Hayhoe Makes Case for Healing Over Climate Change

November 17, 2021

BookShelf: Hayhoe Makes Case for Healing Over Climate Change

BookShelf: “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World”
By Katharine Hayhoe
Atria/One Signal Publishers, $27.00

Reviewed by Tom Henry

Ever feel like your fact-dense climate change journalism isn’t getting through to everyone?

That may make the new book by Katharine Hayhoe, widely considered one of America’s top climate scientists, especially useful in your environmental reporting.

Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World” is written primarily for a lay audience, and the easygoing tone is not entirely surprising, given that The New York Times has aptly called Hayhoe “one of the nation’s most effective communicators on climate change.”

An intriguing, if not incredibly optimistic, overview of climate change issues and solutions, Hayhoe offers several antidotes to help heal the planet or, as she says, mitigate impacts even if it’s getting too late to reverse all of them.

But of particular note is her sheer dedication to explaining the art of science communication, a good chunk of at least the first third of the book and a common theme throughout the rest.

Hayhoe understands the importance of resonating with large groups of people and their divergent cultures, backgrounds, political beliefs and customs. She stresses the need for listening to them.

And one thing that makes her so appealing is how she abhors arrogance, and makes the case to not talk down to people and to look for a common meeting ground. “If more science would fix this, I can talk science with the best of them,” Hayhoe writes.

She remains optimistic because she believes only 7% of North Americans are “dismissives” — truly hardcore deniers incapable of coming around. “Though they may be the loudest voices, hundreds of engagements have taught me that conversations with the seven-percenters are largely fruitless,” she writes. “But facts about the science aren’t enough to explain why climate change matters and why it’s so urgent that we fix it.”


A case for climate change here and now

Facts matter, of course. But this isn’t a heavy-handed textbook. Hayhoe weaves in a lot of important information about climate change, mostly in the book’s midsection.

She addresses anything from how cap-and-trade programs and carbon taxes are designed to work to why Brazilian rainforests matter, why trees are amazing but aren’t the whole solution, the challenges of carbon sequestration, and how agriculture and the military can help be part of the solution.

Hayhoe makes a case for climate change being here and now, and not some nebulous, faraway problem relegated to polar bears.

She offers one of the most succinct, heads-on explanations for why post-Industrial Revolution climate change is largely man-made, and how scientists have ruled out volcanoes, sun temperatures (they’ve actually fallen) and other natural phenomena as the biggest factors.

And Hayhoe offers up a few delicious metaphors, such as one about the need for global cooperation akin to a potluck dinner. The richest countries should not bring meager contributions to the dinner, and everyone needs to contribute something, she writes.


‘Bonding over a value we truly share’

But a lot of mankind’s success or failure in addressing one of Earth’s biggest issues will come down to simple, face-to-face respect and a willingness to better understand one another.

Rather than trying to change people, she argues, try to show them why climate change affects nearly everyone in nearly all aspects of life.

Hayhoe provides anecdotes of people who, to her surprise, came around to the issue with calm reasoning, even if they don’t want to consider themselves environmentalists.

“Whoever we are, we are human. And, as humans, we have the power to connect with one another across many of the broad, deep lines scored across our societies and our psyches,” Hayhoe writes. “We can’t do this by bombarding people with more data, facts, and science showing they’re wrong, or heaping on the judgment and guilt. Instead, we have to start with something we both agree on: bonding over a value we truly share, and then explaining the connection between that value and a changing climate.”


One of the many intriguing aspects

is how Hayhoe weaves in some of the

psychological explanations for resistance.


One of the many intriguing aspects of “Saving Us” is how Hayhoe weaves in some of the psychological explanations for resistance, giving a quick overview of why people mentally get turned off to anything when they’re put on the spot and made defensive.

The observations back up her assertions that success on the climate change issue is not just about facts but also messaging.

The last section of the book offers a number of prescriptive remedies, not the usual rules or policies but self-awareness and a willingness to get involved. Hayhoe promotes a personal gut check while encouraging simple discussions, having the courage to engage in awkward icebreakers and knowing when to pull back.

Though acknowledging a sense of urgency for addressing climate change, she also points out that people will be more likely to recognize a need for action if they aren’t humiliated. A delicate touch is in order in terms of communications, Hayhoe notes.


Less on the science-religion nexus

Honestly, I was expecting her to riff more on the nexus between science and religion. Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian who grew up in Toronto, has been living for years in conservative Lubbock, Texas, where she and her husband, Andrew Farley, an evangelical pastor, are both Texas Tech University researchers.

The daughter of two missionaries, Hayhoe credits her father, Doug Hayhoe, a science educator, with convincing her that science and religion need not be in conflict with one another.

“In fact, when I connected the dots between poverty, hunger, disease, lack of access to clean water and education, and basic equity, and the fact that climate change is making all of those worse, that’s what led me, personally, as a Christian, to become a climate scientist,” Hayhoe told The Washington Post in an interview earlier this year.

So while Hayhoe does sprinkle anecdotes about her faith throughout this book, I was expecting more from her about how religion talks to people in ways that scientists and journalists can’t. That, to me, has been a fascinating form of communication discussed in previous books, such as “The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” by famed Harvard University entomologist E.O. Wilson.

Hayhoe admittedly doesn’t have all of the answers. But her book, in an upbeat and optimistic way, suggests the fight isn’t over if there’s more attention paid to messaging and the art of communication.

Tom Henry is SEJournal’s BookShelf editor, a member of the magazine’s advisory board, and has been The (Toledo) Blade’s environmental-energy writer since creating the beat in March of 1993.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 6, No. 41. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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