One of the biggest science stories of the year has been climate change. And for good reason.
Carbon emissions in 2018 hit a record high. About 70 percent of Americans think climate change is happening, according to an August survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and nearly 60 percent think that it is largely human-caused. That puts us back approximately where we were 10 years ago, the Yale Program found, before politics and economics eroded public acceptance of the fact of climate change.
“The issue is not with our acceptance of the problem,” Katharine Hayhoe told Living Lab Radio. “In fact, 70 percent of Americans would also agree that climate change will harm future generations, people who live in developing countries, and plants and animals.”
Hayhoe is a climate scientist, a professor in the Department of Political Science, and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, part of the Department of Interior’s South-Central Climate Science Center. She is also the founder and CEO of ATMOS Research.
“Where the rubber hits the road is when you ask people, ‘Do you think climate change will affect you personally?’ The majority of people say no,” she said.
But that’s incorrect, Hayhoe said.
“From the Midwest to the northeast, to Florida, Massachusetts, or Washington state, our lives are being affected, and that's why it matters,” she said.
So, do we really have just 12 years to solve the problem, as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in an October report?
“I am not a fan of the dead deadline approach,” Hayhoe said. “It creates a sense of, ‘Well, if we if we achieve the goal within 12 years then everything's 100 percent okay. But if it's Jan. 1 on the thirteenth year and we missed the boat … We might as well just give up.’ And that is completely false.”
In truth, "Every action matters, every year matters," Hayhoe said.
“For me, it's a case of not trying to just divert the worst," she said. "It's a case of recognizing that the planet really is in our hands and we have the ability to choose our future."