While the enormity of tackling climate change can be so overwhelming that some people shut down, presenting people with examples of how they can take action offers hope, says prominent US climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.
In a live interview with Reuters on Thursday Hayhoe explained how the climate crisis was causing weather events such as heat waves, wildfires and hurricanes to become more severe and more frequent.
“According to natural factors we should be very gradually but inevitably getting cooler right now,” said Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
“Instead we’re getting warmer faster than any time in the history of human civilization on this planet.”
The urgency of climate change is real, she said, calling it “a here issue, and a now issue.”
Climate change was a major factor in heat waves that made recent fires in Siberia, Australia, and right now in the US West so extensive and damaging, she said.
Hayhoe, widely known as a top communicator of climate change, addressed what often stands in the way of more aggressive action toward reducing emissions and adapting our societies to cope with change.
“Scaring the pants off us, for most of us, doesn’t move us forward. It actually causes us to freeze. That’s how our brains are hard-wired,” Hayhoe said.
“We are wired to move forward not only to escape fear but rather towards a reward, something positive.”
Instead, Hayhoe focuses on communicating how climate change is affecting people locally and offering suggestions for how people can help provide solutions, even if those solutions appear small. Giving people a sense of efficacy, she said, means giving people hope.
Follow the Guardian’s special series Climate Countdown as we brace ahead of the election. Donald Trump’s actions are scheduled to cause the US to leave the Paris Climate Accord on November 4, the day after the election. That is the pact agreed between most of the world’s countries, to tackle the climate crisis.