Wege Lecturer says effective climate action is fueled by hope


One of the most important things people can do to address climate change is talk about it, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said April 24 during the Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability.

Citing statistics that two-thirds of people in the United States are worried about climate change, but only 8% are activated to do something about it, Hayhoe said talking about climate change doesn’t mean trying to change the minds of those who believe it is a hoax.

Rather, it’s about “spending my energy on the people who are worried about climate change but don’t know what to do. That is a huge group of movable people.”

Hayhoe is the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy and the Paul Whitfield Horn Distinguished Professor and the Political Science Endowed Chair in Public Policy and Public Law in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University.

Wege Lecturer Katharine Hayhoe speaking in front of a "word cloud"
Wege Lecturer Katharine Hayhoe speaks in front of a “word cloud” highlighting words that attendees used to describe how they feel about climate change. (Photo by Dave Brenner, School for Environment and Sustainability)

Referencing the title of her 2021 book, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World,” Hayhoe said climate change isn’t about saving the planet; it’s about saving us.

“Humans cannot survive without the rest of the ecosystems on this planet that provide everything we use,” she said.

More than 700 participants attended the 22nd Wege Lecture, U-M’s premier sustainability lecture series, at Rackham Auditorium. Co-sponsored by the School for Environment and Sustainability and its Center for Sustainable Systems, the talk was moderated by SEAS dean and climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck.

Noting that the media tends to focus on “doom and gloom headlines” about climate change because they generate clicks, Hayhoe said they don’t spur people to act. Instead, she advocated for a “head to heart to hands connection” to galvanize people for action.

“We have all the information about how bad climate change is and we have to connect that to our hearts,” Hayhoe said. “How has it affected the people, places and things I love in my life? And then we have to connect our hearts to our hands. What can we do to make a difference?”

She added it’s important to reframe the messages about climate change to induce hope, not dread, and to include positive solutions.

“Effective action is fueled by hope and love,” she concluded. “There has never been a more important time to focus — not so much on our personal carbon footprint — but on our climate shadow and how we affect people around us.”


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