Professor of Public Policy & Public Law, Texas Tech University

Katharine Hayhoe

Interviewer: David Spence, Interview date: May 6, 2020

"Magic Numbers in the Climate Change Debate"

by Katharine Hayoe

“Virtually every week I have someone come up to me and say we have — originally 12, then 10, then 8 years — left to save the planet. And my response to them is ‘No! … There is no magic threshold, and [that idea] certainly didn’t come from scientists’. … What scientists do is we quantify how our carbon emissions are going to affect us.  The more carbon we produce, the worse it is. It’s kind of like cigarettes: the more cigarettes you smoke, the worse the health impacts are.”

“Psychologically as humans, we need goals and deadlines.… But communicating that ‘if we do not achieve this exact goal by this exact date then the world will go to hell in a handbasket,’ I think that is completely counterproductive … because it is a fear-based message. … Psychologically, we cannot maintain that level of panic and anxiety over years to decades.  We just can’t do it. We have to have a vision of a better future, not a vision of an apocalypse …”

“The real issues we have with climate change [are] … (1) the issue of psychological distance—that we think it only affects people who live far away or future generations, but not us here and now; … and (2) solution aversion—people have been told that the only way to fix climate change is to shut down the economy [and] lose their personal liberties … So showing people how climate change matters to us right here in the places that we live … and talking about the true solutions to climate change … are the most important things we can do.”  


Katharine Hayhoe is an Endowed Professor in Public Policy and Public Law in the Public Administration program of the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University and co-directs the Climate Center at Texas Tech. She has a B.Sc. in physics and astronomy from the University of Toronto and an M.S. and Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and has been awarded honorary doctorates from Colgate University and from Victoria College at the University of Toronto.

To learn more about Katharine Hayhoe, please visit her home page: HERE

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