Season 1 / Church & Climate: Things Are Heating Up - with Katharine Hayhoe

Editor: Ariana deVries
Mastered by: Joshua Snethlage with Mixed Media Studios

In the next episode of our series, we get to hear from one of the world's leading climate scientists, Katharine Hayhoe. She's done her homework and knows her stuff. Katharine has a huge heart for people and cares deeply about communicating her message in a way people will hear and understand. Let's dive into how Church and Climate cross paths.

For more information, visit Katharine's website, watch the Global Weirding series, or read her articles here and here.

Ariana deVries

Welcome to the podcast! Today we get to interview Katharine Hayhoe, and it's a pleasure to have her today. She's a topic of much discussion in our home because of what she does with climate. She is a climate scientist. Katharine, welcome, and can you tell us what it means to be a climate scientist?

Katharine Hayhoe

Sure. My background is originally in physics and then atmospheric science. And what I do is I specifically study what climate change means to us in the places where we live. So often, we think that climate change only matters to future generations or maybe two polar bears or people who live far away. But in reality right here today, no matter where we live in Canada or the US or around the world, we are seeing the impacts and they are affecting us personally. They're affecting the quality of the air we breathe in some places. They're affecting the quality of the water we drink and others, they're affecting the economy. They're affecting even national security. They're affecting our food and our water. They're affecting so many aspects of our life, and we need to understand what's happening. We also need to understand what we can do to fix it.

Ariana deVries

Right, especially when it involves so much that has to do with us on a day to day basis, right?

Katharine Hayhoe

Yes, exactly.

Ariana deVries

So what first got you interested in climate science?

Katharine Hayhoe

Well, I grew up with a science teacher, dad. In fact, my dad was originally a science teacher, and then the science coordinator for the Toronto Board of Ed. So I grew up with the idea that you know, science was just the coolest thing that you could possibly say, of course, and one of my first memories, I think I was around four years old was was going out to the park late at night with my dad and lying lying on a blanket the park and he was showing me how to find the Andromeda Galaxy through binoculars. So the idea that using nothing more than our brains and what we can construct on this planet, we can study the outer reaches of the universe is just absolutely stunning to me. And my dad really views the universe as God's Art Gallery.

In fact, he even had, back in the day, a slide show where he would go around to different churches and camps and Christian organizations and show people God's art gallery of Nebula, galaxies and stars and clusters and things like that. So growing up, I figured, hey, why not study astrophysics? That's a really, really cool thing to study. And just recognizing that when we're doing so we're studying God's creation, and we're studying things that God created just for the pure joy and pleasure of looking at that no human eye has ever seen before is, that's a pretty mind blowing thought, isn't it? No kidding. Yeah. Now you're making me get all excited about this. Yes, but you may say, okay, but you're not an astrophysicist. What happened? You know, what happened was I was almost finished my undergrad degree at U of T, when I had to take an extra course before heading to graduate school to finish my degree. And I'd already sort of picked out a few graduate schools for astrophysics. And I was looking around for this extra course. And I saw this new class that was just offered for the first time by a new Professor over in the geography department called climate science.

So I thought to myself, well, that looks interesting because, you know, growing up taking geography class, I learned that, you know, deforestation and biodiversity loss and air pollution and climate change are all problems. And I felt like, those are serious problems. And I hopefully fix it. And I know environmentalists are working on these problems. I'm not really an environmentalist myself, but I wish them well. And I hope that we do fix these. That was sort of my perspective. Yeah. But then I took this class, and I was absolutely stunned to find out first of all, that climate science was all physics, the very same physics type of learning and astrophysics. I don't know what I thought it was, but that's what it is. But But even more importantly, I realized that climate change is to coin a phrase, actually, from the US military. Climate change is a threat multiplier.

In other words, it takes all of the issues that we're concerned about today, and it multiplies or exacerbates them. and dear to my own heart is the fact that it takes humanitarian issues like poverty and hunger and inequity and injustice and lack of access to clean water and the spread of diseases that nobody should be dying from in 2019. It takes these things and it exacerbates them, it makes them worse.

So growing up as a missionary kid in South America. When I was nine years old, my parents packed up the family, we moved down to South America, and we lived there off and on for a number of years. From then through the end of high school. Growing up as a missionary kid, I knew how vulnerable people are in poor countries and the fact that when you have a disaster, a famine, a flood a landslide, the casualties are not just a handful of people, you're looking at 10s of thousands of people who who are harmed or killed by these events, and you're looking at hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are impacted by these events.

My heart really told me - given that you have the very skills needed to study this urgent global problem - how can you not? That was what led me to switch the direction of my career and study climate science, not because of the polar bear and not because of future generations, but because it affects real people today, especially the poorest and most vulnerable people, right here in Canada, as well as around the world. And those are the very people who I believe we are told to love and care for.

Ariana deVries

Wow, that is amazing. And you sound like you are definitely passionate about this, which gets me excited and makes me want to do something. So that's amazing. You mentioned in an article that you and your husband didn't totally see eye to eye on climate change. So how did you balance that and communicate about climate change so that you could be on the same page about it.

Katharine Hayhoe

Growing up in Canada, especially with a science teacher, Dad, I sort of felt you know, the sky's blue, the grass is green, and climate is changing due to human activities. That was just what I learned. I had never met anybody who didn't think it was real. And really in Canada back then back in the 90s. There weren't a lot of people who were talking about how it wasn't real. It wasn't really part of the dialogue. It wasn't part of our politics in Alberta and in Ontario and at the national level. So it wasn't until I moved to the states that I started to meet people who thought that way, which is very surprising to me.

And then in Graduate University - which was the student group that I met my husband at when I was going to graduate school at the University of Illinois to study climate science - I met my husband and he comes from the South. He grew up going to a fairly conservative evangelical church that was not only theologically conservative, it was as so many are in the US, politically conservative also. Because in the US, there's a very strong identification between the word evangelical the word Republican, to the point where, frankly, a lot of people in the US who call themselves evangelical, their statement of faith is written first by the Republican Party, and only a very distant second by the Bible. And if it to come into conflict, they will go with their political ideology over the Bible. So in a sense, they're very different denomination of Christians, I would call them political Christians who rather than theological Christian, and you might debate if they're Christians at all, but I will leave that debate up to God. [Laughter]

My husband growing up had never met anyone, who shared his faith, who thought that climate change was real. And, you know, theologically, we were very much aligned. We were pretty much in agreement on almost anything that we thought. It never occurred to him to ask me what I thought of climate change. It never occurred to me to ask him, because you wouldn't ask somebody, "Do you think the grass is green?" You just wouldn't. And so it wasn't until we were married, that the penny dropped, and we figured out that we were on the opposite sides of the spectrum on a couple of different issues. I had been in astrophysics, so we were on the different side of the spectrum in terms of what we saw as the age of the universe. And we're also on the different side of the spectrum in terms of whether climate was changing, and humans are responsible.

This is the first time that I actually had a genuine conversation with somebody who thought this. But we were starting off from a very different place than most of those conversations start because, first of all, we love each other. Obviously, we are highly motivated to stay married, we wanted to come to a resolution on this issue. But not only that, we respected each other. I knew that he was a really smart person. He had just finished his PhD in Applied Linguistics, he was a professor at the University of Notre Dame, I knew that he understood dia he understood, you know, research, he understood analysis. And I also knew that he was a person of integrity, where I had seen him change his mind on things I had witnessed God working in his life, I had seen us work together on things and work things out, where I really, truly felt like God was working through both of us to change our attitudes, and to reconcile us and to bring us closer together and closer to him.

Starting off from that basis was a very different place than most of our conversations. And because of that, I was able to just be very curious and say, "Well, you must have good reasons. Because you're a smart person. You wouldn't just say this for no reason. What are your reasons?" And so at that time, there weren't a lot of resources out there as there are today, there was none of our global weirding episodes, there wasn’t the website called Skeptical Science, which is a fantastic website run by a Christian that answers all the commonly asked questions about the science of climate change. There was none of those resources available. He would say, "Well, how do we even know what's warming?"

So I would say, "Okay, well, let's actually find the data." We went to NASA's website together, we downloaded the data and put it on his computer; plotted the data to show that it's actually going up. And at that point, he was like, "Well, I have to either decide that NASA who put men on the moon, are involved in a global cover up, extending all the way back to the 1800s. Or they're actually right, it actually is warming."

That's one inflection point. And then he's like, "Well, how do you know it's not a natural cycle? And I was like, "Well...that's a good question. I never learned that before." So we had to go investigate natural cycles, figure out what would be happening according to natural cycles. Actually, it turns out to be cooling right now not warming. What about the sun? Well, the sun's energy has actually been going down since the 1970s. Not up. What about volcanoes? Well, volcanic emissions of CO2 are a tiny fraction of total human emissions. We had to go find these answers together and dig through them. Then we progressed to the real issue; which is solutions.

Even now my husband sometimes comes home and will be like, "All right, this green New Deal thing. How do you think they're going to fund it?" And I'm like, "Well, I'm not an American, I'm not voting on your policies. But I do like the way it supports people who are poor, and it actually thinks about them."

We still have these conversations, but we're able to walk through it because we respect each other, and we trust each other. Those are the two key elements of a constructive conversation.

Nowadays, I have conversations with people on a daily basis on social media, and many in person, too. But if those conversations begin with a lack of respect, and even if I respond with respect and they continue with a lack of respect, I just end the conversation, because that's not going to go anywhere. I know that from experience. But if somebody comes against me as long as they do so where it's not completely, hideously insulting, but it's just no war of Babylon, there's just the, maybe you're wrong. And I respond to them in a respectful way. And if they kind of dial it back down, and we're able to engage, then we often can have a constructive conversation. And I take that lesson all the way back to those conversations that I first had with my husband; which I was able to have, because I knew that God was working in me and both of us. Together, we were able to seek truth; that really is what it all comes down to.

Ariana deVries

That's great. I get the sense that your Canadian roots still run very deep, and that you still care very much about the fact that you are Canadian, and speaking to people with politeness and with grace. I hear that a lot in your Twitter comments and responses to people. But, my question then is - why is there so much negativity directed towards scientists working in the climate change sphere? And how do you navigate that?

Katharine Hayhoe

Well, nowadays - and really for the past 10 or 15 years - as soon as a climate scientists sticks their head out of the ivory tower, so to speak, as soon as they venture beyond, you know, doing scientific research and publishing scientific papers that are published in journals that nobody ever reads, except for your colleagues.

As soon as you step, even one toe outside that line, you will get shot at, because climate change in the United States has already become the single most politicized issue in the whole country. I'm very sad to say that in Canada, it's not that far behind. And we see similar trends in Australia, the UK, and increasingly Brazil and a few other places as well. And that isn't because people genuinely have a problem with the science, because the basic science that explains that digging up and burning coal, and then later oil and gas produces heat trapping gases that are wrapping an extra blanket around the planet that we did not need. And that is why the planet is running a fever, that science is so basic, we've understood it since the 1800s. And the basic physics of radiative transfer and nonlinear fluid dynamics that we use to understand how human activities affect our planet. It's the exact same physics that understood that explains how stoves and fridges and airplanes work. And there aren't a lot of people attacking people who say that stoves work or fridges work.

Why are they attacking climate scientists? It isn't because they truly have a problem with the science. It's because they have a problem with the solutions. But if we say, ‘Sure, it's a real problem. And yes, it's terrible that it's affecting people today, especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us, but I don't want to fix it.’ That makes us a bad person. And as humans, we don't want to be bad people. We want to be good people. And so part of our defense mechanism, and unfortunately for some people, this is actually a conscious defense mechanism. For most people. It's actually subconscious, I would say, our defense mechanism is to say it isn't real. Because, that makes us kind of a smart person like, 'Oh, those scientists, they're just pulling the wool over eyes. They're just creating this problem to line their pockets with government grants. Don't you know, there's natural cycles, and it's been warmer before and the sun is the source of all of our energy anyways, and a volcanic eruption produces more CO2 than all humans put together?' Which is absolutely false. All the volcanoes in the world produce the same amount of CO2 as like a single US state like Ohio or Florida every year.

Ariana deVries

Oh, wow.

Katharine Hayhoe

Yeah. So, it's better to say those because then we seem kind of shrewd and savvy, like we're not being taken advantage of by these, you know, scientists, rather than saying, sure, it's a real problem, but I don't want to fix it, because that would make us the bad guy. And so we scientists are kind of like the obvious messengers of this news. We are the Jeremiah's. And if you if you look in the Bible, what happened to Jeremiah, what happened to Hosea, what happened to the prophets, they got both metaphorically and physically, assaulted, insulted, ignored, blamed for the fact that they were telling people, 'Hey, we need to turn from our behavior, we need to act differently. Because otherwise bad things are coming if we don't change the way that we're acting today.' So really, there's a long history, from the Bible through modern day, showing that people who say, 'Hey, we have to change the way we're doing things.' There's a lot of resistance, a lot of vitriol, a lot of opposition to that message.

Ariana deVries

Yeah. So then has your faith been affected by all this? Or by the science even that you are studying in regards to the climate?

Katharine Hayhoe

I often actually get this question, especially from people who aren't Christians who are interviewing me. And they say, "Well, have you ever felt like you're losing your faith because of the science that you study? And my answer to that is - never. Because, I grew up with the the idea, which may be very revolutionary for some, but if we think about it, for us it should be very fundamental to who we are as Christians.

I grew up with the idea that if we truly believe that God created this incredible planet that we live on in this amazing universe that surrounds it, then how could studying God's creation in any way conflict with what God tells us in the Bible, if we also believe the same God wrote the Bible? Now, I fully recognize that there are concrete examples where people feel that the Bible and science are in conflict, a lot of that relates to issues of origins, and issues of the age of the universe, especially here south of the border. But I believe that in those cases, either we have not fully understood or are misinterpreting or are viewing the Bible, or the science, or more likely both, through our specific cultural lens of today. And sometimes with a little humility and patience, we can actually work it out and reconcile the two.

There's really great organizations, both in Canada and the US (and the UK) of scientists who are Christians, who have the most amazing discussions on how do you reconcile scientific issues like parallel universes with the idea that Christ came to save the world? I love going to their meetings. In Canada it's called the Canadian Scientific Christian Affiliation, CSCA. In the US it's called the American Scientific Affiliation. In the UK, it's simply called Christians in Science, which I think is a very simple title. So, with some patience and humility, we can often kind of think these things through. Some of them we might not figure out till we get to heaven. But if we start with the basic premise that the same person did both, God, then how could our faith be in jeopardy by studying one aspect or another of what God created and gave to us?

But I have to say that there's another side of this. And when I was visiting a university on the west coast, a public university a couple of years ago, and all of a sudden, in the middle of my schedule, they announced, well, you have to have this meeting with the dean. And that was, you know, not previously not in my schedule. I said, Okay, well, I don't know that he don't recognize his name. But I'm happy to meet with him for half an hour. So they cut the woman in science lunch a little bit short, and I should everybody in the room and comes the dean, he sits down, we introduce ourselves. And I'm sort of looking at him wondering - why are we having this meeting? And he leans across the table to me, he says, "I used to be an evangelical Christian."

And I said, "Really?" And he said, "Yes," he said, "I grew up in a secular home. But in undergrad I had some friends who are part of a Christian group. And so I learned about Jesus, I started going to church, and I learned about the message of salvation. I became an evangelical Christian." And he was using the past tense. And so that obviously begs the question. So I said, "Well, why are you no longer?" That was what he wanted to share with me. He said, "The reason I'm no longer an evangelical Christian is because I saw no evidence of God working in any other Christians that I saw. I saw viriol. I saw hate. I saw selfishness. I saw greed. I saw closed mindedness. I saw the exact opposite of the fruits of the Spirit in everyone around me. Year after year after year I became increasingly disillusioned with God's ability or power to transform lives."

And that just absolutely broke my heart. Because as Christians, that is what we believe; that we are being transformed. We are saved. We are taken out of death and put into life. We are given this new life, but our attitudes and our actions are being continually transformed into the image of Christ as we progress in our walk with Him.

Saying that he saw no evidence of that really struck me hard, because the hardest thing I have to deal with is the fact that well over half of the hate that I get on a daily basis - it is daily now, whether it's on social media, on Facebook, on Twitter once in a while, on Instagram (people are a bit nicer, but I do get it once in a while), often it's letters, sometimes it's phone calls, occasionally it's emails - over half of the hate I get is from people who specifically identify themselves as Christians. Bible verses in their social media profiles, biblical references to the Whore of Babylon and Jezebel in the letters they send me. When the dean said that to me, I said, "I hear you. I know exactly what you're talking about."

The most discouraging thing I get is when this hate comes from other Christians. Sometimes I try the soft answer to turn away the wrath. Sometimes I try to say, "Hey, I'm happy to talk with you. But our conversation has to reflect the fruits of the Spirit. There has to be patience, not impatience, there has to be kindness, there has to be love."

And every single time it's met with a, "How dare you be so arrogant? How dare you insult me by saying this?" After they just called me a string of names. And that just absolutely breaks my heart. It makes me feel like what do we even call Christianity today? How are people not getting the message of our lives transformed through Christ today? How is it that people somehow think that what we believe is we've got this magic ticket to go to heaven, sort of like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And in the meantime, we can just live out the deeds of the flesh in their full glory, day by day, secure in the knowledge that we'll go to heaven with absolutely none of the good works that Christ has prepared for us in advance having been walked in.

Ariana deVries

Yeah. So then that kind of leads me to my next question is how do we communicate well with people in the Christian community who use faith and the Bible to dismiss these issues?

Katharine Hayhoe

Well, we have this little YouTube series called Global weirding - not warming, weirding. They are over 35 really short videos that answer people's commonly asked questions; five or six minute videos about how do we know it isn't a natural cycle? Is climate change affecting hurricanes? Is it too late? I'm just one person. What can I do? But what fascinates me is that our most viewed episode is - what does the Bible say about climate change?

Ariana deVries

That is really interesting.

Katharine Hayhoe

That's the one everybody is watching. This is not a Christian series; it's a secular series. It just fascinates me that that's what everybody wants to know. And when you look into it, it turns out, there are no, no theological objections to climate change. I mean, the number one objection people have is, you know, God is in control. So by saying that humans can affect this planet, you're challenging the sovereignty of God.

Well, in Genesis one, it says, God has given us responsibility over every living thing on this planet. And Genesis two, it talks about our response, our responsibility to protect, to guard to steward the garden. In Revelation, it talks about how God will destroy those who destroy the Earth. So there's plenty of examples of human agency in the Bible, God giving us responsibility. And, you know, if you truly believe humans can't affect something as big as the Earth's climate, then that means that you don't believe in nuclear bombs, either, because you let off enough of those. And that was certainly irrevocably altered the climate in the face of this planet. So there's no true theological objections to this. And that's what our video goes into.

But in this gets to your question, our faith is our connector and to have constructive positive conversations about an issue that's become increasingly acrimonious and politicized again, not just in the US, but Canada to beginning that conversation was something that we do truly agree on and share is the most powerful and positive way to start, and then connect the dots between what we already care about, and why naturally, that means that we do care about a changing climate, because of who we already are. It's not that we're creating or instilling or demanding that people have a new set of values or change who they are. It's showing people that who you already are, the very person you are with what you believe in what you hope to be important, is exactly who you need to be to not just care about the impacts of changing climate on the poor and vulnerable in this world, but to actually be the first person in line demanding action on this.

Like William Wilberforce, back in the days of slavery, it was his evangelical faith that drove him to the front of the line. And what fascinates me is there's a French historian, his name is Jean-François Mouhot, who is also an evangelical Christian. And he studied the language and the framing that people were using back in the day to defend slavery. And a lot of that framing was the same Christian the sounding framing we hear today around climate change. It's God's design. That's the way God set it up to be. It would be worse if we got rid of it than if we kept it. God designed the white race to be superior. I mean, these are the things that are being said.

And today, we hear people saying fossil fuels are God's gift. God designed the world the way it is. When it gets bad enough we can just push the eject button, anyways. As if that wouldn't lead millions of people suffering today. So it's really fascinating that there's this tension that we see going back through the ages, and you can take it all the way back to the crusades, where people use Christian-y window dressing, to justify selfishness, greed, and me-first-ism.

Whereas, if we truly take the Bible seriously, if we actually read it, and believe what it says, we would be out at the front of the line advocating for change on these issues. So what I see myself doing when I talk to people is I'm not trying to change people's values, I'm not trying to change people's identity, I am trying to honor who people already are, to respect to they are to appreciate and lift up who they already are.

And as it says, In the book of James, what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to hold up the mirror, because it says in James, you're like a man who looked in the mirror and then went away and forgot who you are. I'm trying to hold up the mirror and say, This is who you are, this is who God has created you to be, and exactly who you are, is the perfect person to care about this issue, because God has put his love in your heart to pour out all of those who need it.

Ariana deVries

That is so good. Do you think than that the church has actually been slow to respond on climate? And if so why do you think that would be?

Katharine Hayhoe

Yes and no.

The world Evangelical Alliance that represents 600 million of us around the world and really out on the forefront on this. Bishop, Bishop, he Frampton Darrow, who has been the Secretary General for a number of years, he was an official delegate for his country, which is the Philippines to the Paris Climate Conference.

In 2011, the National Association of evangelicals published in the US published a report called loving the least of these that directly connected the dots between poverty, suffering and the impacts of a changing climate. That was four years before the pope wrote his encyclical, which was all about the same topic. A number of churches and organizations, Christian organizations, have really been at the forefront of this. And a lot of them are relief and development organizations like World Vision, for example, because they work in countries where they're seeing the impacts with their eyes, and they understand how it's exacerbating the suffering that people are experiencing.

There's even organizations like the Evangelical Environmental Network, EN. They have the EN moms group that has a lot of material and curriculum for looking at this issue through the lens of parents and kids. There's also young evangelicals for climate action, they have 20,000 members across United States, and I'm not sure if they have members in Canada yet, but they absolutely should.

And then the Canadian Baptist Mission is also very engaged on this. In Canada we have a wonderful group called AROCHA Canada; that's an A and then an ROCHA. It's Portuguese for the rock, AROCHA. They do amazing work. They have work that they do in Hamilton and British Columbia. And then they also work around the world in Lebanon, in the UK, and Portugal. They work with restoration and conservation and investing in people's lives in the local community to improve the quality of their water, their air, their soil, and their ecosystems. So there's a lot of organizations that really do take a faith based approach.

But for many, many organizations, we are still back where I was, when I first took that class on climate science. We're back where we sort of mentally lump climate change as just “one of those environmental issues”. And of course, we should care about environmental issues. And we probably do, but that's not really central to our core mission, which is preaching the gospel. Now, our missions haven't really undergone a revolution in recent decades, from preaching the gospel only to recognizing that if somebody is starving, if somebody does not have water to drink, if they do not have food to eat, if they do not have a safe place to live, if they are worrying about the safety of their family or their children, you can't just hand them a Bible and say, “God bless you”. You have to meet their physical needs. Even the Bible talks about this. If somebody is hungry, you're going to hand them a stone. So we recognized in mission work that we have to care for people's physical needs.

And by doing so we are showing them the love of God. We're not preaching the love of God to them with our voices, we are actually tangibly demonstrating the love of God to them. Well, climate change is that same issue, because the only reason we care is because it's making these things worse. So caring about climate change today, truly is is a faithful and genuine expression of God's love. And if we take that perspective, we understand how it integrates much more into our core mission. It's not just to decide that's just an environmental issue. It's actually part of loving each other today.

Ariana deVries

Yeah, that's really interesting that you say that and list all of those different organizations and things that are doing really great things in the church community. Because I don't necessarily see that in the church community that I am a part of. And it's just interesting to me how the community that you're a part of can determine what you see and what you hear and, and what you are passionate about. So thank you for sharing that. Because that's encouraging to me that there are people who are actually doing stuff.

Katharine Hayhoe

Yes, yes, there absolutely are.

Ariana deVries

So then, where we live, Southern Ontario, the effects of climate change don't seem to be as obvious. My husband and I talked about this a lot in that were some of the major contributors. And yet we have no idea because we don't see it. What are some things that that affect us, perhaps without us realizing it?

Katharine Hayhoe

Yes. So I was just up in Alaska last week, where many people there many Christians as well from not shared with me their grief, because Everywhere you look, if you live up in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Nunavut, Alaska, you can see with your eyes, the evidence of change when you just look. And so there are just daily reminders for them on how snowpack is shrinking, glaciers are retreating, the sea ice is coming later in the year, this year, Alaska, the Bering Sea was free of sea ice for the first time of recorded history, how the salmon are being affected how their traditional diets are being affected for Native peoples, and how how they're seeing it just surrounding them. Sometimes they just are overwhelmed with the grief and the loss of the beauty of God's creation that they have sort of taken for granted over their lifetime, and now they see it disappearing before their eyes. It's just so powerful to hear their stories and to hear somebody say in Juno know, for example, in Alaska, that there's this range of mountains on the horizon that you can see, whenever you're on the east side of town. That's just the first thing you see when you when you lift up your eyes and just look. And the top of those mountains have been snow covered, as long as there's been humans living in that place. And for the last three years now those mountains have been free of snow. And so humans are looking at the tops of those mountains for the very first time. And just that daily reminder, for many people is just devastating.

But then we living in southern Ontario, we may say, "Well, that's fine. But you know what's happening to us?" Well, we are actually seeing these impacts, too. In fact, now that I come back to Ontario several times a year, rather than living their full, full full time, I actually see these things I see species, I see birds that I never saw growing up, never. I know that are heavy rainfall events are increasing significantly because warmer air holds more water vapor. And so the warmer gets, the more water vapor there is for our storms to sweep up and dump on us. So we have seen some really crazy rain storms in Toronto in the surrounding area that are the direct result of this kind of loading of the atmosphere with water vapor. We're also seeing a lot hotter summers. I mean, this summer and last summer, especially there's just record breaking heat waves where people are like, we don't even have air conditioning. How can we cope with this heat? Yeah, we're also seeing some snow free winters. I mean, there's been some winters when depending on where we live, we're not seeing much snow at all, if any.

And then our variability is increasing. So then we get these really snowy winters and then we see no no interest at all. And then south of where we live. Of course in Buffalo, they get a lot of lake effect snow. And ironically, their lake effect snow has been increasing over the last 50 years, because they get lake effect snow when Lake Erie is not covered with ice, but it's still cold enough to snow. Right. So as it gets warmer the number of days when the lake is not covered with ice, but it is warm enough to snow or cold snow have been increasing. So they've been seeing more lake effect snow as a result of a warming world. So invasive species summer heat, more frequent extreme precipitation, a shift in in what we see as native species, and especially in downtown Toronto, the hotter it gets, the worse our air quality guests because the chemical reactions that create the pollutants that are dangerous for us to breathe, they happen faster when it's hotter. So we are experiencing these events in the places where we live. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to share a story from Halifax to if that's okay.

Ariana deVries

Please do!

Katharine Hayhoe

Last October, I was invited to give the keynote address at the big fundraising banquet for a woman and children's shelter in Halifax; it's called Add Some. They work with women and children who are homeless, who are out of work, who need a hand up. They provide emergency shelter, long term housing and a lot of assistance with mental health, with career coaching, and all of those practical resources.

I know, because of my studies, that women and children are more vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. When disaster happens the burdens fall disproportionately on women and children. The lower you are down the socio economic ladder - both here in Canada as well as in developing countries - the greater that burden is. So, I had already planned to talk about that.

But then I got there, and the executive director, Sherry, took me around to all of their different facilities and sites. As she took me around that day, she shared stories about how the heatwave that they had had the previous summer was so devastating that their emergency shelters were overwhelmed with homeless people who had to get indoors; how the incredibly heavy rains that they'd experienced, and hurricanes now are making it all the way up the coast with greater frequency. We've always had the occasional hurricane that made it up to the Maritimes. But, hurricanes are fed by warm ocean water, and the warmer the ocean the further north the Hurricanes can go.

So hurricane Dorian when it hit Halifax, just a little while ago, it was a category two when it hit Halifax. I was thinking of Sherry and Add Some when that happened. So she shared with me how when, when the city floods, there's a lot more people who need emergency shelter, and the public transport routes are disrupted so the buses can't run, people can't make it to their jobs, they can't make it to their health appointments, their doctor appointments, their counseling appointments. There's all of this kind of falling domino effect of these extreme events on the welfare of women and children living in Halifax in our country who are already on the edge; who are struggling to climb back up, and these events just push the right back down.

I changed my talk. I added all of that into it that night to show them what's happening in Halifax; that extreme heat is getting worse, heavy rainfall that is getting worse, hurricanes are coming up the coast more and more as the ocean warms. Just before I went on stage to talk, their main sponsor, which was Canadian Tire, came up and shook my hand and welcomed me. But, you could see that they were thinking, 'Who on earth invited a climate scientist to speak to us? This has nothing to do with what we're about, which is helping people. Why is she here?'

But, I talked all about what I had seen, how climate is changing, how that affects the mission of Add Some in particular, how they don't have the resources to help people when these disasters happen, because they're already kind of at the edge of their limit. These disasters are just pushing them over the edge in terms of their capacity and what they can cope with. And how because you care about women and children in Halifax, you already care about climate change, you just didn't realize it. We need to look forward and develop robust, resilient, strong solutions to continue to help people because even more people are being affected in the future as these changes continue.

At the end, the Canadian Tire sponsor was the first person up on the platform. And he grabbed my hand and he shook it up and down enthusiastically; which was a total change from the first formal handshake. He said, "I get it. That was the best talk we've ever had. I totally understand now how climate change affects what we do. It is so important. Thank you so much."

Yes! That's it, you get it. No matter who we are and who we care about - where we live in Canada - we're already being affected; we just haven't connected the dots.

Ariana deVries

Yeah, that's so valuable to know, because we often don't see how this affects that. And the cause of what we do, how it affects real people here and now. Thank you for sharing that story, because that touches me, too. I care about the people here now that need us. So then how can we create more awareness about the climate crisis? Because like me, just as a, not a climate scientist, or anybody with a huge voice as of yet. I mean, we have this podcast with is helping a bit. But what can I do? What can I help to reduce my impact on the environment?

Katharine Hayhoe

Well, for a long time, when I first started telling people about climate change, I would get this question - what can I do? And I was a little bit stymied, because, as a scientist, what we do is we diagnose the problem. We can tell you exactly why it's happening; exactly what's responsible. It is our emissions of heat trapping gases primarily from digging up and burning fossil fuels. And then also a quarter of the problem comes from land use change, including deforestation, and agriculture and animal agriculture, because they produce a lot of heat trapping gases from the front and the rear ends.

We can tell you you know why it's happening, we can tell you what's happening, how much extreme heat and heavy precipitation is increasing in southern Ontario, or how much greater area is being burned by wildfires out west, or how fast the permafrost is falling apart? The Arctic or the sea ice is disappearing. But we just don't do solutions. That's not what we do. When I was first asked about it, I was very stymied. The traditional answers to change a light bulb and recycle just don't seem to really fit the bill. We instinctively recognize this disconnect between this giant challenge facing the entire planet and changing a light bulb is not really going to fix it.

I started doing some digging, because I want to answer this question for myself too, right? I mean, I'd already changed light bulbs, and I recycled so what more was I to do? So I went to this really interesting site called the Yale Climate Opinion maps. They have these maps in detail for the US, but they also have some of these for Canada. Again, it's called Yale Climate Opinion maps where they ask people questions across the country. And they map the results by riding. So you can connect directly to the riding that you're in, based on people's opinion. What I noticed in the US was that when they asked people, do you think global warming is happening? Just about everybody said yes. They use orange for Yes and blue for no, and different shades like light orange, medium orange, dark orange.

Almost the entire country is dark orange. Yes, global warming is happening. And then they said, 'Do you think it affects plants and animals? Do you think it affects future generations?' Yes, yes. Yes. 'Do you think it affects people in developing countries?' Probably yes. It was not quite as orange. But you know, by and large? Yes. 'Do you think it affects people in the United States?' Again, by and large? Yes. A little bit of white or a tiny bit of light blue in some areas, but mostly Yes. And then they asked people, 'Do you think it affects you?' Not other people in your country, but you - the map went dark blue. Dark blue. And then they asked the darkest blue question which is, 'Do you ever talk about it?'

Ariana deVries

Oh, wow.

Katharine Hayhoe

The answer was no! Nobody ever talks about it.

You can connect the dots here, right? If ever talk about it, why would we care? Why would we understand how it matters to us? And if we don't care about it, why would we ever want to fix it or support people who do, right?

Ariana deVries


Katharine Hayhoe

When the TED organization came to me last year, and said, "Would you be interested in doing a TED talk?" I said, "Sure! I would love to do a TED talk on what I have finally figured out is the answer to the question, 'What can I do'"?

The answer is - the most important thing anybody can do is talk about it. That is the single most important thing we can do.

I don't mean talking about all the science. If people are like, 'Well, I'm not a scientist.' No, I'm not talking about talking about the science. I'm talking about why it matters to us in the places where we live. We have a global weirding episodes specifically on Canada that you can go through and get some tips if you want to know what's happening in the places where you live.

Also, frankly, just read the headlines. There are stories all the time in the news about what's happening in the places where we live. I also have an essay I wrote for Chatelaine magazine in the May 2019 issue, which is online, that talks about how to talk about climate change, how to have constructive conversations, and that has more examples in it, too. Again, that's Chatelaine.

So, talk about how it matters to us, and then talk about positive, constructive solutions; where we can talk about what we're doing ourselves, not just light bulbs and recycling, but reducing food waste, for example. If food waste were its own country, it would be number three in terms of global heat trapping gas emissions. After China and the US, throughout the whole country of Canada, we throw out a third of the food that we produce, and that's just a waste; it could be used to feed other people. The ideas of simple things like hanging our clothes out, and looking into buying a used plugin car, because actually used electric cars and hybrids are not that much more expensive, and joining a group that amplifies our voice.

That's why it's so important to recognize that there are so many amazing Christian groups like AROCHA around that we can join. Voting - talking to our MPs or MPs and saying, "Hey, I really care about this issue, what's your position on it?" I often do that. I still vote in my own riding in Etobicoke. I reach out and I say, "Hey, I just want to let you know, I'm a climate scientist. I really care about how this is affecting us. What are you thinking about this? What do you think of your party's position?" I particularly enjoy reaching out to our Conservative candidates, because I think that they have a really important role to play in pushing for changes and for actions that are consistent with a conservative perspective; as well as the Liberals, the NDP, and obviously, the Green Party.

In my TED Talk, rather than talk, again, about light bulbs recycling, I talked about how having these conversations where we connect the dots between things we already care about, and how a change in climate is affecting them. And what we can do to fix it is the single most important thing that every single person can do.

Ariana deVries

Yeah, and I've really noticed how well you do that; with the various talks that my husband and I have watched you give and the essays and articles that you've written. You are very skilled at being able to match people's values with climate and what they can do. I really appreciate that. It really inspires me to do that as well for people. So thank you.

As we bring this to a close, my final question is - what is one of the hardest things for you to reconcile with regarding the climate crisis? But then what is something that also gives you hope for the future?

Katharine Hayhoe

Those are two great questions to end with. When people often ask me, in fact, the most frequent question I think I've gotten over the last few years is - what gives you hope? And the answer is not the science. When I look at the science, it seems like almost every new study that comes out shows that climate is changing faster to a greater extent than we thought. It's affecting us in new ways that we didn't realize before. And the politics doesn't give me any hope, either.

One of the hardest things for me to reconcile is what we actually talked about a few questions ago, where you have these people, these thought leaders who stand up and who proclaim that, 'Oh, we're Christians. Oh, we believe in God.' Then in the very next sentence they're like, 'And for that reason we would never want to do anything that helps poor people, or that fixes climate change, or that actually has compassion for immigrants, or anything like that.'

My greatest frustration is the frustration that I heard that man voice to me, and that is...I just asked God, "God, how are you working in these people's lives? Show me evidence that you are working in their lives."

Sometimes the answer comes back that that's what free will is. That's why God did not invent us as a race of robots or puppets. But he gave us the ability to make bad choices as well as good. Unfortunately, some people are making bad choices in his name, and that is breaking his heart even more than it breaks mine.

That's one of the greatest challenges I have in reconciling what I see in the world. And that applies across the board; not just to the climate issue, but it's all part of this whole issue of what does it really mean to love our neighbor and to walk in love and to care for others to love others as Christ loved us first.

But paradoxically, that's also where the hope comes from. Because I see hope, first of all, in what people are doing. When I look for it hope is not a passive emotion. You can't wait for it to just come find you. You have to go out and look for it. When I go out and look for it, when I have conversations with people, when I ask people questions, I hear that hope coming back to me. I hear stories like the older retired man in a small town in England of about 50,000 people who listened to my TED talk back in December talking about climate change and how it's so important.

Whenever I do travel, I always group my travel together to do a lot of different events in the same place to minimize the carbon footprint, because that's something I do that's a big part of my own personal carbon footprint I also offset my travel using Climate Stewards, which is a Christian organization that invests in eight different developing countries in the world, helping to invest in Clean Cookstoves projects, reforestation, sustainable agriculture, and the absorption of carbons for doing so.

I was speaking the UK and this man came up to me afterwards. And he said, "I watched your TED Talk. And because of that, we decided we were going to have climate conversations in my small town." And I said, "Oh, that's great." And he said, "We've even kept a list of them, would you like to see the list?" And I said, "Sure, I would love to see the list." So he reaches in his bag, and I expect him to pull the list of, you know, maybe 50, or 100 conversations that they've had since December, he pulls out a sheaf of papers. He says he are the 10,000 conversations we have had, as a result of these 10,000 conversations, our city has decided to declare a climate emergency.

Ariana deVries


Katharine Hayhoe

And just like oh, my goodness. Right there. It's just enough to sort of justify everything that we've we've done. So when I hear stories, and a lot of the positive stories I hear come from other Christians. That gives me hope, because I see evidence that God is working despite the horrible headlines we read every day in the news, which is designed to make us feel hopeful, hopeless, and fearful. That's what it does on purpose to make us click on the headlines often, in spite of that there is hope in the world.

Engaging with people, interacting with people, joining an organization that helps us to connect with like minded people and raise our voices; acting ourselves gives us that sense of hope.

But ultimately, as Christians, we have one more thing we have the fact that the Bible actually tells us where hope comes from it. It gives us a genealogy of hope, so to speak, and this is in the book of Romans, where it talks about and it begins with suffering.

It says that suffering produces perseverance and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope that will not disappoint. Because that hope is not placed in people, in things, in politics and things of this world. The hope that we have is placed in God who is immutable, unchanging, and who will never, never disappoint. So that ultimately is where our hope comes from.

Ariana deVries

Wow. Thank you so much, Katharine. As we close, I just have one quote that you said in your essay on How to Talk About Climate Change so People Will Listen. It said, "To care about climate change all we really have to be is a human living on the planet Earth, someone who cares about the health and the welfare of our family, our community, and especially those less fortunate than us."

So thank you for helping us to see how climate change affects us and those around us and what we can do to help. Thank you.

Katharine Hayhoe

Thank you.