“We are on the path of the sixth great extinction, which will be us. That is my book is called Saving Us.”

Those are the words of Katharine Hayhoe—a climate scientist who is the chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy.

I finished listening to her book Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World (One Signal Publishers, 2021) days before I heard her speak at Lake Tahoe Community College on Jan. 23.

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe speaks Jan. 23 in South Lake Tahoe. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

She was in Tahoe giving talks on the North and South shores to the general public. What brought her to Tahoe was Operation Sierra Storm, the annual meteorologists’ conference.

“Climate change is taking old problems and amplifying them,” Hayhoe said at her talk. “The extremes are changing.”

That’s why 500-year floods are happening every three years. Weather disasters are on steroids.

It’s Hayhoe’s ability to tell a story verbally and in writing that captivates the non-scientist. Sure, she has plenty of data to share, but her message to lay people is more about conveying the importance of talking about climate change and the need to find common ground.

She said the No. 1 predictor about whether someone believes in climate change isn’t their education, it’s where they fall on the political spectrum. That worries her and others because the issue is not political, it’s real, and it’s affecting everyone no matter their political beliefs.

Even so, Hayhoe said it’s possible to find common ground with someone across the political aisle—it could be talking about the algae in Lake Tahoe, declining snowpack, installing solar, eating less meat, or over a slew of other issues.

It’s about finding common values with others, then becoming a collective force for the better.

One slide in her presentation said we need to bond “over concerns and values that we genuinely share” and we need to connect “the dots between those values and how climate change affects us and things we already care about.” She said from those discussions we will inspire “each other with positive, practical solutions we can engage in that are compatible with our values.”

She was quick to share: “There is no perfect solution and there is no one solution.” But doing nothing is definitely not the answer.

When scientists talk about the earth warming 2 degrees it can seem like an insignificant amount. Hayhoe pointed out how when our body temperature is 2 degrees higher than normal we are sick. That’s what is happening to the planet—it’s getting sicker as it warms.

“Nature doesn’t need us, we need it,” Hayhoe said. She added, the planet will orbit with or without us.

We need the planet to provide us with our water, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the materials we need to make things. However, the course we are on will make this planet uninhabitable.

That’s why her book is called Saving Us. If climate change is not slowed, halted and reversed, it’s humans (and other plant and animal life) that will disappear, not the planet itself.


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