate change, I’m not on board with those either. But here’s where our psychology comes into play. If somebody tells us there’s this huge global problem that’s disproportionately affecting the poorest people in the world and future generations, but we don’t think there’s anything we can do to fix that. Our defense mechanism is to reject the reality of the problem. Because if I say there’s a real problem, but I don’t want to fix it, that makes me a bad person. And I don’t want to be a bad person, I want to be a good person. So a good person says, Oh, no, it’s not a real problem, because look at all these sciency sounding reasons that aren’t. But the reality is, as those sciency sounding reasons don’t have a leg to stand on, we’ve looked at volcanoes, natural cycles, the sun, orbital cycles, unknown factors, and we know that according to natural factors, we should be cooling right now not warming. It really is us and it really is serious. And that’s why when we talk about climate change, some of the most important things to talk about are not the science, but rather the solutions. How can farmers be part of the solution through Carbon Farming, regenerative agriculture, no till agriculture, biochar? How can we be part of the solution? Through reducing our food waste through plant based diets through new technology like electric cars and solar panels? How can our state’s How can our city Be part of the solution. How can we all be part of the solution that grows the economy grows local jobs and ends up in a better place than we started rather than a worst one.

Borna (ClimateAi) 8:09
So it does seem like this communication issue is a big hurdle that’s separating the two sides. And it’s unfortunate that climate change has been so polarized in society today. But how do you flip the paradigm when people have dug their heels into both sides already, like, anytime that something becomes a very polarized issue, people just kind of lean into their own opinions. So how do you start to stimulate a dialogue around something where tensions are so high and people are so opinionated?

Katharine Hayhoe 8:35
Well, climate change is now one of the most politically polarized issues in the whole United States. The number one predictor of whether we agree with 200 years of science is not how much we know about science or how smart we are. It is simply where we fall on the political spectrum. In fact, the smarter we are, the better we are at cherry picking the information we need to support our pre existing opinion, rather than saying, Oh yes, this is what the data says. So how How do you have a conversation is such a tremendously politically polarized environment. This is what my TED Talk is all about. I did a TED talk called the most important thing you can do about climate change is talk about it. And I actually just finished writing a book, too, won’t be out until later this year. But the book is all about how do you have these conversations too? And the secret is this. Don’t begin the conversation with what most divides you what you most disagree on. So if somebody says something about climate change, you don’t agree with and you jump in immediately, and you’re like, no, that’s wrong. That conversation is not going to end constructively. Chances are, you know, maybe one out of every hundred might, but 99 of them aren’t. The place to begin the conversation is over something you agree about in terms of farming about, you know, increasing soil health or conservation, or concern over smaller farms losing out to big industry, or concerns over wise management of the resources that you have. I’ve had fantastic conversations with people who run cattle yards with big Producers about being good stewards of their resources about sustainable agricultural productive production, about making sure that they can still produce the products and the food that people need. But they can do so in a way that puts carbon back in the soil. That conserves water that doesn’t produce too much carbon or methane. That actually reduces methane production from cows, for example. But it also increases the cows productivity. So having conversations about things that we agree on and then connecting the dots directly to positive beneficial solutions that we can get on board with diffuses. A lot of the politicization that focuses around the topic of global warming, climate change, Al Gore, and socialism. Yeah. And

Borna (ClimateAi) 10:43
do you think having these conversations is sufficient? Like do you think a lot of the lobbying efforts that are happening against basically climate change? Do you think a lot of the lobbying efforts are going to offset a lot of these conversations or do you think that a grassroots movement is possible in being able to kind of swing the opinion of a general Public?

Katharine Hayhoe 11:01
Well, our opinion is already starting to swing. So as of this year 60% of us are either alarmed or concerned about climate change. And again, those of us who aren’t, are not concerned because we don’t think that there’s a solution that we can get on board with. Now, I’m not gonna lie, it is pretty daunting. I mean, you look at the richest corporations in the world, and they are fossil fuel corporations. They have every reason in the world to try to keep us using fossil fuels as long as possible. And they are currently subsidized to the tune of 650 billion dollars per year, which exceeds the Pentagon’s budget. We as the taxpayers are subsidizing the richest companies in the world, which kind of seems ridiculous on many fronts. But when you realize that they’re also responsible for most of the climate change, we’ve seen 100 corporations have produced 70% of the carbon since the beginning of the industrial era, we realize that something has to change. And even though we might feel like the Girl Scouts are the Boy Scouts fighting the Marines on this. It really is an issue of individual change. Leading to system wide change. Why does having a conversation matter? Because if we don’t talk about something, why would we care? And if we don’t care about it, why would we act? surveys show that even though 60% of us are concerned about climate change, less than 40% of us, and much less than agricultural areas ever have a conversation about this, and we don’t often because we’re afraid of it, you know, ending negatively or ending in an argument. But again, if we connect over shared values and shared concerns, and we discuss really practical beneficial solutions, like project drawdown lays out all kinds of fantastic solutions, many of which have to do with agriculture, and are beneficial to agriculture for multiple reasons. If our conversation focuses on that we really can make a difference. And there’s a man in Iowa who’s doing this. His name is Matt Russell. He’s a farmer. And he also leads an organization called interfaith Power and Light in Iowa. So he gets groups of farmers and producers together in church basements to talk about conservation. regenerative agriculture, Carbon Farming, to talk about ways that farmers can really be part of the climate solution because they can they have a huge role to play.

Borna (ClimateAi) 13:09
Curious to get your view on regenerative agriculture and Carbon Farming on that note as a tool to combat climate change. Given that you’ve been a part of some of these, like National Climate assessments and some of these larger reports, how scalable of a solution Do you think regenerative agriculture is? And do you think we can feed the US much less the world with it?

Katharine Hayhoe 13:26
Well, we don’t have a silver bullet that’s going to fix everything. There is no one solution. That’s the answer to everything. But we know that by putting together many solutions, we truly can fix this problem. And that’s what I think project drawdown does such a fantastic job of doing and putting together all those different puzzle pieces to show how it makes one big picture. So agriculture is a huge part of the solution, and specifically looking at cultivation practices that increase soil nutrients and increase the carbon content of the soil as well. Because while carbon in the atmosphere is what’s causing climate change, by wrapping an extra blanket of heat trapping gases around our planet, carbon in the soil is a fertilizer. So agricultural techniques that continue to produce the food that we need, coupled with the recognition that we throw out almost 40% of the food we produce in this country. So food waste is a huge problem, it isn’t a case that we’re not producing enough, it’s that we’re not using it effectively either. coupling those together, it is absolutely possible to continue to provide food, but also to be putting that carbon back in the soil where we need it and to be conserving our water and our nutrients. At the same time. I think globally, it’s estimated that carbon sequestration in the soils could account for if it was done, you know, systematically across the whole world, which would be difficult to do in some countries. It could actually add up to possibly as much as 20% of our solution. That’s a pretty big chunk,

Borna (ClimateAi) 14:53
or even water quality. Do you think it’s important to phrase things in terms of things that matter to people? Or do you think that There is a base level of concern around climate that needs to be put in place in order for us to drive the level of change at the speed in which we need to accomplish our goals.

Katharine Hayhoe 15:08
I think that we absolutely need to frame it in terms of short term benefits as well as long term ones, especially for people who are not already on board with the need for climate action. What studies have shown is that when we recognize that we can be part of the solution, then we are willing to support additional and more system wide actions. So getting people on board by engaging them in practical beneficial solutions that they can see the outcome of is a really key step to then getting people to endorse larger actions that we need at the level of the entire economy, such as putting a price on carbon. We do want you to understand that this also though, is an important issue that’s affecting us. So when we have these conversations, in my opinion, the two most important things to talk about are how climate change is already affecting us in the places where we live. So what is it doing to our bottom line, our insurance rates, our drone flood risk, our crop productivity, our energy g bells, what is it doing to us? And what can we do to fix it?

Borna (ClimateAi) 16:04
How do we separate natural cycles from climate change? How do we understand the difference between those two?

Katharine Hayhoe 16:09
So the most common objection that we hear is, isn’t it just a natural cycle? Don’t you know it’s been warmer before? And that always makes me laugh a little bit, because that’s what we climate scientists study, right? We study natural cycles, and we study how it’s been warmer before. So the reason why anybody knows that that that those even exist is because of our work. But because we study these, we understand how they function. And we know that natural cycles like El Nino, there’s many other natural cycles to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the North Atlantic oscillation, natural cycles that like this and like Nino operate inside the climate system. What they do is they move heat and moisture around the world to balance it out. They move it from north to south, east to west ocean to atmosphere and back again. So during an El Nino year, the air temperature is a bit warmer than average because an El Nino moves heat from the ocean into the air. atmosphere. During a landing area, our air temperatures a little cooler than average, because a lot Nino moves heat from the atmosphere back into the ocean. So if the long term warming of the entire atmosphere and land, surface and cryosphere that’s the ice. If the long term warming of the atmosphere, land surface and cryosphere was all due to a natural cycle, that heat would have to be coming from somewhere inside the climate system. And the only place that much heat could come from is the ocean. So we can look at the data is the heat content of the atmosphere and land and cryosphere increasing at the same rate that the heat content of the ocean is decreasing? If it is, we know it’s a natural cycle. When we look at the data, though, we see exactly the opposite. The heat content of the ocean has increased 20 times more than the atmosphere, the land and the ice all put together. The entire planet is warming. It is not just a natural cycle where it’s moving heat back and forth around the planet. The whole planet is warming and in fact, the ocean is warming more than what we see up here. The only reason we’re not talking about the ocean, I think is because we’re not dolphins. If we were dolphins, that’s all we’d be talking about. So explaining that we do understand natural cycles, but explain that there’s a very basic reason why it can’t be those natural cycles causing our warming today is helpful, because we’ve heard that myth so frequently. But we have to couple that immediately with talking about how there are positive beneficial solutions that we can engage in. Otherwise we feel stuck. Like there’s a problem that is real, but I don’t know what to do to fix it.

Borna (ClimateAi) 18:32
Yeah. And one of the challenges that we face is that farm profitability has become such an issue in the United States that it’s very difficult to take a risk and try something new. So there is a lot of talk about regenerative agriculture and a lot of it’s coming from the scientific community. I think more of it is coming from buzz from from consumers. But the issue of farm profitability is a huge concern, particularly in places where people are growing commodity crops. And in places like that, it’s it’s it’s hard when you bet the farm every year to go in Something that is inherently a risk trying something new is inherently a risk. So how do we start stimulating that conversation around, de risking some of these technologies or some of these processes that we see as extremely beneficial for climate change?

Katharine Hayhoe 19:14
So what I’ve seen are two things. And I’m sure there’s many more than that. Actually, three. First of all, is when universities, especially with extension programs, partner with local producers, we do that here at Texas Tech. And that can be incredibly beneficial because the scientists provide the monitoring, they provide the know how you don’t have to do it over the whole property, you can just use a part of the land to test it out at the beginning. And then the farmers in turn offered the experience and the motivation to see if this really works. Can you make this financially profitable? So partnerships with local universities can really help. The second thing that’s happening is a lot of the bigger corporations are starting to explore these types of techniques. So if if you are part of the supply chain for a bigger Corporation, reaching up the supply chain And saying, Hey, are you guys interested in this? Do you have anybody else who’s doing this? Is there somebody I could talk to about this? So, so connecting that way and even saying, Hey, is there a benefit to this? I mean, hey, you know, big corporations are much more sensitive than smaller ones about being good stewards and reducing their carbon footprint, often because of the optics of that for their shareholders. And so you can even say, hey, do you do you? You know, Cargill? Do you have a program, a pilot program that I could be part of to look at more sustainable agriculture. And then the third source of information is peer groups. So I mentioned earlier, a farmer called Matt Russell in Iowa, who runs Iowa interfaith Power and Light. And he sets up peer groups of farmers to get together and to share experiences to share knowledge and to share techniques. So learning from people where you could go visit them and say, Okay, well, how did you do it? What happened over here and how can I avoid this? Those types of peer groups are also a huge help. So the three resources again, our local university extension programs, number one, number two, if you’re part of the supply chain to a larger organization, and number three, working with peer groups to ask other people what they’ve done. All of those can really help to accelerate this

Borna (ClimateAi) 21:07
curious to get your take on what the impacts of climate change will be on the agriculture sector and on farmers moving forward in the next 510 20 years.

Katharine Hayhoe 21:16
Oh, yes, well, that’s what I do is I do adaptation. So my research is to develop high resolution climate projections that can be used as input to crop yield models. So we can actually look at how climate has already affected yields in the past. And we can look at what happens as the world gets warmer by one or two or three or four degrees. How would that affect something very specific, like corn crops in Iowa or cotton crops in Texas or, you know, wheat crops in Azerbaijan. We can put this information into the tried and true models that people already use to look at crop yield. And we can show what are the stressors that are coming in the future? And then working with farmer and producer groups. They we can actually brainstorm Well, what would you do to To adapt to this type of change, would you increase the density of your rows? Would you alter your irrigation system? Would you potentially move to a different crop, and our projections can show you know, in five or 10 or 15 years, when you would want to start experimenting with moving to that different crop, you can look at different pests that might be coming into the region. As the planet warms, we see their ranges expanding and moving forward. We see rainfall patterns being disrupted, and changing. We can look at all of these and we can help people make plans to make sure that as these changes come, they know that they’re coming, they see they’re coming, and they are prepared. They know what they’re gonna do in response.

Borna (ClimateAi) 22:37
And can you explain to people how we have any sort of certainty around these projections? Like how do we know that these are accurate? And also, at what point does our current like today’s actions in terms of mitigating for climate change, start to impact the future scenarios?

Katharine Hayhoe 22:54
So the number one uncertainty over the next decade is variability Because over shorter periods of time, or natural patterns of variability feast or famine, drought or flood, hot or cold, are the dominant influence on what happens from year to year. And we know that climate change is increasing our variability. So in other words, it’s making our droughts more intense, it’s making our heavy rainfall more extreme, it’s making our summer heat stronger. But from year to year, over the next 10 years or so, our variability is the number one source of uncertainty. As we go further out, though, and the further out we go, the more important this is. We are the number one source of uncertainty, our human decisions, not only how we respond to the increases variability, but also our emissions of heat trapping gases that are actually driving this change in the first place. So the further and further we go in time, the more uncertain The future is, depending on the choices that we make today. And that’s the catch. We can’t wait until we’ve burned a tonne of carbon 40 years from now and they say oh, wait, this isn’t the future. We want. Let’s go backwards. We have to make decision now it’s kind of like you being strapped to the gurney loaded into the ambulance going to the hospital and you’re like, No, no, I promise I’ll join a gym. I’ll exercise every day. I won’t eat hamburgers for lunch anymore. You can’t do that anymore. When you’re on the way to the hospital with you know, with a heart attack and heading for quintuple bypass surgery, you got to make the decision when the doctor tells you your arteries are 30% blocked. So that’s what climate scientists are doing today. And that’s why I do this work. I do it. So we can say Look, your arteries are 30% blocked and you can choose if you choose this lifestyle, you’re going to end up in the ambulance on the way to the hospital in you know this number of decades. But if you choose this pathway today, you’re gonna end up in a much safer place where your farm is healthy, you continue to produce you continue to support the local economy, you continue to have a job and provide jobs. The choice that we have to make is today.

Borna (ClimateAi) 24:51
Yeah, I agree with I think I think one of the things that makes climate change a little bit more difficult, though is that like for the example you gave, it’s an individual and it’s you know, my arteries are clogged, I need to act now. So I can protect my health. The thing that makes climate change a uniquely structured issue is the fact that sometimes people on an individual level feel like them changing their behavior won’t change the macro scale. That’s one of the issues, that makes a little bit more difficult. The other is that the person who is contributing the most the problem might not be the person who’s receiving the consequences of those of those actions. For example, you might be in a city that’s polluting a time. And then you know, you’re not really seeing many impacts of climate change. But then a rural neighborhood 100 miles east is getting floods all the time from a nearby river or for example, island nations are going to start seeing issues. So how do you combat hurdles like that, when the consequences are diffuse and the person receiving the consequences might not be you?

Katharine Hayhoe 25:49
Yes, what you are talking about is a tragedy of the commons. That’s what climate change is. So this phrase originates from when villages used to share a common grazing area and or What happens is, as an individual, you’re incentivized to put as many animals as you can on the Kong grazing area, because then you would benefit. But if everybody does that, then the area is over grazed and there isn’t enough grass for anybody, so nobody can graze their animals. So the tragedy of the commons relates to the fact that we need to make decisions for the common good. Because individually, we are not incentivized to do so. And then climate change carries an additional layer with it, as you alluded to, because it’s profoundly unfair. As I said before, 100 companies have produced 70% of carbon emissions since the beginning of the industrial era. And those are the richest companies in the world, the ones that are still functional. Climate change has already increased the gap the economic gap between the richest and poorest countries by 25%. Since the 1960s. Since the 1980s, we have suffered an average of $5 billion worth of crop losses per year around the world due to climate change impacts and most of those are occurring in developing In countries which have have contributed almost nothing to this global problem. So you’re right, it is a profoundly unfair issue. And we are profoundly disincentivize to act on this individually. And that is why even though we often hear a lot about individual solutions, we truly need system wide solutions to fix this problem. So when they asked me again, to do a TED talk on the most important thing you can do about climate change. That’s why I said the most important thing we can do is talk about it. Talk about why it matters to us and what we can do to fix it. join an organization that amplifies our voice, use our voice to advocate for change at the level of organizations, our businesses, our schools, our region, our county, our our city or a state and at the federal level. farmers in particular represent a very important political demographic and using our voices to advocate for system wide change for smart carbon management for price on carbon that would benefit carbon farmers, for farmers to be rewarded for agricultural practices that conserve water and conserve carbon, these types of system wide solutions would help us all.

Borna (ClimateAi) 28:06
And what does that mean on a tangible level? So if you’re someone who wants to do your part in helping solve this climate change issue, and you want to spur more conversation, but let’s say you might be afraid of being ostracized for bringing up this opinion, how do you go about starting those conversations? You know, are you saying that you should start like conversation groups like, what what does this break that down into for the individual who wants to do their part for climate change, particularly in an area where other people might not be in the same boat as them?

Katharine Hayhoe 28:35
That’s what I talk about my TED Talk exactly, because bringing it all the science and just hitting people upside the head with it is not going to move the conversation forward. But what does is to connect on shared concerns and shared values that are important to both of us, and to connect the dots again to positive solutions that we can both engage with, in some cases without even mentioning the words climate change. Doesn’t matter what we call it, what matters is what we do about it. So having those conversations is really important, but not not arguing over whether climate change is real, because an argument is never going to solve that problem we’ve known it’s real for 200 years, rather, instead of arguing, rather having a constructive discussion over the concerns that we have, and the solutions that are available to us,

Borna (ClimateAi) 29:24
right. So you’re saying when it comes up in conversation, or if you’re talking to people, just take a friendly approach and connect on something that you already care about, and then loop it into conversation?

Katharine Hayhoe 29:33
Exactly. And if it turns contentious, if it’s an argument over whether climate change is real, or whether it’s a natural cycle or not, we can certainly say yes, it is real and No, it isn’t a natural cycle, but pivot the discussion as quickly as possible. I sometimes do it even in the same breath to talking about a positive constructive solution that they can get on board with and they can support because frankly, I don’t care if anybody thinks climate change is real. What I care about is whether they want to fix it and if they fix it Because as a farmer, they can earn more money having wind turbines on their land and oil rigs, that’s totally fine. That’s a perfect reason to care about clean energy. So really focus on what matters and what matters is what are we doing to make solid, sensible decisions that benefit us and benefit the climate at the same time?

Borna (ClimateAi) 30:17
Very well said, I feel like we need to make you into a franchise and distribute you across the country. And

Katharine Hayhoe 30:24
I am all for that I would actually love to have the funding to develop like a training program or something like that to equip people to just go out and have these conversations. It’s not it’s not the same as like, you know, the Climate Reality project that Al Gore has. He has a PowerPoint that he trains people do they Oh, yeah, this isn’t really this isn’t really a PowerPoint at all. This is this is a Howdy,

Borna (ClimateAi) 30:43
Katherine – AI Katherine, where people can interact with online.

Katharine Hayhoe 30:47
Exactly, yes.

Borna (ClimateAi) 30:48
I wanted to kind of I mean, this, this is not, I guess, central to what our podcast is about. But you’ve done a fair amount of work about this. And I would love to connect and learn more about this as you’ve done a lot of faith based climate change education and outreach Would you mind telling us a little bit more about that?

Katharine Hayhoe 31:02
Sure. So in terms of connecting with people on shared values, we can connect on all kinds of values. Connecting on food is really important connecting on a sense of place where we live, connecting on being a parent connecting on what we enjoy doing outdoors, whether it’s birding or hunting, or fishing, or biking or skiing. Those are all important places to connect. But one of the most foundation on fundamental places we can connect with each other is over a shared faith. So the vast majority of us in the US and around the world belong to a faith tradition. And every major world religion has at its core concepts of stewardship or caring for creation and caring for those less fortunate than us. So as a Christian myself, I often connect with other Christians over what the Bible says. It doesn’t talk about climate change, but it talks a lot about how we have responsibility over this planet, how we are to care for every living thing on it, how we are to care for our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate than us and provide for their physical needs. So Connecting over shared values is really powerful. And our shared faith is a really important way that we can do that.

Borna (ClimateAi) 32:05
In your view, how has social media changed climate change?

Katharine Hayhoe 32:08
Well, so social media is a tool that can be used for good or for bad. It is being used for both. Unfortunately, in my experience, what I’m seeing is that it is being used very effectively, very intelligently, and with a lot of resources behind it for bad. So when somebody goes to global or goes to YouTube, and they watch a global weirding video, YouTube typically recommends a global waiting video by a highly subsidized organization that promotes climate denial afterwards, they have advertising budget and six to seven figures. And it’s really hard to compete against that type of money. on social media. There’s a huge echo chamber on Twitter of people who find other people who circulate the myths and the false information about climate change and then get Up to attack climate scientists. But on the other hand, it’s a tool that can be used for good. So I do engage on social media on a very regular basis on Twitter and Facebook, a little bit on Instagram too. And I try to be there for people who do want information who are there for respectful dialogue, I block pretty quickly when people are incredibly rude or offensive, because I feel like a lack of respect means we’re not going to have a good dialogue. But I think that we can have a positive impact on social media, but not by engaging with the people who are just there to pick an argument but rather by engaging with people who have genuine questions and really want information.

Borna (ClimateAi) 33:33
Yeah, and something interesting this going back to the kind of like the polarization of of climate change is, didn’t you get blocked because you were trying to post global weirding videos on Facebook? Because you weren’t a political entity?

Katharine Hayhoe 33:45
Yes. So for a while on Facebook, they let you post what you want, but you could not promote anything about climate change, such as our global weirding episodes and when I say promote, I mean, my promotion budgets like 20 bucks. Instead of my own pocket, I don’t have like big green supporting me to do this. But I was not allowed to spend my personal $20 to promote my global weirding episodes, because they had the word climate change in them. And Facebook said that climate change was too political. I had to be registered political organization. And I said that I will be damned if i a climate scientist register as a political organization to promote scientific information on climate change.

Borna (ClimateAi) 34:23
Has that changed recently? Or is that still in effect,

Katharine Hayhoe 34:25
they have modified it a little bit for certain words, and so I’ve been able to boost a few things. But it is really discouraging because basically what’s happening is the people with all the money are really using social media to promote information that might not be accurate. There’s no fact checking there at all. And we do know that on on social media, it is being weaponized to promote disinformation. So for example, with the Australian wildfires within just a few days of the wildfires hitting the news and of people drawing the very accurate connection between climate change and wildfires burning more area. There. was a meme. So he claimed the internet that there was 200 arsonists that has started the fire. And in fact, some people were even speculating that those arsonists were climate activists who were starting the fires to make it look like climate change was real. And it turns out when you track it down, that that claim had no basis whatsoever. But a university in Australia actually tracked how it was deliberately being disseminated on social media to reach people who were looking for information to justify their pre existing opinion that climate change can’t be real because they don’t want to fix it. So it all goes back to the same thing, solution aversion we are looking for where we’re motivated to look for reasons that say this isn’t real, because we want to keep the opinion that we have,

Borna (ClimateAi) 35:42
did they find the source of the person or the group who had originally propagated that meme?

Katharine Hayhoe 35:47
I think I think they did. I’m not sure but I think they were tracking it down. Yeah. But so many people were eager to seize it and unfortunately, it was circulated through social media.

Borna (ClimateAi) 35:56
Is there anything that you want to add to this conversation before we close out?

Katharine Hayhoe 35:59
I think the most Important thing to recognize is this to care about climate change. We don’t have to be a liberal, a Democrat socialist to treehugger. The only thing we have to be is that person living on planet Earth. Because this planet gives us the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, the water that we drink, the materials we use, for every aspect of which our economy is built on. It all comes from Planet Earth. So that’s why to care about it. We only have to be a human and we are all a human. That’s the most important thing and the bottom line.

Borna (ClimateAi) 36:31
I love that. And is there any way that people can support you? Or I know you’re always doing like a million different things. But what, what are you doing right now? And how can people support your work?

Katharine Hayhoe 36:39
Well, thank you for asking that. I would love it if people would share our global weirding episodes. I post things online on Facebook and Twitter and if you want to pick up some of those posts and share them too, that would be absolutely fantastic. Just get the word out. Join me in talking about climate change, having these positive, constructive conversations. It’s the most important thing that we can all do.

Borna (ClimateAi) 36:58
Awesome and as global leaders on YouTube you said?

Katharine Hayhoe 37:00
Yep, it is on YouTube.

Borna (ClimateAi) 37:03
Hey, everybody, thanks for listening if you have any feedback or you’d like to add your own two cents on the topic discussed today or if you’ve just got your own ideas about someone that we should discuss in the future, please feel free to shoot me an email at At its core, this podcast is just a way for us to learn and we want to share our learnings as we go. So we’re always open to building on these conversations and hearing new perspectives. Thanks for your support and see you next time.


Katharine Hayhoe

Climate Scientist, Professor, Master Communicator



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