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‘The Uncertainty Is Us’ – The New York Times

I wanted to talk to Katharine Hayhoe about us.

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

Hayhoe sets a bold, rather puzzling goal at the very beginning. “In this book,” she writes in the foreword, “I want to show you how to have conversations that will help you reconnect with friends and family in real life, building real relationships and communities in instead of strains 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 her for showing how to “invite allies under a big tent.”

We spoke through our screens one afternoon, during a free period between her son’s pick-up and dinnertime. What struck me during the whole conversation, which was about hard things, was something beautiful behind her: a painting of birds, made by her sister.

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

What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

Sengupta: Why did you call it “save us?”

Hay: All too often we are told to save the planet, as if we and the planet could live independently. The planet will orbit the sun long after we leave, no matter what we do about climate change.

It’s really about saving us. We humans and many other living things 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. What do you think about that?

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

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

hayhoe: It has almost become a form of religion with its own green Ten Commandments. That if I do this and this and this, I’m a good person. But this and this is not available to everyone. By focusing on personal action as the primary path to climate solutions, the inequalities in lifestyles exacerbated by climate change are increasing rather than decreasing.

The system must change in such a way that the easiest, most affordable option is the sustainable one. When public transport and electric cars are cheaper than cars with a combustion engine. Vegetable meals. Isolated homes. Clean blue skies. Walkable cities. We want all of this to be the standard rather than just if you can afford it.

Sengupta: Do you eat meat?

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

Sengupta: What do you say to the “What-Can-I-Do” question?

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

Do something and talk about it.

There is little functional difference between contempt who reject climate change and doomsayers who decide we can’t fix it.

Sengupta: Are you in doubt about all this?

Hay: I don’t understand how you can look at a huge range of human reactions without having those moments. The biggest uncertainty is us. It’s up to us to save ourselves.


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A crucial moment: The Supreme Court on Friday abolished the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years. The court is expected to rule next week in a case that could limit the government’s ability to fight 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 the Americas, Asia and Europe all at once. There is no doubt that climate change is a culprit.

A two-pronged weather emergency: China was hit by the worst flooding in decades in the south, as well as record heatwaves in the north. Dozens were killed by heavy rain in Bangladesh.

A holiday for fossil fuels: President Biden urges Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months. But experts warn that the policy may not really benefit consumers.

A new form of energy: A fusion energy start-up said it may be just a year away from proving its system can produce 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 sustainable energy are not sufficient for a transition.

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

Rollback of a rollback: The Biden administration went back to the less restrictive definition of “habitat” for endangered species that existed before Trump, which will protect more places.

When a man disguised as an elderly woman rubbed cream cakes on the Mona Lisa last month, he had a message: “Remember the Earth.” It turns out that the art industry is doing that more and more. Reducing emissions from the art world is ultimately about transporting fewer works and people. This means longer exhibitions with more local works. For Luise Faurschou, whose nonprofit works at the intersection of art and sustainability, the industry needs “a completely ‘new normal'”.


Thank you for reading. We’ll be back on Tuesday.

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

Reach us at climateforward@nytimes.com. We read every message and answer many!

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