Katharine Hayhoe - Shaping The Future - From Pandemic To Climate Change

Professor Katharine Hayhoe is well-known the world over for her clear communications on the risks posed by climate change and why these risks and can be addressed in a non-political and non-partisan way. Katharine is an atmospheric scientist, the Political Science Endowed Professor in Public Policy and Public Law at Texas Tech University in the US and directs their Climate Center.

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Life on Zoom

In the period of lockdown, Katharine discusses how technology has played a critical role human interactions, from the emotional experience of her grandmother's death to more passive interactions such as knitting or just staying in touch with family and friends. This all leads her to rename social distancing  so it becomes physical distancing with social connectivity.

COVID-19 and carbon emissions

There is much talk about how the pandemic is good for the environment but, as Katharine points out, this has to be taken in context. 

Because we are not pumping out so much pollution as normal, we are still adding to the atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases.

Air quality linked to human suffering

Another linkage from the pandemic pause is the cleaner air that has been a tangible benefit of reducing nearly all transport to a small fraction of what it was before.

Low-balling climate change

Climate scientists have always produced scenarios based on different estimates of outcomes from climate forcing and Earth system sensitivity. Katharine explains how typically scientists have been low-balling the speed and severity of climate change. 

The 3 choices that humanity has to select from are mitigation, adaptation, or suffering. It turns out we will likely be forced to select all three but the balance of each is still up to us. Katharine gives her view on how this current crisis informs us to best face the future.

Climate change and politics

In the US and UK especially, climate change has been forced into a political framing in order to try and make conservatives think that the threat is not real or very serious. 

Now, with impacts so tangibly in our faces, from the loss of the polar ice caps and ice sheets like in Greenland, or the fires in the Amazon, Australia among many other places, people are realising this is real and anxiety about the future is commonplace. What can we do about it?

The world won’t end in 2030

There is an emerging narrative that if the world does not decarbonise by 2030 then we will experience the apocalypse. Katharine Hayhoe discusses the importance of having a vision of the future that balances the reality of climate change with the outcome that we want to see and that we can collectively and individually work towards.

Collapsing oil, personal suffering and policy 

Katharine discusses how the collapse of the oil price is impacting thousands of people in the oil industry who are losing their jobs and facing financial hardship in a very uncertain time. These are not bad people but rather a part of our society who are trying to support their families. What can we do to help them transition to new sectors?

Despite this, lobbyists for oil-producing regions like Alberta in Canada are trying to roll back environmental taxes aimed at starting the transition to clean energy. Katharine explains why carbon taxes are still part of the solution, perhaps more so than ever before.