Internationally known climate scientist hopes to make heart connection with Steamboat audience

‘If you care about life, then you care about climate change’

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D, is in Steamboat Springs to serve as a keynote speaker at the longtime Weather Summit for meteorologists from across the country. She will present a free public talk about forecasting climate change and extreme weather at 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.
Kai Dragland-NTNU/Courtesy photo

Given enough opportunity for a one-on-one conversation, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said she has never been stumped in forming a connection between another person’s passions and the importance of climate change.

That is because climate change is a “threat multiplier that takes all the challenges and issues we all have and makes it worse,” Hayhoe explained.

Whether people are concerned about clean air, worsening droughts, more common and larger wildfires, a stable economic environment, human migration, the war in Ukraine or good powder days for skiing, those worries are connected to climate change, she said.

“If you care about life, then you care about climate change,” Hayhoe, 50, said during an interview prior to her Steamboat Springs visit this week.

She is in town for a conference, to ski with her teenage son and to give a public talk titled “Forecasting Our Future: A Conversation with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about Climate Change and Extreme Weather” from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.

“The reason we care about climate change is because of the people we love, the things we love and the places we love. That’s reminding us why we care,” said Hayhoe, Ph.D., a professor at Texas Tech University and atmospheric scientist whose research focuses on understanding what climate change means for people and places.

At the library, she will discuss how climate change is affecting the Yampa Valley and what hotter temperatures and increased extreme weather events will do to the region and Colorado. She also will sign copies of her 2021 book, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World,” that was inspired by her December 2019 TED talk viewed by more than 4 million people.

Hayhoe serves as the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization that includes 700 scientists across 80 countries, and will be meeting with Nature Conservancy staff in Colorado this week. The scientist has received a United Nations Champion of the Earth award and has been named to Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Thinkers and Fortune magazine’s World’s Greatest Leaders.

Atmospheric scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, left, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, leads a panel at the United Nations Climate Change COP 27 in November in Egypt.
The Nature Conservancy/Courtesy photo

She also loves to ski with her family.

“I like spending time with things I love, places I love and with people I love,” she said. “It’s really important and reminds us of why we are fighting.”

Many experts say Hayhoe shines as a climate science communicator by providing simplified expert information and connecting with people from the heart. She said climate change in the Colorado mountains is creating weather that is more variable with more rain on snow days, fewer snow days, a shorter ski season, changes in the total amount of snow pack, endangered water resources and economic consequences.

The professor is visiting Steamboat as a keynote speaker at the longtime Weather Summit hosted at Steamboat Resort, which attracts meteorologists from across the country. Her weather summit lecture is titled “Communicating the Urgency of Climate Change without the Gloom and Doom.” Hayhoe said meteorologists such as Mike Nelson at Denver 7 KMGH-TV do a great job of communicating science-based stories to the public about how climate change impacts local communities.

Hayhoe said she likes “to make every minute count” because she knows her travel to conferences and lectures adds to her carbon footprint. So, on Friday, Jan. 20, she will lead “Ski with a Scientist” for multi-tasking fun with learning. The daughter of former missionaries and a Christian married to a pastor, the Canadian-born Hayhoe said she spends a lot of time on public outreach and social media engagement and is active with online talks for a huge variety of groups from Catholic nuns to architects and health care professionals.

The big push in Hayhoe’s book, “Saving Us,” is the importance of people speaking with their friends, family and colleagues about climate change and how everyone can get involved.

“If you don’t talk about it, why would you care? And if you don’t care, why would you ever do anything about it? … I’m talking about connecting the issue to our hearts and our hands,” Hayhoe said during a podcast interview from the United Nations Climate Change COP 27 in November in Egypt.

The scientist who served as lead author on three U.S. National Climate Assessments said she wants the Steamboat audience to understand that “the majority of people in the U.S. are worried about climate change but do not understand how it affects us personally.” She said about 70% of residents, 83% of mothers and 86% of young people in the U.S. are worried about climate change.

Talking and engaging with other people in the neighborhood or at work, clubs, schools or churches can keep the climate action ball rolling, Hayhoe said. Those activated people can show up at civic and public meetings to express their concerns with community decision-makers.

“So much of climate action is local action with engaging citizens with towns, counties and states. That’s where change can happen so quickly,” Hayhoe said. “There is so much that can happen when citizens get involved and use their voices.”

“It’s really important to know climate change is not a future issue. It’s happening right now. It’s affecting us right here in Colorado and in Steamboat. We truly can make a difference, each of us, by using our voice to share why it matters and to call for change in whatever organization we are part of. Focus on our climate shadow – the way we influence the people around us – that change is contagious.”

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist
Katharine Hayhoe
Tech Texas University/Courtesy photo

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