Saving Us - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Saving Us.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Listen to the episode here.
I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
We have gotten, over the years, several requests for episodes related to climate change and climate anxiety, and that’s for good reason. When I was a kid, we called it global warming. And now we recognize it as more of just a full-on climate emergency. We are inundated with data and reports it feels like every day — certainly every week. Everything seems to indicate that the clock is ticking down, and it’s moving faster than we thought, and there is nothing that can be done, because the damage ... the damage is bad. The damage is bad.
This past summer alone, it just shows that no one in this country will be spared from severe weather that is caused by climate change. I live in a state that has been on fire! I drove across this country up north to a lake that is evaporating before our eyes. Climate change is just going to become a bigger part of our everyday lives.
And of course, this weighs on people. Of course this is anxiety-inducing. And I have personally avoided doing an episode about this because ... I did not want to. I did not want to! What else is there to say other than things are bad? You think it was bad when you saw “Fern Gully” as a child in the ‘90s and you cried because we’re ruining the rainforest? Well, guess what kid? Let’s go back in time and tell our childhood selves we didn’t fix it, it just got worse.
I tend to actively disengage from media around climate, because it tends to push me into a useless anxiety spiral. And what is there to do other than what I can do? Which is ... drive a hybrid and feel like a morally superior person. Or use reusable baggies, and recycle, and make sure my recycling is sorted.
It’s a lot, and it often feels like a lot of our current reality is dictated by powers and systems that are larger than ourselves. Our government is stuck in gridlock and so are many of our interpersonal relationships. The COVID-19 pandemic? Still going! And on top of that, the world around us seems to be falling apart. And when weaponized as a political tool, which is how the climate conversation has gone — it has joined the ranks of money, sex and politics as something that is, oop ah, it’s divisive — it can make it feel impossible to even have a productive conversation about it.
So, I was sent a book called Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope & Healing in a Divided World. And I DREADED reading it. I put it off. I was like ugh, God, even if the word “hope” is in the title, how hopeful can a book on climate be?
Turns out, very, very!
Very, very, very. What it comes down to is right in the title -- which is US. Saving US! We are not saving the world, which, frankly, will continue to exist whether or not it’s a survivable habitat for us -- we are saving us. We are saving each other. Climate is, unfortunately, one of those topics that can immediately become contentious and impossible to discuss, which then feels hopeless and depleting but I’m telling you ...
… meeting the author Katharine Hayhoe was even better than the book. Megan Palmer was on this interview, helped produce this episode. And Megan, our little, you know, hopeless Gen Z, even Megan felt better after this interview, okay?
Katharine’s energy, her passion, it is so contagious … and you will leave this episode not just feeling better about where we’re going, but aware of how to bring more people along. Even the uncle who thinks it’s all a hoax.
So here is this conversation with Katharine — which I recorded myself, which means I made mistakes that the engineers are fixing … so, if you don’t like how it sounds, please know, you should judge me and judge only me. But here’s this conversation, and I hope- I know. I know, know, know, know, know you will find it helpful.
Nora McInerny: Your book came out today. Holy shit!
Katharine Hayhoe: I know. I feel the same way.
Nora McInerny: Holy shit. How do you feel today?
Katharine Hayhoe: Oh, I feel good. I feel better than last night. I broke out in a raging case of hives last night. I have never had hives before in my life. I got up and I was like, “Why am I so itchy?” And my husband was like, “Look- look at you, you're covered!” I was like, what is this?
Nora McInerny: “This is it. This is it. I got the book flu, I'm going to die now. This is how it goes, okay.”
Katharine Hayhoe: Yeah, yeah. At least the book is out, and so they can read it at my funeral.
Nora McInerny: Yes. And honestly, I don't think anything helps sales like dying. So, OK, people will be like, “You wouldn't believe this author died of excitement on the day her book came out. It must be a good one. It must be a good one.” It is such a good one, Katharine.
Katharine Hayhoe: Oh, thank you.
Nora McInerny: And I am so glad that you wrote this book, because we are an anxious peoples, right? And with good reason. We are anxious. I think it used to be like, oh, things that will shut down a conversation are politics, money or, you know, personal details about your sex life. Now, I really think the only thing that can really kill a conversation or a vibe in general is talking about climate.
Katharine Hayhoe: I agree. And you know what? There's data that proves that. The latest survey I just saw from last week says only 14 percent of people ever talk about climate change, 14 percent!
Nora McInerny: 14 percent. That feels frighteningly low for something that will affect all of us. And also, I can understand why. I can understand why. And to me ... we're so afraid of things that we don't understand, even things that affect all of us, right? We all die. We all die. Trust me when I bring up my dead husband, again, not a great conversation starter with the right crowd, right? 14 percent of people want to talk about my dead husband. 14 percent of people will want to talk about, you know, infertility or sexual assault. Any of these really hard things, they could happen to anybody. They are happening to anybody. This is happening to all of us. And we don't know where to start without ruining, I guess, dinner on a planet that is just hurtling through space and feels like it could just break apart at the seams at any time. It seems big and scary and hopeless. You don't seem like a hopeless person.
Katharine Hayhoe: No, but that's exactly what it seems like. You're very right. And I think that that's a secret. That's why people are not talking about it. Because why would you want to talk about something that just makes you feel entirely depressed and helpless? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't.
Nora McInerny: No. No. So where does your ... it feels like you have a naturally buoyant personality. Like you are a person who is maybe not as prone to just the dark side as some of us -- as me, for sure, and many of our listeners. How do you maintain that while doing the work that you do?
Katharine Hayhoe: Well, you know what's so interesting, starting about four or five years ago, the number one question I started to get from anyone, anywhere, was, “What gives you hope?” And honestly, if you're going to ask somebody, what gives you hope, a climate scientist is a pretty good person to ask [laughs], because we're the ones who look at all the doom filled studies every single day. We're the ones who are up to date on how quickly the Antarctic ice sheet is melting and how much methane is leaking out of the permafrost up in the Arctic and how much sea levels rising and how much worse the wildfires are getting and the hurricanes. So if we can find hope, I feel like everybody can. And so I started to think, well, where do I find hope? I actually find a little bit of it in the science, because what the science says is very clear. Our future is in our hands. The worst impacts are yet to come, and we are able to avoid them by making good choices today. And that's a pretty big chunk of our hope. But then the other piece of our hope, it doesn't come to us if we're just waiting for it. So I did an experiment one day a few months ago. I went to a couple of websites of major news organizations, and I looked at all their headlines. And on one of them I remember there was 35 headlines, and about six or seven of the headlines were factual. So, you know, you didn't have any emotional response to them. Every single other headline was negative. It made you feel afraid or frustrated or angry or enraged or panicked. And so I realized that if we just sit and wait for hope to arrive, it never will, because that is not the world that we live in. We live in a world where literally, if it bleeds, it leads, as they used to say in the old headline days. People click on disaster stories and things that make them angry. But if we want to be hopeful, here's the secret. We have to go out and look for it. And when we look for it, when we go out and we look for good stories about people who are making a difference, who are speaking out, who are doing incredible things, who are changing the world, we find those stories. And when we share them with other people, that gives them hope, too. And it helps us to realize, and this is sort of the way I envision it or picture it, that climate action, it's not a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of an impossibly steep hill with only a few hands trying desperately to push it up, and they never will be able to. That's often the way we feel, right? Instead, when we actually start looking at it, turns out that boulder is at the top of the hill. It's already rolling down the hill in the right direction. It has millions of hands already on it. We just need more to get it going faster. Isn't that a much more hopeful perspective?
Nora McInerny: Yes. Who couldn't get on board with that? Who couldn't get on board with that? I am a person who naturally leans, like I said, to the dark side where, you know, as a child, I would lay in bed and would be like, “Well, someday when the world ends, my particles will float away from my parents’ particles. How sad is that? And the universe goes on forever, right?” I am a catastrophist. And so I find sometimes hope or power or just something, satisfaction maybe is the right word, in any small thing that I can do. OK? So what is the small thing that I can do? I can refuse a straw at McDonald's. OK, look at me, I won't take a straw. Not going to take a straw. I use beeswax wrap, right, like virtue, virtue. I drive a hybrid and it's a used hybrid too, it's not even a new one okay, I drive a used hybrid, former rental car. And there are ways that that helps me feel better about the world, but mostly better about myself. And then that's instantly shattered by, “Well, I mean, you can not use straws, but you know one of — I'm going to get the statistics wrong, this is where I rely on you — all the pollution is really happening from one of five companies, so who cares if you even use a straw? And you can drive a hybrid, but guess what? To make those batteries, they gotta script for rare metals on the bottom of the earth!” It just feels so easily like ... What would I do? What would I do?
Katharine Hayhoe: Yes, yes! Well, that's the thing. So we're told about this huge global problem. And what it threatens is civilization itself as we know it. And then we're told, OK, well, the solution is: change a light bulb, refuse a straw and watch what you drive and you eat. And so we know instinctively, like you said, it's like a house of cards. We know instinctively that that is not going to save civilization. Turning down straws is not going to save us. Now, don't get me wrong, it's a good thing to turn down straws, right? But that's not going to fix the problem, because as you just said, 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of the heat trapping gas emissions that are building up in the atmosphere, wrapping an extra blanket around the planet, causing it to warm. 90 companies. So that's why I started to go on a hunt. When people ask me what gives you hope and what can I do to make a difference, I started to really dig into this. What can we do? So I calculated, you know, if we did everything we could with our diet and our transportation, and our house and everything, what impact would that have? All of us who are alarmed or concerned about climate change in the U.S. did that? Well, we're looking at maybe 15 percent of U.S. emissions. That's not enough! I said, “Well, but hang on, the world has changed before. How did it change in the past?” I mean, 200 years ago, it was legal to own another human being.
Nora McInerny: That's not long, by the way. That's not long. Yeah, yeah.
Katharine Hayhoe: It's in our great-great-grandparents time. A hundred and fifty years ago, it was fine to say that women couldn't be educated, couldn't vote because their fragile brains would overheat. And that was actually endorsed by so-called scientists and doctors of the day.
Nora McInerny: And it is true in my case, OK? In my case.
Katharine Hayhoe: I deny that. I completely deny that. And then, you know, you've got, you've got civil rights. You've got apartheid in South Africa. So how did the world change? Because it changed profoundly in terms of what we see as acceptable and what we don't. Well, it wasn't because the presidents or the CEOs or the people in charge who had the power and the wealth decided it had to. It was because ordinary people of no particular power or wealth or significance decided the world could be different and the world must be different. And here's what they did. They used their voice to talk about why this shouldn't be the way it is. To bring new people onto their side, to together advocate for change at a larger scale. And guess what? It wasn't easy, but that is the way the world changed before, and that is the way the world can change again. And we, each of us, we have an absolutely critical role to play in that.
We’ll be right back.
Nora McInerny: What is our role, as individuals, when we know that there's these 90 companies, doing all the dirty work and I'm here fishing, you know, just- let's talk about what a good person I am, you know, fishing cans out of a garbage can because they could be recycled.
Katharine Hayhoe: Oh, I do that too. I do that, too.
Nora McInerny: I just or just be like, “No, we will not take that. You know, you will not take that single serve bottle of water that your teacher is handing out because we do not need that. And I brought you a bottle of water and that is what we're going to do.” What can we do aside from panic, aside from scream into the void?
Katharine Hayhoe: OK, well, first of all, I hear you. Woe betide any member of my family who puts the wrong thing in the recycling bin. And my son still remembers the lecture I gave him at Starbucks when he wanted Fiji Water. And I'm like, “Do you understand where that comes from?” He's probably going to counseling to deal with that in his later life.
Nora McInerny: The only guarantee in parenting.
Katharine Hayhoe: Exactly, exactly. You can do whatever you want and they will still need counseling.
Nora McInerny: They 100 percent will. And to go through all of your shortcomings. So if that's what- if that's what he's telling a therapist, that therapist thanks you for that two hundred dollars an hour while she mentally makes a grocery store list while your son tells her about the trauma of a Fiji bottle of water they are thankful for you. They are thankful for that business.
Katharine Hayhoe: Well, so here's the number one thing that we can do. And it is so simple, and it's something that every single one of us can do. And it's something that hardly anybody is doing. And it is simply talking about it. And I don't mean all the science, because we scientists have been talking science for decades, and that didn't make a difference. I'm talking about connecting it directly to something we care about. Beginning the conversation with something we have in common that we share that's really important to us. Connect the dots to how climate change is affecting it and then talk about a positive, constructive solution that either you're doing yourself in your life or your school is doing, or another school or another place of work or business, or another church, or another town. Something that somebody is doing that you might be able to do too together. And that in and of itself, that single step, which every one of us can do on social media or in person, with friends or family or coworkers or neighbors. That is the number one thing that knocks over the first domino in that long chain of dominoes that takes us to a better future. Isn't that crazy? It is so simple.
Nora McInerny: It's so simple, and it feels so hard right now. I love that, you know, the name of your book is Saving Us, right? Saving Us. Not like, you know, the planet, the world. Saving Us. And us is a very rare word right now, unless it is paired with them, them. Right, us and them, How did climate science become a polarizing topic when it affects everybody? How did this happen? How do we get to this, this place where, I mean, there's a lot to say. Like I do, I watch a lot of flat earth YouTube, right? There's a pretty straight line you can draw between the defunding of the public school system and adult people who believe that the world is flat. But aside from that detour, I did take Adderall before this, and I don't think it worked. I think I took it at the wrong point in time, and I'm so sorry, Katharine, but how did we get to this place where this is a thing that divides us when it's really a thing that connects us?
Katharine Hayhoe: So you hit the nail on the head right there. If it wasn't for YouTube, that man who started it all would still be living in his mother's basement and not even his own mother believes him. But thanks to YouTube's algorithms, they saw all the videos. So social media, absolutely, one hundred percent amplifies all the misinformation that is out there. But they didn't start it. They're just making it worse. If you go all the way back to the late 1990s, and this is actually where I start my book, and you asked Democrats and Republicans what they thought about climate change, they would give you the same answer. It was not politically polarized. And it shouldn't be, because a thermometer does not give you a different answer depending on how you vote. A hurricane doesn't knock on your door and say, “Excuse me, who did you vote for in the last presidential election” before it destroys your home, right? So it shouldn't be polarized at all. We should be having debates, and what should those debates be about: what's the best way to fix it, because depending on who you are and where you live and what's important to you, you might have different ideas about the best way to fix it. And that is a very valid topic of debate. But debating basic physics that we've known since the 1800s, the exact same physics that explains how airplanes fly and how stoves heat food. I mean, if people really had a problem with that, they wouldn't be using any modern-day technology. But they are! So how did it get polarized? It wasn't because somebody woke up one morning and said, “I'm going to decide to doubt basic science that we've known for hundreds of years.” It's because they woke up and they went to Facebook, or, you know, wherever they get their information on, their favorite AM talk show host or their favorite website or their favorite news channel. And what did they see? They saw people whose opinions they respect, whose values they share, telling them that this wasn't real, that scientists were just making it up, that it would destroy the economy, that there was no solution. And why were these people telling them that? Because back when climate action became inevitable, and that was happening in the late 1990s, it was getting bad, and we were seeing it happening, and people were saying we got to do something about it. Well, those companies, those 90 companies realized doing something about it means putting us out of business. And those companies, especially the top 10 or 20, are some of the richest and most powerful in the world. So they decided, “We're going to take a leaf directly out of the tobacco industry's playbook. Literally. We are going to hire, in some cases, the same spin doctors as the tobacco industry did, the same fake experts in white coats the tobacco industry did.” There's an incredible book called Merchants of Doubt, and it's actually a documentary too that literally talks about who these people are. And we are going to muddy the waters and sow as much doubt as we can, and we're going to work with politicians who have a lot of fossil fuels in their air in their district, because that brings in a lot of their campaign funds. And we are going to delay climate action as long as we can because of our quarterly returns. They started to do that in the late 1990s and they have kept on doing it to this very day. And you know what else they're doing, and this is actually really horrifying, Nora. Today they've changed a little bit. They're not so much saying it isn't real anymore. They're saying, “Oh, we're taking it, quote, very seriously.” Which of course, very seriously means a tiny fraction of what they're doing is going into some green technology, but they are paying to put advertising on social media, and this shows up in my Twitter feed all the time to say, “What are you doing to fix climate change? Are you going to get a plug-in car? Are you going to change your light bulbs? Are you going to alter your diet?” And again, these are the companies responsible for two-thirds of the problem, and they are what? Doing what they do best: shifting the blame to us.
Nora McInerny: Little Spider-Man noise. Boing, fwip. Just- boop boop! Goes right back to you. Goes right back to you. That's fascinating. And media has always been manipulatable. I don't know if that's the word that I'm looking for. It's always been possible, through public relations, you know, lobbyist groups, all these ways to shape public opinion. But it's easier now than ever, and the more divided we are about truly any topic, right, the people that that benefits are very few, and they are already extremely rich, and what we end up doing is making money for Twitter, for Facebook, for Instagram, which is just Facebook, for YouTube. Every time we sort of engage in this, like, is it or isn't it, whatever the topic is, like, we're spinning ourselves into a circle while also activating a money-making machine for the platforms that quote unquote enable this conversation, but really just perpetuate. It's not conversation.
Katharine Hayhoe: Yes! Well, and this point this shows how it's not about climate change. It's about any polarized issue. It's about COVID and vaccines and masks. It's about immigration and refugees. It's about politics and it's about climate change. And there've been studies that have showed, for example, that false information on Twitter spread six times faster than truth. There have been studies showing that only a few individual people were responsible for most of the masses of misinformation on COVID that's been circulated. Masses of it! And so, yes, social media absolutely profits because people prefer to click on conspiracy theories than they do on the truth.
Nora McInerny: Yeah, yeah. It's more interesting. Like, the truth is that lies are always more interesting. And I think... a few- a few months ago, and every every once in a while, occasionally I will get a message that reveals my position in the Illuminati. I don't know if you know that about me, Katharine, but I'm obviously a member!
Katharine Hayhoe: We're in it together! We weren't going to share that though.
Nora McInerny: Obviously, yes. Yes. Yes. Except that, you know, you can tell that the Illuminati is maybe- I mean, they're really reaching right now. They're like, look, we need a- we need a climate scientist and a podcaster, yeah, that seems like who should be running the world, right. But that seems so much more interesting than the truth of the matter, which is that five people have ninety nine percent of the world's wealth. And that is truly like our common enemy, right. You cannot make up a better villain than that. And yet we are busy making villains of- of each other. And one of the- the... most helpful parts of your book, right? Is that... it is possible to make this a we conversation, right? To make this a conversation about us. And there have been so many things over the past, I don't know, two hundred years, but also the past two years, right. That have divided us into us versus them, that have fractured relationships, family relationships, friendships that have really created this huge divide. And sometimes it feels insurmountable. Where do you- where do you start with a person with whom you want to, you are in relationship with, right. Like you have love for each other, you still have respect for each other, but you disagree on something as important as this. How do you turn that into an “us” conversation?
Katharine Hayhoe: That is the second most common question that I've gotten from anybody I've talked to over the last five years and more. And that is the second question why- or second reason why I wrote the book. How do I have a conversation with my family member, friend, neighbor, colleague, coworker? How do I talk about this? So here's the secret, and there is a secret, because I have had thousands of conversations and the most useful ones are the ones that didn't go well, that's when you really learn what you did wrong. You can try better the next time. So- so- and this is the way I think about it. If we can have a positive, constructive conversation on climate change, which is the number one most politicized issue in the whole U.S. and it has been for 10 years. COVID is right up there, but climate change still holds the number one spot. If we can do that, what else couldn't we talk about? So it's not exactly a book about climate change. It's more a book about how do we fix the world? How do we save us? And if we can start with one thing, maybe everything else can fall into line. So, here's the secret. Begin the conversation with something you agree on, not something you disagree on. Because when we begin a conversation with something we disagree on, the subtext, which we're very easily, you know, very quick to pick up on. The subtext is you're wrong or you're stupid or you're ignorant or you have really bad morals or maybe none at all. And I'm going to show you how I'm right and my perspective is the correct one, the accurate one, the informed one, the educated one, the good one. And if you know what's good for you, you will be like me. Well, I don't know about you, but I don't react well when someone approaches me like that.
Nora McInerny: I don't, and yet how many conversations have I started that way?
Katharine Hayhoe: True.
Nora McInerny: Like, so many. So many. It makes perfect sense.
Katharine Hayhoe: Yes. So- so instead of beginning from that way, imagine if we began a conversation with something we agreed on, that the subtext was expressing I think it's great, you're a great parent. You obviously care a lot about your child or you're a really responsible citizen or you're a very good, you know, steward of your resources or you're very fiscally conservative, you're shrewd, you're smart. What if we began a conversation where that was the subtext. The person we're talking with would be like, well, yes, in fact, I am. That is very important to me. And so begin with something we agree on. And I have dozens of examples in the book. And sometimes they can be as trivial literally as tennis or baseball or knitting or the fact that we both love to drink beer. Sometimes it can be more profound. We both might have shared military experience or we both might be people of faith or we both might live in the same place and we're worried about what's happening where we live. So begin the conversation with something that you agree on. And if you don't know what you agree on with the person, you should be asking them questions and listening very carefully to what they say, not starting off with whatever you have to say. So and- and when I've done that within just a couple of, you know, sentences and minutes, I've been able to find something that I can connect with somebody on, maybe we're both skiers or we both have a place we grew up going as a child that we loved. Connect the dots so that they can see that who they already are, not who you want to- want them to be, but who they already are, is the perfect person to care about climate change. And if they didn't already care about it, it isn't because they don't have the right values or morals or priorities. They do. They just haven't connected the dots. And once they connect the dots, they'll see. And this is really cool, that caring about climate change and acting on it is not only not inconsistent with who they are, it's actually a more genuine expression of who they are. If you are a good parent and you care about your child's future, climate change threatens your child's future. And so recognizing that and taking action makes you an even better parent than you already were. So in that way, we're respecting each other. We're focusing on what we have in common rather than what divides us. And sometimes, sometimes we can't get people to even agree that climate is changing. And in my book, I have that story. You probably remember where I decided to give a whole presentation one time without ever mentioning the words climate and change. But I talked- I was talking to water managers and I talked all about, you know, the observed trends and then the future projections and how it's getting hotter and drier. And we had to prepare. Everything was the same, except I never said climate change. And afterwards, this woman came running up to me, and she grabbed my hand and she shook it enthusiastically and she said, that was great, I agree with everything you said. And then she went on, she said, but those people who talk about global warming, I don't agree with them at all. But this- this makes sense. So we don't have to get people to sign some statement effacing I believe that climate change is real and human caused. If we can just agree that, hey, wind energy is great, it supplies more than 20 percent of our electricity here in Texas. It saves money, and I know a bunch of farmers who put it on their land and they're making money. I don't care if they say they believe in climate change, it's not a religion. It is changing whether you like it or not and we're responsible! But if they're on board with solutions, and this is my other favorite story from the book, if they're on board with solutions, then just like John's dad, solutions sometimes change their mind. John is a colleague of mine, and he had a dad who was totally dismissive of climate change, but it turned out that what changed his dad's mind was not John getting a PhD in cognitive psychology and becoming a world expert on misinformation, which he is. That didn't change his dad's mind. What changed his dad's mind, who is a fiscal conservative, he's a thrifty man, was getting solar panels, saving a ton of money, being able to be a good person, be part of the solution. He was part of the solution. And as soon as he was part of the solution, he had no problem with the problem anymore.
Nora McInerny: You mentioned people of faith. We have in our listenership many people who are- who are who are dealing with religious trauma, too. I was raised Catholic. I have another podcast, we're going to have to have you on called Cafeteria Christian, which is really good. How do we talk to... people of faith who believe God's got it, so it's not my job.
Katharine Hayhoe: So that is, in fact, the number one religious-y sounding objection. Many objections are kind of science-y sounding. Like it's just a natural cycle, how do we know it's humans and not volcanoes? And I talk about those a bit in the book, too. We've checked, and it's not. But-
Nora McInerny: How many volcanoes do you know, by the way? How many are there even, like I don't think they're out here. Volcanoes were my number one fear as a child, I was like, they could be anywhere. They could erupt at any point. Like I lived in Minnesota, there was no risk, no risk.
Katharine Hayhoe: OK. So be honest, have you- have you binged all those supervolcano videos on YouTube about how the world would end? No? OK.
Nora McInerny: No, my- my algorithm takes care of me. They know that I am mentally unwell and I cannot handle that, like.
Katharine Hayhoe: My son enjoys watching those. And I'm just like, no, thank you. Enough bad things in the world already, I don't need more. So- so God's in control and it doesn't matter what we do is the number one religious sounding argument. And to respond to that, I don't go to the science. I go to the Bible. Because the people who are saying that are usually Christian and I'm a Christian, too, my husband's a pastor. And in the Bible, in Genesis chapter one, so book one, chapter one, it literally says God gave humans responsibility over every living thing on this planet. And as I say in the book, it's not the planet that's at risk, the physical planet will orbit the sun long after we're gone. It's every living thing on the planet that's at risk. God put us in charge. So that's how we can talk about it by taking people back to who they are, who they profess to be, what they say they believe, and saying, look, here is what it literally says. We are responsible. And then there's more too, because it isn't just about living things somehow separate from ourselves, the poorest and most marginalized and most vulnerable people right here in North America, as well as on the other side of the world, they're the ones who are already suffering the most from climate impacts. The most angry I have ever been was... and I get trolled every day on the internet. But usually, usually I've gotten to the point now where I can just laugh at that. The most angry I've ever been was when I went to Paris in 2015 for the Paris climate conference, which was when all the world came together, every country in the world, to agree to try to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius and one and a half if we can. And of course, just last week, a new United Nations report came out saying that countries are doing something, they've done more than they did before, but we're still only at two point seven degrees. That's quite far from two degrees. So in November, all the countries will be going back to Glasgow this time to try to figure out can we get that extra seven degrees or even better, can we get all the way down to one and a half degrees. And so I was there, and I was part of a team that was providing support for lots of low income countries, because they were trying to negotiate and they often needed some quick statistics or information on their negotiations. So I spent a lot of time working with some of the poorest countries in the world, and I did a lot with faith based groups there, too. So I talked to people who, you know, shared my faith, who believe the same things I did, yet they lived in devastatingly poor circumstances. They had stories of crop failures and inundated homes and refugee crises that are all being exacerbated by climate change. And they were just- just there, not to argue over what to do about their carbon emissions. They were just there to say we are suffering today and we are suffering not because of what we've done. It's because of what you rich countries have done. And after spending those weeks with them, and I came back here and... when- when people here, with their, you know, comfortable lives and big homes and big trucks said to me, oh, well, you know, that's not really real, how do you know, it's not bad. I just felt like grabbing them by the collar and shaking them and screaming in their face, do you not know people are literally suffering today. But I didn't, because I knew that that wasn't going to change their minds because that would come with not just a little subtext of judgment. That would have been the judgment smacking them right upside the head. They'd be lucky if they're still standing after that, that amount of judgment. So I didn't. I just sort of sat and stewed and fumed to myself for a number of weeks until sort of the lava cooled and lowered below the level of my eyeballs. I let it power me. I let it fuel me because, why do we care? Ultimately, we care because of one simple word, love. That's why we care. We love the people who are suffering. We love our sisters and our brothers around the world. We love this incredible planet that we live in. We love our family. And we truly do mostly love each other, too. And we know that we can't get to a better future without- without all of us. And so that's really I think what motivates us is love, not hate.
Nora McInerny: I have a lot of friends who are not having children and are making that choice, mainly based on- are the climate realities that it feels like we're facing. And I sometimes have in moments of just like abject, you know, anxiety, this feeling like, did I make a mistake? Like, is this- should I have had kids? Did I... sign them up for like the apocalypse, essentially. What do you tell current- current parents, prospective parents like? Because I don't know, I don't know and children are so hopeful, right, and so when my eight year old says to me, well, when I have kids, I want to be like, I wouldn't- I- let's not plan on that. I- you know, I don't know, I don't think like. It's so, it feels so dark. And it also feels like, if when they were writing the Bible, they thought that was bad. What would- what would the new newest book of the Bible be, Katharine? Like, the planet's on fire, like?
Katharine Hayhoe: Well, I think we already have that book, it's Revelation. And in Revelation, it says God will destroy those who destroy the Earth.
Nora McInerny: God love, love being here with a real Christian, because I will tell you that Catholics do not read the Bible. That priest reads it for us.
Katharine Hayhoe: And if you're lucky, it's in English.
Nora McInerny: Yeah, can't tell you what's in it, frankly, but I've heard good things.
Katharine Hayhoe: Oh, well. Well, isn't- isn't having a child almost like an absurdly hopeful choice? That you just somehow think that you're bringing this human, this incredibly vulnerable human into the world. You are putting your heart in this little person. You would- your life is no longer your own. You would do anything for them. I remember the first time my son was finally old enough to where I changed his diaper and I picked him up, and he actually wrapped his arms around my neck and he hugged me and I literally felt my heart. I- it was a physical feeling. I could just feel my heart sort of breaking into little pieces in my chest. And, you know, you're never the same after those moments, you would do anything for them. So, that's why I fight. I fight because of my son, because I believe there has to be a better world and it isn't guaranteed. And that's not where hope begins. It doesn't begin with the guarantee of a positive outcome. And hope does not begin with positive circumstances either. Hope is a small light at the end of the dark tunnel and we use all the love we have in our hearts and we teach our children too, all the ways to live and all the things that matter. And with every breath we have, we fight for that better world, not just for ourselves, not just for them, but for all of them. And so... I turned the question, what gives you hope around, I started to ask people and I asked hundreds of people across North America, Europe and beyond. And you know what the number one answer I got to what gives you hope is? The next generation. People would say, my kids or my grandchildren, or people would say young people in general or people like Greta Thunberg and the- the children's climate strikes. And so I start- I started to ask them, well do you mean it's because kids will fix it for us, because kids are very motivated to fix it. And everybody said, no, that is not what I'm talking about, I don't mean that. I mean that they literally embody hope. The idea that we continue in them, they are our hope. Kids are literally our hope. And now that doesn't mean go and have a dozen of them. I just think- kids already exist. So- so whether they're our own kids, whether they are nieces and nephews or our godchildren, whether they are children in our neighborhood or the at local school or just children that we see around or on the news, children are our hope. And that's why we're fighting. It really is for them because we continue in them. And it reminded me of that movie from a number of years ago in that- it was a novel too by P.D. James called Children of Men. And I write about in the book because it was so- it was so apropos. It's where people- where a global flu pandemic sweeps around the world and they start to notice that fertility levels drop and drop and drop to all of a sudden where nobody's having children anymore. There is no- there's no children being born around the whole world. And it is just the most hopeless world. And in fact, in the chapter on hope and courage, I talk about P.D. James's book, The Children of Men. It chronicles the despair of a human race that can no longer bear children. Here's what one of the characters says. It was reasonable to struggle, to suffer, perhaps even to die for a more just and more compassionate society, a better world. But not in a world where there was no future. Where all too soon the very words justice, compassion, society, struggle would just be unheard echoes on the empty air. So- so that's why I don't give up, and that's why it's so important to go out and look for that hope, because without hope, it is too late. Without hope, we are a self-fulfilling prophecy of despair. And one of the people who inspires me most is Christiana Figueres. She is a Costa Rican diplomat who headed the Paris negotiations. And I mean, honestly, if I thought that I had it rough, she has to deal with the heads of all of these countries. She has to deal with the selfish rich countries. She has to deal with the greenwashers. She has to deal with all the poor countries who are suffering. And after the Paris agreement, she wrote this amazing book called The Future We Choose. And in it she said, she envisions what 2030 would look like if we actually took climate action seriously, how clean our air would be, how affordable our electricity, how walkable our cities, how healthy our children. And she concludes by saying that- she says, the biggest thing we learned, as if we lived in 2030, looking back, is that we were only ever as doomed as we believed ourselves to be.
Nora McInerny: That's really beautiful. All of this applies to so much, but I really- I appreciate all of the ways that you framed up... this big, big idea in a way that feels personal and feels accessible and doesn't feel... so hopeless, hopeless. That's exactly it, hope is on the cover of your book. Hope is on the cover of your book. When there are, you know, conversations obviously take two parties. There are some people who are just impossible to have a conversation with about this. What do you do in those cases? What do you do then?
Katharine Hayhoe: Well, I'm so glad that you brought that up, because when people think about having a conversation about climate change, often our mind jumps to the person or people we know who are dismissive. Dismissive people are the ones who say it's a hoax. They're the ones who talk about it all the time. They're always posting articles on Facebook or sharing blogs about how it's just a natural cycle, or NASA decided it was sunspots, or those scientists are just faking it to line their pockets, or the United Nations made all of these claims that aren't true. If you know somebody who talks about it all the time and says things that are manifestly untrue, the first person you want to have a good conversation with is that person. And here's the bad news. That person is the only person you cannot have a positive conversation with, barring a genuine, honest to God miracle. I know that because I have had several thousand conversations with dismissives. And there have been one or two that miraculously did went well, do go well, but the vast majority did not. And that's because a dismissive is somebody who literally, like I think that's the perfect name for them, they literally will dismiss everything. They will dismiss two hundred years of science, thousands of climate scientists, you know, enough scientific studies piled up to the ceiling. They will dismiss anything and, you know, they can't even listen. I gave a talk the other day to a local organization, the Lions Club, and I knew my audience, so I made sure I touched on, you know, what they might have heard. And I said, you know, you might have heard that- that one volcanic eruption produces more pollution than ten years of human activities. But that's not true, volcanoes actually cool the planet down, they don't even warm it. They produce a bunch of particles and only a big eruption, not a normal one. And those cool the planet down for anywhere from a few weeks to up to a year or two. So afterwards, this man came up to me and started to argue. He started to, first of all, invoke fake experts. He had a book from somebody who used to work from NASA that said it was just solar- solar cycles. And then he said, well, you didn't talk about how one volcanic eruption produces more emissions than, you know. And I was like, sir, I literally said those words. Those are the exact words that came out of my mouth, like precisely! And he was like, Oh, I didn't hear you. Well, it wasn't his fault. He can't. And if you share something with a dismissive person on social media, they literally can't click it. They physically cannot bring themselves to click it because it represents too great a threat to their identity and their sense of who they are. But here's the good news, if you're feeling discouraged. The good news is dismissive people are seven percent of the population. They are a loud seven percent. They get a lot of attention online, but they're just seven percent. And that means with ninety three percent of us, we absolutely can have a positive discussion. So when I talk with someone who is dismissive, if they're online, I respond once, as long as they didn't call me the whore of Babylon. I am called that on a pretty regular basis. That gets you a block right away.
Nora McInerny: That is. That's, wow. OK.
Katharine Hayhoe: Yes. Yes. But if they ask a question-
Nora McInerny: Those are words that have not yet been spoken on this podcast. So good job.
Katharine Hayhoe: Oh really, are you serious?
Nora McInerny: No one's mentioned the whore of Babylon, so, that's great.
Katharine Hayhoe: Oh! I also get handmaiden of the Antichrist, has that been mentioned yet?
Nora McInerny: No, no, we're having a lot of firsts here. This is great.
Katharine Hayhoe: Well, you know, it's us handmaidens of the Antichrist who are really behind the Illuminati. The Illuminati think that they're controlling the world, but we're the ones pulling the strings.
Nora McInerny: You are my boss.
Katharine Hayhoe: Would you like to join?
Nora McInerny: Yes, absolutely. I've been looking for a promotion. I love- I love opportunity. Thank you so much for thinking of me.
Katharine Hayhoe: OK, good. We'll be in touch. So I respond once on social media, just for everybody else. And if they come- come and address me in a public place, I'll respond once, just for everybody else who's listening. But if they keep on going, I just disengage, because I don't want to waste my time and my energy on arguing with the dismissive who literally, if an angel from God came down with brand new tablets of stone that say global warming is real, foot high letters of flame, that would not be enough to convince them. So who do I think I am?
Nora McInerny: Yeah. Yeah. And also nothing- in my experience, nothing kills hope, like hyper-fixating on a hopeless conversation.
Katharine Hayhoe: Yes.
Nora McInerny: And- and there's so much energy. I mean, on this wall, there's like a- there's a little thing that says like, never read the comments. I do read the comments. And, you know, just like seven percent of people are dismissives, like maybe seven percent of people are anything online, right, are anything online. It is so easy to let your negativity bias take over. To you feel like you are really doing something by, like, just smashing that keyboard and telling this literal stranger, like, what's up, wasting your- your whole like life force on that. And then, of course, that- that perpetuates this cycle of hopelessness. And what I got from your book, what I've gotten from this wonderful conversation is like, go find your hope. Like, go find that. Let's chase it, hold onto it, and then use that to light the way for other people who are already out there next to you thinking that they are the only one who- who is also caring or freaking out or having a panic attack in Target, any big box retailer, I'll just like be like, all this will be in a landfill someday in 50 years. All this like, I just.
Katharine Hayhoe: You are so right, that is so well said. And use your voice because when you start talking about it, you will find other people who feel the same. And you will realize you are not alone. And there are other people who feel the same way and you could get together and be like, oh, well, we're at the same university, what could we do? Let's look around at other universities. What are they doing? We should be doing it, too, let's talk to the administration about it. Why do you think Amazon is starting to take steps to become more climate friendly? It is not, I don't know this personally, but I'm going to just make an educated guess. It's not because Jeff Bezos woke up one morning and decided that he was going to do it. It was because ordinary people whose names we don't even know within the organization started to talk about how they could and should be different and how they could and should do things differently. So using our voice is just the first step to help connect us to each other, to help us find hope and action together, to help us realize that that boulder is already rolling down the hill in the right direction, and guess what? I know some of the hands that are on it. And I can invite more people to put their hands on. It's not a hopeless task. No one wants to try to roll a boulder uphill, they'll never get there. Rather, it's already rolling downhill, so like join us. We're moving in the right direction. This is awesome. If you put your hand on the boulder, you'll be surrounded by these amazing people who are doing incredible things and you will be encouraged. You will be inspired. And when you feel anxious, when you feel despair, when you feel panic. And I mean, who doesn't feel that sometimes, especially, you know, if you're up in the middle of the night with your child and you're thinking, what have I done! What is- what is this world coming to? When you have those moments, you will have people around you. And so that's why I was part of- I founded an organization with a number of other moms called Science Moms. Because we found out that eighty five percent of moms around the US are worried about climate change. Eighty five percent. They could be Republican, they could be Democrat, they could be independent. Eighty five percent are worried, but they don't know what to do. So we founded Science Moms just to give people, you know, a place to go, to find books to read to your kids, movies to watch together, letters to send to your elected representatives saying that we need change. And by doing so, we are all part of the solution together.
Nora McInerny: Katherine Hayhoe, thank you so much. You are such a goddamn natural like, holy crap. Thank you so much, Katharine. So truly like what a wonderful thing you've done. Truly what a wonderful thing.
Katharine Hayhoe: You were so fun to talk to. Thank you.
Nora McInerny: Bye, thank you!
Katharine Hayhoe: Bye!
I hope you feel better after this episode. I hope you feel better about our climate and the ways we have many people pulling in the same direction. I hope you feel better about the value of your own small steps. I hope you feel better about blasting your rage higher than that wasteful birthday party you attended and up up up to those top polluters worldwide. I hope you feel better about your ability to talk to the people in your lives about what they care about and how that connects to the world around us and connects us to each other. I hope you feel better knowing that Katharine Hayhoe is out there doing the work, and still stopping to pet our heads and tell us it’s gonna be okay...if we get up and help, too.
Katharine’s Book is called “Saving Us.” It is available wherever you like to get books but we’ll link it in the description notes, too.