An Unusual Communicator on Climate Change

Photo by E. Wagele

Photo by E. Wagele

John Schwartz wrote about a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, in his article, Katharine Hayhoe, a Climate Explainer Who Stays Above the Storm in the N.Y. Times, 10-10-16. This blog contains excerpts from his article:

Dr. Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, has emerged as one of the nation’s most effective communicators on the threat of climate change and the need for action. She lives and works in West Texas, but lately seems to be everywhere, kicking off a series of “Global Weirding” videos, posting on Twitter and Facebook, and speaking anywhere from local churches to international conferences. She is committed to finding consensus.

The shifting weather in West Texas has been showing greater extremes, including more severe drought and fiercer inundations when storms come.

A 2013 poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found seven in 10 Texans agree that climate change is real, though fewer than half said humans were the major cause. Over half of those in the Texas survey said they had personally experienced the effects of global warming.

“Katharine Hayhoe is a national treasure,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. She combines powerful communications skills, world-class scientific credentials and an ability to relate to conservative religious communities that can be skeptical about the risks of a changing climate.

Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climate scientist, said Dr. Hayhoe’s faith is an important factor, because “people can accept unwelcome truths much more readily if they come from within, rather than outside of, their community/family/group.” While some climate warriors treat those who are not inclined to believe them as dupes or fools, she wants to talk. She presents herself and the science without tumult and with a measure of optimism.

In her approach to discussing climate change, Hayhoe declines invitations to televised arguments with those who deny the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real and human activity is largely the cause. She said that such shows, with their split-screen antagonists, suggested that the two sides are evenly matched, which helps explain why Americans tell pollsters that scientists are split on the matter when it’s really more like 97 percent on the side of “it’s real.”

Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist and author at Pennsylvania State University, said locking horns has its place, too: “There is a role for an approach that takes bad actors to task, naming names when it comes to the worst climate villains, those who are knowingly misleading the public and policy makers. Such an approach doesn’t necessarily endear oneself to the hard-core climate change deniers, but it does help to expose the deceit, and in my view it is important for the public to know about that.”


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