On January 18th, 2022, Climate Witness Project hosted a virtual “Climate Huddle.” This faith-based discussion centered around principles of communication found in Dr. Katharine Hayhoe’s new book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.
After a time of small group discussions led by CWP hosts, Dr. Hayhoe joined the meeting. She first read a short passage from her book to set the stage:
“In the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy he states, ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear.’ So I think this is a litmus test. If we feel fear and we respond to climate change out of fear. . . that fear is not coming from God. Instead, Paul continues, ‘God has given us a spirit of power’ which enables us to act, instead of being frozen and paralyzed. And a spirit of love, which means having compassion for others.”
According to Dr. Hayhoe, communicating with love means being careful in what words we use to discuss climate change with others. “I don’t use the word “sacrifice” to talk about dealing with climate change. It’s couched that way because so many of us who are already acting on climate, that [term] appeals to us. We have personalities where individual sacrificing appeals to us. But I have some news for you: we’re in the vast minority.”
Instead, she posited, we should be framing climate change in terms that matter to our audience. “Most people don’t react well to being told that they have to give up traveling, driving, having children, eating meat, using electricity, doing anything that makes life worthwhile. And they’ve already decided that if they have to sacrifice all these things in order to make a difference in climate change, well, they’d rather not, thank you very much. Does that mean all is lost? Not at all.”
It’s all about looking for the positives, Dr. Hayhoe said. “Climate actions have so many benefits and we should focus on those. When we talk about the changes that are needed as a society, we’re talking about [more affordable] energy solutions that will never run out on us, we’re talking about making food more accessible, reducing food waste so that more people will have food and not go hungry, improving water quality, making people’s homes and cities safer—it’s an amazing amount of good stuff. There are truly so many benefits to climate action that I think we need to emphasize those, especially with a focus on what matters to whoever it is you’re talking to.”
When asked about how to approach climate change if the political will isn’t there to act, Dr. Hayhoe responded, “So often we assume that the federal, national or international political system has to fix this. And it would be nice if they would. But in my opinion, they’re kind of dragging behind instead of being out front. Who is out front? There are some really big companies who are out front.”
She continued, “At COP26, I was encouraged to see representatives from [some of the world’s biggest companies] who were really serious about cutting their carbon emissions. And with these companies, their reach is as powerful as a mid-size country. And then there were mayors from some of the world’s biggest cities. Cities are way ahead of the game! Conservative cities, liberal cities—they are out front on this! Whose leading the charge? It’s not countries. It’s groups of people who are motivated by a coherent set of values who have decided they need to advocate for climate action for the reasons that are important to them. They are driving the governments along with them. Whatever groups we’re a part of, we can be getting out ahead and taking the federal government along with us.”
For those who want to dig deeper, Dr Hayhoe also shared a list of resources that provide education and tools for climate action and effective conversations. We’ve included the list below.