“The greatest uncertainty is us”

I wanted to talk about us with Katharine Hayhoe.

We, as in the “we” of his book, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World”.

Hayhoe sets a bold and rather quixotic goal at the very beginning. “In this book,” she writes in the preface, “I want to show you how to have conversations that will help you reconnect with friends and family in real life, building authentic relationships and communities instead of tribes. and bubbles”.

Even more unlikely, she wants those conversations to be about climate change. In his blurb on the book, Don Cheadle, the actor, credits it with showing how to “invite allies under a big tent.”

We talked through our screens one afternoon, during a free window between picking up her son and having dinner.

Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist by training. She is chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy and a professor in the political science department at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. She launched a newsletter in April.

The following is an edited version of our conversation.

Sengupta: Why did you call it “Save Us?” »

Hayhoe: Too often we are told to save the planet, as if we and the planet can live independently. The planet will be orbiting the sun long after we’re gone, whatever we do about climate change.

It is really about saving us. It is we humans and many other living beings who share the planet with us.

Sengupta: There is an ongoing debate between whether individual action matters or whether structural change alone is enough to tackle climate change. How do you think of this?

Hayhoe: My answer to the question of whether we need individual action or system-wide change is yes! When people use their voice, systems change.

Sengupta: Speaking of individual action, I sometimes hear climate advocates gloating about the personal choices they’ve made, like buying an electric car and not paying high gas prices. What do you think ?

Hayhoe: It has almost become a form of religion with its own Ten Green Commandments. That if I do this and this and that, I’m a good person. But this and that is not available to everyone. Focusing on personal action as the primary pathway to climate solutions reinforces rather than diminishes the inequality of lifestyles that is exacerbated by climate change.

The system must change so that the simplest and most affordable option is the sustainable option. When public transport and electric cars are cheaper than thermal engine cars. Plant-based meals. Isolated houses. Clean blue sky. Pedestrian towns. We want all of this to be the default rather than only if you can afford it.

Sengupta: Do you eat meat?

Hayhoe: Carefully. We only eat locally grown meat, which is more expensive and harder to find. So we eat less.

Sengupta: How do you answer the question “What can I do”?

Hayhoe: Do something. Anything. Talk about that. To have a conversation. Start a conversation by saying “Hey, I tried that”. Or start a conversation by saying, “Hey, this school did that. Maybe we should too.

Do something and talk about it.

There’s little functional difference between the dismissals who dismiss climate change and the doomers who decide we can’t fix it.

Sengupta: Do you have moments of doubt about all this?

Hayhoe: I don’t see how you can look at a huge range of human responses and not have those moments. The greatest uncertainty is us. It is up to us to save ourselves.

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A pivotal moment: On Friday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that removed the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years. Next week, the court is expected to rule on a case that could limit the government’s ability to tackle climate change. It is the product of a multi-year Republican strategy.

More extremes: Scientists are beginning to understand why heat waves hit people in America, Asia and Europe at the same time. There is no doubt that climate change is a culprit.

A two-pronged weather emergency: China has been hit by the worst flooding in decades in the south, as well as record-breaking heat waves in the north. Dozens of people have been killed by heavy rains in Bangladesh.

Fossil fuel holidays: President Biden is urging Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months. But experts warn the policy may not really benefit consumers.

A new form of energy: A fusion energy start-up has said it may only have a year to prove that its system can generate more electricity than it consumes. Some experts are skeptical.

Unstable market: Fossil fuel prices could remain high for years, the International Energy Agency said. Current investments in renewable energy are not enough for a transition.

A difficult balance: The White House is debating whether and where to authorize new offshore drilling. A ban could trigger accusations that Biden is making the energy crisis worse.

Cancellation of a rollback: The Biden administration has reverted to a broader definition of “habitat” for endangered species that existed before the Trump presidency, which will protect more places.

When a man dressed as an older woman rubbed pastry cream on the Mona Lisa last month, he had a message: “Think of the Earth”. It turns out that the art industry is increasingly doing just that. Reducing emissions from the art world ultimately means transporting fewer works and fewer people. This means longer exhibitions that feature more local works. For Luise Faurschou, whose non-profit organization works at the intersection of art and sustainability, the industry needs “a whole ‘new normal'”.

Thanks for reading. We will be back on Tuesday.

Manuela Andreoni and Claire O’Neill contributed to Climate Forward.

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