Episode seven, Season three of the Climate Curious podcast is now live with our special guest, atmospheric scientist, Katharine Hayhoe.

The big idea 

The most important thing you can do to fight climate change is to talk about it. Why? Because no action ever began without some form of communication preceding it. 

“How do we develop policies? By talking. How does a company decide to go green? By talking. How does the church decide to divest from fossil fuels? Someone begins the conversation. Talking catalyses action. Talking is the first domino” 

– Katharine Hayhoe

If you’ve been feeling the eco-anxiety lately, then this episode is for you. Not only will our guest give you hope, she’ll also inspire a sense of agency. 

Looking for hope in all the wrong places

Helpless, powerless, depressed, terrified and anxious. 

Yep, that just about covers how most of us have felt about climate change at some point.

In October 2021, just ahead of the COP26 UN Climate conference in Glasgow, three-quarters (75%) of Brits said they were worried about the impact of climate change (ONS, 2021) and that’s not even to mention the disproportionate eco-anxiety experienced by children and young people (British Medical Journal, 2021). 

But, according to Katharine, that’s because we’re looking for hope in all the wrong places.

“We search for hope in all of the new science that’s coming out. But there isn’t hope there. Every new study that comes out shows that the climate is changing faster and to a greater extent than we thought, or it’s worse than we thought. So then we turn to looking for hope and politics. We pin our hopes on a person or a policy, or a bill or a movement. And when it fails us then we are even more hopeless than we were before.”

– Katharine Hayhoe

The problem is this: People see the fight against climate change as “a giant boulder, sitting at the bottom of an impossibly steep cliff, with only Sir David Attenborough, Jane Goodall and Greta Thunberg trying to push it up.” We think that if we add our hand to that boulder, it won’t budge even a single millimetre. That perceived lack of agency is what makes us feel hopeless. 

Okay, so what’s there to be hopeful about?

In reality, Katharine explains, that giant boulder is already at the top of the hill, rolling down in the right direction. And there is reason to be hopeful, you just have to be looking in the right places. 

Clean energy

The energy supply sector (which is the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide), saw some enormous shifts to renewables last year. In fact, 90% of new energy installed around the world was clean energy (IEA, 2021).

Global warming

When the Paris agreement first united nations back in 2015 to cut greenhouse gases (to get them all around a table was a miracle in itself some would say), we were heading into a world that was 4°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. “Now,” Katharine exclaims, “it’s down to 2.7°C. That’s almost halfway! Now that’s something to celebrate.” 

Tech innovation

If you’ve listened to past episodes of this podcast, you’ll be no stranger to some of the incredible ways people are using innovations in technology to combat climate change, from oyster reefs being used to manage rising sea levels to cows being fed algae to reduce the methane in their burps. But get a load of this. There’s a carpet company that is creating carpet that stores carbon. So installing their carpet means you’re actually taking carbon out of the atmosphere. 

But the real antidote to hopelessness, Katharine says, is action.

So what can I do?

There’s long been a debate about how much individual actions matter when it comes to climate. The oil industry’s invention and promotion of the carbon footprint has led some to believe that it’s an invention designed to divert attention from the ones doing the real damage (corporations) and lay the blame at individuals’ feet instead. 

This is something that Katharine has wrestled with. So she came up with an alternative instead.

“I came up with the concept of a “climate shadow” to try to help visualize how the sum of our life choices influences the climate emergency. Your shadow includes the car you drive and what you eat, but it’s also about where you work, how you engage in the workplace, where you invest your money and how much you talk about climate.”

– Katharine Hayhoe

The one tool that allows us to transcend physical boundaries and stretch our climate shadow across the world, Katharine says, is our voice.

This is why the most important thing you can do to fight climate change is to talk about it. 

Because no action ever began without some form of communication preceding it. “Talking,” Katharine says, “is like knocking over the first domino, that then leads us all the way to that better future.” In this interconnected world where millions of people might see your TikTok or a comment you made on Twitter, you have the potential to have a truly vast global climate shadow. 

“Talking brings us together. We live in a world where we’re so discreet so individualised and separate. But talking isn’t lecturing. Talking is interacting, listening to somebody else, responding to what they say. It brings us together.”

– Katharine Hayhoe

3 ingredients to have better climate chats

Katharine’s secret recipe for having positive climate conversations? There are three ingredients:

  1. Bond – Begin with something that you have in common.
  2. Connect – Connect the dots to how climate change affects it. 
  3. Inspire – Always bring up a positive, constructive solution that they would be interested in, that would surprise them, that would make them see that there are millions of hands pushing that boulder down the hill in the right direction. 

Your Homework

Here’s how to get started.

First, do an inventory of yourself: What do you love? What are you passionate about? Where do you live? What matters to you? Maybe that’s being a student, or living in London or loving rugby, knitting, dancing or football.

Then, find out how climate change is affecting it. Now you know what impact climate change is having on the things that matter to you.

Finally, find a story of something positive that is being done or can be done to fix it. It’s that simple.

Until next time – stay curious!

How can I listen?

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