Dr. Katharine Hayhoe Named to Time’s “100 Most Influential” List

April 24, 2014

One of the great gifts of this work is meeting some really unusual and gifted people. Katharine Hayhoe is one.

Don Cheadle in Time:

There’s something fascinating about a smart person who defies stereotype. That’s what makes my friend Katharine Hayhoe — a Texas Tech climatologist and an evangelical Christian — so interesting.

hayhoeIt’s hard to be a good steward of the planet if you don’t accept the hard science behind what’s harming it, and it can be just as hard to take action to protect our world if you don’t love it as the rare gift it is. For many people, that implies a creator. Katharine and her husband, evangelical pastor Andrew Farley, have authored the defining book for the planet-loving believer, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. I got to know Katharine as we worked on Showtime’s climate documentary Years of Living Dangerously. But we are all getting to know and benefit from her work.

Aaron Huertas for Union of Concerned Scientists:


Our friend and long-time collaborator Katharine Hayhoe has been named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people. Obviously, it’s quite an honor and it’s one she richly deserves. To mark the occasion, I wanted to share some lessons about science communication I’ve learned from her that go beyond the basics.

Listen Before You Talk

I’ll never forget Dr. Hayhoe explaining to a group of Earth scientists how she talks about climate change to people who are skeptical about the geologic age of the Earth. A lot of scientists might be dismissive of such an audience or think that they were simply unreachable on this topic. That would be a mistake.

Instead, Dr. Hayhoe meets people where they’re at. It turns out you can paint a perfectly accurate and vivid picture of human-induced climate change by looking back at just the past few thousand years – or just the past few hundred. As she went through her slides – which featured some recent solar cycles and the very recent spike in carbon dioxide and global temperatures – the room full of Earth scientists sat silently for a few seconds as she highlighted the science without delving into the deep geologic past. They cocked their heads sideways and studied the graph. Then they started to get it. Then they applauded. Loudly.

It was an incredible insight for them and one that, hopefully, allowed a few of those scientists to bridge other divides with their audiences.

Stay Positive

Science is built on negatives. Peer-review is often an exercise in shooting things down. At scientific meetings, researchers exchange startlingly blunt, pointed critiques of one another’s work. To be clear, this is a good thing. Science is the ultimate exercise in critical thinking, with an emphasis on the critical.

But as scientist-turned filmmaker Randy Olson has pointed out, the tendency to think negatively can hold scientists back when it comes to communicating their research to the public. For instance, it’s typical for scientists to worry about being misquoted or misunderstood by journalists in ways that would cause their scientific colleagues to criticize them. As a result, many scientists simply don’t engage, especially those who have been burned once.

Dr. Hayhoe remains remarkably positive about her communication work. That’s held true, even as she’s faced down some of the most mean-spirited public scrutiny I’ve ever seen. In 2011, groups opposed to climate policy discovered that Newt Gingrich had commissioned Dr. Hayhoe to write about climate change in a forthcoming book. This was in the middle of a presidential primary, and the outside groups, as well as Rush Limbaugh, quickly bombarded Dr. Hayhoe with public attacks — many of them vitriolic and sexist — to push Gingrich away from climate issues. Gingrich quickly caved and dropped the book project.

Dr. Hayhoe was caught in the middle of a very public political maelstrom. It was an incredible challenge. Instead of retreating into silence or simply admonishing her critics, she used the attacks as an opportunity to explain her work and tell her story. She took an overwhelmingly negative event and turned it into something positive. That should be an inspiration to other scientists who face smaller, but still significant risks when they do publicly facing work.



11 Responses to “Dr. Katharine Hayhoe Named to Time’s “100 Most Influential” List”

  1. […] One of the great gifts of this work is meeting some really unusual and gifted people. Katharine Hayhoe is one. Don Cheadle in Time: There’s something fascinating about a smart person who defies ste…  […]

  2. jimbills Says:

    Congrats to Dr. Hayhoe and a hearty thank you for all you do.

  3. rayduray Says:

    Time for a little perspective, maybe? While I’m delighted that Katherine Hayhoe is honored by Time Magazine, I’m finding the list itself a bit capricious.

    Certainly Dr. Hayhoe deserve kudos for persevering in such a robustly religious region as West Texas. But shouldn’t we be, as an American society, willing to overcome the rather medieval belief systems that bleed into actually reasoning in the nation’s bible belt?

    While I’m no Time Magazine, I’m a blogger, and a commenter and I have a list of people I’d like to nominate for being among the world’s most influential out-of-power string pullers.

    First, for his superb and willful determination against the odds and with his actual life being put at risk, I nominate Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepard for having a role in actually changing an international body controlling whale killing to tell the Japanese to stop lying about their Nisshan Maru fraud in harvesting southern ocean whales in spite of the indifference to this hunt by 99% of sane Japanese.

    Second, for providing the basis for so much of the modern climate consciousness I’d like to nominate James Hansen for Lifetime Achievement.

    Third, while Dr. Hayhoe starred in “Years of Living Dangerously” and put an attractive face/persona on the issue for the medieval crowd, I’d really like to nominate James Cameron who was robbed of an Academy Award for his 2009 block-buster “Avatar” which was about as anti-government, anti-military, anti-imperialist and pro-people, pro-environment a film as I’ve ever seen. All Hail Pandora! While James Cameron seems to not seek notoriety for his role in “Years of Living Dangerously”, I’d suggest that without his input, the series would have never been created and/or never found a distribution channel. So, here’s to three of the 100.

    As to Beyonce being the cover girl for Time’s 100 Most Influential list, I ask, Mrs. Carter, what have you done for me lately?

    As to Christine La Garde’s glowing praise of Janet Yellin, let’s hope it is not another case of the pot calling the kettle black. My vote in the econ racket would be Bill Black. But I’ll accede that Ms. Yellin’s hubby, Nobel-laureate George Akerlof ought to be considered for or at rather promoted to “most influential” for his astonishingly prescient “Looting” http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2014/02/finance-refuses-take-akerlof-romer-seriously-looting.html

    If only we paid attention to people who were not just celebrities and lucky, we’d be miles ahead. But that’s not America. What am I, a dreamer?

    • There are more than a few celebrities with an environmental and social conscience of note. Mark Ruffalo, Harrison Ford, Ed Asner,….

      • MorinMoss Says:

        Geez, that’s a weak list, like starting a list of famous presidents with Polk, Fillmore & Taft.

        For starters, let’s add Ed Begley, Robert Redford, Dennis Weaver, Darryl Hannah, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pierce Brosnan & Larry Hagman to the list.

    • andrewfez Says:

      I’d nominate Amory Lovins, but he’s already made the list a while back.

      Also whoever keeps figuring out how to boost computer processing power and maybe those who figured out things like the Prius, Word Press, and Youtube.

      I’m not really into pop celebrities as they are attached to industries that manipulate folks’ emotional and material desires in manner that lubricates unnecessary mass consumption.

  4. MorinMoss Says:

    Not to cast any aspersions at Dr Hayhoe but it’s deeply depressing that after all science has done for humanity, we need to have someone like her going around telling people that it’s okay to believe in science because it’s what Jesus would want.

    • rayduray Says:

      Amen, brother.

      Centuries from now people will look back on this age as we look back on the insane persecution of those who had the audacity to announce a heliocentric world to a Bible-thumping Catholic clergy who refused to accept reality in lieu of what was interpreted from their Bible. Galileo got off easy with mere house arrest for getting ahead of the clergy. Others were not so lucky.

      When we look back at the history of our contemporary U.S. we’ll put the Bible based climate deniers in the same category as the Millerites of “Great Disappointment” fame, and with the simpleton followers of the famous and fabulous fraud Amy Semple MacPherson.

      The Bible-thumpers will be the laughingstock of any new enlightened era we might stumble into. I say stumble into, because surely the direction the Christians in the U.S. and the jihadis in the Muslim world are leading us toward is a new Dark Ages. Much as the ascendancy of the Christian tendency at the end of the golden age of Rome led to a millenium of ignorance, illiteracy, and superstition called the Dark Ages.

    • If Dr. Hayhoe can effectively communicate with religious people who are not scientifically inclined, then we are all better off, I think.

      It is all about making connections and bridging divides that lead to understanding that we are all living on the same planet.

      There is No Planet B. #NoPlanetB

  5. […] 2014/04/24: PSinclair: Dr. Katharine Hayhoe Named to Time’s “100 Most Influential” List […]

  6. […] Katharine Hayhoe, newly minted member “Time’s 100 Most Influential People” club, in an interview with Chris Mooney –  on how to talk to your evangelical friends and […]

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