News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Finding Hope with Climate Scientist Katharine Hayhoe

| Mar. 24, 2022

Headshot of Katharine Hayhoe next to the cover of her book Saving Us

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe is the author of a recent book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, which talks about why climate change matters and what we can do to fix it.

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe is a woman on a mission: her goal is to get the public to talk more about climate change and find out what people have in common, not what divides them. She is that rare combination of an outstanding scientist and communicator who has become an international leader in efforts to reach the public with possible solutions to the global climate crisis and to encourage climate action. 

“Climate change is not a standalone issue,” says Hayhoe, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy and a distinguished professor at Texas Tech University. “We need to weave it into everyday conversations,” she said, because “climate change affects every aspect of our lives,” including the economy, infrastructure, energy, water, natural resources, health, food, biodiversity, political conflicts, and justice. 

Hayhoe spoke about "Finding Hope: Changing the Climate Crisis Conversation” at a recent Harvard Kennedy School webinar organized by the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program (ENRP). The talk, which drew an audience of more than 230, was cosponsored by the Belfer Center’s Arctic Initiative; the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy; and the student-run Climate, Energy and Environment Professional Interest Council at HKS.

A video of the March 2 event is now available and has already drawn more than 300 viewers. Science journalist Cristine Russell, an ENRP Senior Fellow, moderated the talk.

Hayhoe noted that 70 percent of people—and 86 percent of young people—say they are worried about climate change, but 50 percent feel hopeless and “don’t know where to start.” Only about one-third of the public talks about climate change even occasionally. She said that “people are willing to change if they think what they do will make a difference.” 

“Conversations underpin all climate action, where people choose to invest their money, how they vote, what energy source they use…The goal is to expand the number of people in the conversation,” said Hayhoe, who authored a recent book called Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. She has received numerous honors for her climate communication work, including the American Geophysical Union Climate Communication Prize and the Stephen Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication, and has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, among many other honors. Her TED Talk, “The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk about It,” has been viewed nearly four million times. Her work has resulted in more than 125 peer-reviewed publications

Hayhoe, an energetic speaker who gives about 100 talks a year, engages her audience by emphasizing hope and optimism, rather than focusing primarily on the gloom-and-doom narratives that so often accompany climate discussions and media coverage. In doing so, she stresses common ground to “depolarize” the global climate conversation. 

But climate conversations need to be relevant to people’s lives. “You don’t talk about polar bears in Iowa. You talk about farming,” she said. If you live in California, you talk about fires. You talk to parents about what they can do to protect their children. To skiers about the lack of snow. What you can do if you are a person of faith. Hayhoe herself is a climate ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. 

Individually, we can all take steps to reduce our own carbon footprint, from changing light bulbs to driving electric cars to reducing food waste. She called solar panels “contagious”—when you put solar panels on your roof, neighbors are more likely to add them as well. Hayhoe herself is flying much less, giving talks online where possible, and bundling a number of talks together when she does fly. She charges her electric vehicle in front of her house so her neighbors will notice.

In addition to individual actions, she emphasized that supporting systemic change is key. This includes starting a conversation about climate change; joining a climate group; pushing elected officials to put a price on carbon; finding out what your financial institutions are doing with your money; promoting change at work; encouraging divestment from fossil fuel companies; and promoting clean energy. She noted that only 0.5 percent of elected officials are at the federal level and that state and city officials can be nimbler in taking climate action.

“Our job is to help connect the dots,” she said, to tell people how climate change affects them personally, how climate action benefits them, and “to figure out what we have in common.” 


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Russell, Cristine. “Finding Hope with Climate Scientist Katharine Hayhoe.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 24, 2022.