Climate Scientist Identifies Ways to Talk Climate Change


On Friday night, around 1,200 people heard Katharine Hayhoe, a nationally-acclaimed climate scientist, speak about the taboo topics of our time: politics, money, God and climate change. 

Hayhoe’s talk, held at the Paramount Theater, was a part of the Hot Science Cool Talks series, presented by UT’s Environmental Science Institute (ESI). This was the 105th Hot Science Cool Talk and the first to charge money. Jay Banner, director of the ESI who helped found the talk series, said that the profits go to continuing the program. 

Throughout the night, Hayhoe discussed ways to talk about climate change, specifically encouraging people to talk about the solutions instead of the science. She said solely communicating climate science education is ineffective because those with scientific knowledge are the most divided. Instead, she proposed a simple solution: start from the heart rather than the head.

A devout Christian, Hayhoe began by discussing religion. Even with around 77 percent of the United States population identifying as Christian, she said framing the question of global warming with religion is ineffective. According to Hayhoe, the Bible speaks to the importance of taking care of each other and the planet and that some facts should be accepted, not merely “believed.” 

“You don’t see scientists saying, ‘I believe in gravity! I have faith!’” she said. “Framing climate change as an alternative to religion is a way to get 77 percent of the audience (in the United States) not to listen.”

Hayhoe pointed out crucial facts about the general ideology about climate change in the U.S. She presented research that shows most Americans are “cautious” about climate change but don’t believe humans are the cause. One thing most people assume about climate deniers, or people who Hayhoe said are “dismissive” of climate change, is that they are uneducated. But people with scientific knowledge are actually the most divided, Hayhoe said. 

“Dismissers are people who, if an angel from God came to them with a stone tablet that in gold letters said ‘climate change is real,’ they’d still deny it,” Hayhoe said. “You can reach people not by slapping scientific facts in their faces, but by showing how climate change is affecting real people today.”

Hayhoe received lots of applause after pointing out the many advances that Texas in particular has made regarding solar energy and green legislation. Hayhoe said she finds discussing advances in science makes people more open to the topic of climate change.

With governmental ideology in mind, Hayhoe also said that wind energy, among other green innovations, can save thousands of dollars, something she believes no one with a financial agenda would dismiss.

During her talk, Hayhoe also mentioned her YouTube channel, called “Global Weirding,” which addresses topics such as climate change and religion. Environmental science freshman Sophie Bonner said she liked how Hayhoe addressed a variety of topics.

“I thought her speech was really good,” Bonner said. “I’ve never heard a talk where someone ties politics, religion and climate change all together. My favorite part was when she pointed out that religion is not the root of the argument.” 

After her speech, a panel of scientists had the opportunity to respond to the points Hayhoe brought up. The panel included Banner; John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist and Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor; Camille Parmesan, Plymouth University marine and biological sciences professor; and Kevin Kloesel, University of Oklahoma Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences professor. 

Nielsen-Gammon said it is important to keep talking about and researching climate change. 

“‘The science is settled’ is a lousy phrase,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “If the science is settled, then why are we still doing research on it?”

Throughout the panel, audiences asked questions about topics such as  education, poverty and veganism. Hayhoe said this showed the many avenues a person can take to reach someone dismissive to climate change. She said the key is to identify what is important to someone, and then connect that back to climate change.

Hayhoe ended the night with a challenge for the audience. 

“The number one thing each of us can do walking out of here is talking to people more,” she said. “That is the thing we do not do.”