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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  May 6, 2017 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT

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- [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy and by klru's producers circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community. - i'm evan smith. she's an atmospheric scientist and climate reality evangelist called one of the hundred most influential people in the world by time magazine. she's katharine hayhoe. this is overheard. let's be honest. is this about the ability to learn or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa? i hate to say that he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you saw a problem and over time took it on. let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you gonna run for president? i think i just got an f from you actually. (laughing)
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this is overheard. (applauding) katharine hayhoe, welcome. - thank you for having me. - nice to have you here. so i thought we would do a baseline for this conversation. - alright. - so, establish a baseline. global warming is real? - yes. - climate change is real? - that too. - climate science is legitimate? - yes and it's very old. - so what's everybody's glitch? why is this even a thing? why are we even arguing about this? this is the big debate. - it is. - [evan] yeah. - the number one reason we're arguing is because people don't like what they perceive to be the solutions and it's easier to say it isn't a real problem than to say it is a real problem, but i don't want to fix it. - so is the problem a problem of ideology? is the problem a problem of faith at odds with some of this stuff, science, and what-have-you? is the problem a problem of economics at odds with this or is it some combination of those things? - the smokescreens that we see when it comes to climate change, the smokescreens people throw up, are smokescreens of science. oh, it's just a natural cycle or we don't know enough yet. there's smokescreens of faith.
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god wouldn't let this happen or the world's gonna end anyways, but when you get to the bottom line, the real issue is that the way we've been doing things is the problem. we've been depending on coal and oil and gas for all of our energy over the last 300 years. - right. - and it brought us to a great place, don't get me wrong, but now's the time to make that switch. there are many people who don't want us to make the switch. - it occurs to me that when you think about people saying, well, the climate science comes forward or climate scientists come forward and people say, "well, that's just wrong. "they're just choosing to believe that." we don't do that with a lot of other aspects of science. we don't say like biology or physics, "well, you say gravity exists, but you're just saying it." actually, i assert that that's not the case. why this and not that? what about this specifically? - and you, even worse, you're saying gravity exists so that you can line your pockets with government grant money. (laughs) - right, exactly. yes, it's these greedy scientists
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who are only in it for themselves. - right. what people don't realize is the physics that we use to build climate models is the same physics we use to build airplanes. - right. - so if you really don't think that climate science is legitimate, there's a lot of-- - don't get on a plane. - no, because it clearly won't fly. it's just your imagination. - right. - it's the engineers telling you it will fly to line their pockets. - right. we're in a world right now where actually science is weirdly the enemy of a lot of politicians and a lot of people who run for office actually, they're not ashamed or embarrassed about this. they actually proudly embrace their denial of science. that includes people who are responsible for big policy areas in our government. the chairman of the house science committee in the congress who happens to be a fellow texan of ours, lamar smith from san antonio, doesn't believe in climate science. guy who chairs the energy committee of the house in the new congress refused to attend a speech by the pope two years ago because the pope had mentioned climate change. this is really a huge fight and it doesn't show any signs
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in a new administration of going away. - no, in fact if anything, i think it is accelerating and it's amping up and why is it a fight? it's because science doesn't compromise. whether you believe in gravity or not, when you step off the cliff, you are going down. (laughing) whether you say climate change is real or not, the thermometer will still give you the same number and it will still say that it's warming. - and politics changes and politicians change, but science remains constant. the principles remain constant, the conclusions remain constant. - yes. - right. so talk to me about your origins. talk to us about the origins of your interest in this. you grew up in canada. originally when you went to university, you actually intended to be an astrophysicist, right? - [katharine] yes. - talk a little bit about how you got from one to the other. - so my dad is a science educator. he grew up with six sisters and three daughters. he used to say the only male around the house was the cat and he was really not quite male. (laughing) if you know what i mean. so i almost feel like i didn't have a choice. i went to university and science to me was the coolest thing, the most important thing,
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the truest thing that you could study i felt like. so, of course, i studied science. i fell in love with astrophysics because the idea that we can understand the distant reaches of the universe with nothing more than the brains and the limited instruments that we have on this tiny, insignificant planet in the grand scheme of things, just blows me away. so i was studying astrophysics, planning a career studying quasars at the time. to finish up my degree, i took a class on climate science in the geography department. i took it thinking, "oh, it's probably really easy "and i think i know everything there already is to know," because in canada, you study it in high school. that class completely shocked me because, first of all, i didn't realize that climate modeling is all physics. in fact, much of the same astrophysics that i had already learned goes into climate models. the second thing i didn't realize was how urgent the issue is. i had kind of mentally lumped it with, you know, biodiversity loss, deforestation, air pollution, but what i realized is, we cannot fix those issues
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and we can't even fix bigger issues like hunger and poverty and water scarcity. - everything is connected, right, back to this. - they're all connected. - so at the time that you were doing this, was climate change or climate science as much of a general topic of conversation out in the world because it seems like today, now, you say climate change or climate science and most people have some acknowledgement that that's something, but go back 15 years ago or 20 years ago and it wasn't really a popular topic of conversation. - not really. like i said, it was over there in the air pollution category. - right. - you know, general environmental issues. - it was a niche, a niche. - a niche issue. really, what opened my eyes to the importance of this issue is it isn't just about the environment, it's about us. we are some of the most vulnerable species on the planet to a changing climate. - right. so was it alarm that attracted you to this? was it a negative attraction, that oh my god we have to fix this or was it more of a i think this is really interesting? - it was the fact that i had always wanted to do something that would help people.
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i grew up, a part of my time as a missionary kid in south america so i had friends who lived in very different places. mud huts built of bamboo and mud that could get washed away when it flooded. friends who lived in houses just as nice as the ones we have here. so i knew how vulnerable people can be to natural disasters that are getting stronger under a changing climate. i always wanted to do something that would help people, but i have a really weak stomach. i faint at the sight of blood. so i felt like the healthcare profession was out of reach. - that's out. - i'll just go be a scientist and then all-of-a-sudden i realized, "wait there's this whole field of science "that's all about helping people." - yep. so i want you to define the risk for us or define the threat that failure to act on our part as individuals or as communities or as a country. help us understand exactly the magnitude of it, but put it in simple terms, put it in complicated terms, but talk through the risk here that we're under. - the best analogy, i think, to our situation is smoking. so people say, "is it too late?" no, it's not too late. you've been smoking all your life.
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when's the best day to quit? today. if you don't quit today, tomorrow. we've been smoking fossil fuels all of our life so to speak and the best time to quit is now because the risks get more and more serious and more and more dangerous the more we smoke. is there a magic number of cigarettes that we can smoke up until and then not even one more and we won't get lung cancer? no. there's no magic number of fossil fuels that if we just produce this much we'll be okay. the more we produce, the more dangerous it is. when i say dangerous, i don't just mean the polar bear, i mean us. two thirds of the world's biggest cities are within a few feet of sea level and sea level will rise a few feet this century. hurricanes are getting stronger, heavy downpours are getting more frequent, heat waves are killing more people. it's affecting our food, our water, and our economy. - but, of course, on a day when the weather is atypically cold. - yes, yes, like today. - people say, "well, global warming, you know. "if there were really global warming, it wouldn't be 30 out
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"or 25 out and so this disproves everything." - oh, yes, i hear that all the time. that's the number one thing we hear between november and march. it's cold outside. where's global warming? - clearly, you're makin' this up. - exactly. - but? - but we know that we have weather. weather just goes up and down from day to day. - [evan] right. - climate is the long-term average of weather over 20 to 30 years. so we have our long-term average that is warming and then we have that variability on top of it. so saying that it's cold today, where's global warming is like saying the titanic can't be sinking because my end just went 200 feet up in the air. (laughing) - in fact, i've heard you rebut the people who say, "well, it's cold where i live, "therefore there can't be global warming," by saying, "yes, but actually if you look at alaska," and alaska's temperatures over time, there seems to be just incontrovertible evidence that something is going on. - oh, yes. alaska and the arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world because when all that shiny white ice and snow melts,
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there's this dark surface that absorbs so much more of the sun's energy. it isn't just getting warmer, the ground that used to be permanently frozen is thawing. all of the homes and even the oil pipelines built on top of that ground are cracking and crumbling. - right. you know that in the civic arena, part of what you need to do to be a good combatant is to try to see the other side and to try to understand the other side's motivation and to try to put yourself in their shoes, to look for holes in your own argument so that you try to understand where they're coming from. do you think there's anything at all to the other side here? is there anything redeeming about the pushback against this? do you see either in the concerns about the business climate that might be impacted by the necessary remedies or do you see, i mean, does anything at all in the side that give you sympathy for those people, sympathy for that argument? - yes. many people who oppose the reality of climate change do so because they are afraid of the solutions,
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or again, what they think the solutions are. - what they think the solutions are. - they think the solutions are a big government telling us what to do, how to set our thermostat, what type of car we're allowed to drive. - that's a thing these days across the board, so right. - exactly. - consistent with what we hear elsewhere. - right. but many of those people, if we actually sit down and have a conversation, and i've had many of these, i imagine you have had too. when you get down to it, they're good people who want to do the right thing. they just have a different view with the blinkers on pointing in a bit of a different direction. so i have found so many times when if we can identify a genuine shared love, concern, or value that we really do connect over and identify with each other over, then from that genuinely-shared bridge we have, we can start to talk about this issue from a very different perspective. often starting with solutions rather than science. - yep. - like don't you think it's great the fort hood, the biggest military base in the united states, just bought a new contract for wind and solar because they'll save taxpayers $168 million?
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- right. - who doesn't like that? - in the process, it will be better for everybody. it's not just about the numbers. there's a larger good that's being accomplished here, but if that's the lens through which people regard this, then that's fine. - yeah. i mean, who doesn't love the fact that, there's a billion people living in energy poverty first of all, who don't have access to electricity. who doesn't love the fact that solar is the way that they're actually getting electricity. - right, right. better for the environment, better for the world, and also as a practical issue, solving a problem, a public policy problem or a community problem. so i'm hearing you say that fear of the remedy is what drives people, but i also wonder if you go back, is the problem the output, the remedy, or is the problem the input misinformation? there seems to have been a misinformation or disinformation campaign. - yes. - waged on this issue over time so that many of the people who may oppose what you say or oppose what appears to be fundamental, simple reality, it may be because they've been told things that are simply not true
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and they're basing all their views on that bad information. - yes, oh, absolutely. there is false information being deliberately spread. there are a limited number of scientists who are in the pay of fossil fuel companies and they get millions of dollars to literally just spread information that is not true or to attack other scientists. - [evan] right. - but the reality is that we aren't black and white on this issue. so if you look at our opinions about climate change and solutions, not just the science, we're spread across this spectrum. there's this group called the six americas of global warming that categorizes us into these six different groups. people who are truly dismissive, people who would dismiss any piece of evidence. you pile up 10,000 journal articles and papers, they'll dismiss 'em. an angel of god with tablets of stone saying climate change is real, they'll dismiss 'em. (laughing) those people are 10% of the population. now, they may seem disproportionately concentrated in one certain city of the country, washington dc,
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but they're not that many. - does that feel like a lot to you or a little? that feels like a lot to me. - 10%? - you think it's a little? - given that we often think people are more 50-50, yeah because then some people are doubtful. so the doubtful people are people who have been misinformed like you just said, but they have some doubts. then, did you know that the biggest group of us are cautious? then, the second-biggest group are concerned. so we're there. over 60% of people in the united states are either somewhat or very concerned about climate change. we just don't realize that there are solutions that are good for the economy, good for national security, good for us personally, and good for climate change at the same time. - i appreciate the fact that you're going through the whole litany of these things: national security, good for the economy because you really just can't make this purely about climate. - no. - you've got to connect it for people to other things. - exactly. - one of the things that is part of the hayhoe brand is that you have figured out how to put faith and science on parallel paths if not intersecting paths, right?
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you talk often about this through the lens of faith. although your father was not ordained, your father was quite connected to his church when you were growing up. you're married to an evangelical pastor, right? - [katharine] yeah. - you consider yourself a person of deep faith and you often talk about climate change through the filter of faith. i wonder if you would explain how you came to that place because that differentiates you and it also puts you on a different path from a lot of evangelicals who've chosen to view this issue differently. - yes. that's why i think it's so important to distinguish between political evangelicals who get their theology primarily from their political ideology and secondarily from the bible versus theological evangelicals who get it primarily from the bible. so there is an important distinction between those groups. as a scientist, i was trained to speak as a scientist, so when i first moved to lubbock, i got my first invitation to speak to the league of women voters, a fairly friendly audience, and i went and i started with science and i talked all
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about the science and i ended with science. then all the questions were, "well, but why should i care," and "what should i do about this?" so i had to sit down myself and actually articulate to myself the reasons why i am so passionate about this issue. it had always been a little bit more instinctual or an emotional response, but to actually sit down and articulate why do i think this is so important? what do i share with people i'm talking to in west texas? what value do i genuinely share that we could connect on on this issue? i thought, well, one of the biggest values is obviously our faith because for me, climate change is about helping people. it's about helping people who are already suffering today, the poorest and the most vulnerable of the world are the ones who are most affected by a changing climate. that is why i care. so for a scientist, talking about what you feel about something to people in public? at some point, you'd rather pull down your pants than do that. (laughs) so it was not an easy switch
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and i see many of my colleagues struggling with the same issues today, but we have realized that talking facts, facts, facts is not enough. - you've got to personalize it, you've got to make it more intimate, you've got to give people a way to access it. of course, i think that religion, faith, is largely about belief and science is largely about evidence. the question is how those two are not in conflict? you've actually figured out a way for them to be perfectly aligned? - yes, i think they are. so there's a verse in the book of hebrews, there's a chapter that's all about faith and the first verse defines faith as the evidence of what is not seen. and science is exactly the opposite. science is the evidence of what we do and can see. science tells us climate is changing for the first time in the history of the planet, it really is us, not a natural cycle, and science tells us that the more carbon we burn, the worse the impacts. but science can't tell us what way to go. it's like a compass. the compass tells you north and south, but it doesn't tell you, it's not a map. - a compass is not a map, right.
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- yes, it doesn't tell you what direction you want to go in. in the same way, science tells us what's happening, but faith is what says, "i want to make decisions "that minimize the suffering "for the poor and the vulnerable." that is my response to the facts the science gives us. - but is your sense, to go back to this distinction between the sort of theological evangelicalism and political evangelical. is your sense that the political evangelicals on this issue and other issues are actually as aware of what the bible says as you are? - no. - because you know, i go back to the 2004 presidential campaign when john kerry, i think he was quoting, it was faith without works is dead was something among the things he talked about from the realm of the bible and he was saying, you know, there are a lot of people who vote and on the way into the voting booth, they step over poor people. the reality is there's something fundamentally inconsistent with saying on the one hand i believe in scripture, but on the other hand, i'm going to behave in exactly the opposite of what scripture says. there seems to be a little bit of tension here as well,
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that people are not as aware of what they think they are beholden to as they actually are. - yes, often our opinions are based on what our thought-leaders tell us because we're all cognitive misers. in other words, i mean, we don't have time to figure out-- - cognitive misers? - yes. - it's a good band name actually, isn't it? (laughs) - yeah, it is. - i'm sorry. - why don't you have 'em on next week? - i will, okay, good. i'm sorry, i was distracted momentarily. - what that means is we literally do not have the brain power to sit down and each of us figure out all the nuances and details of every issue that exists right now. so what do we do? we look to people whose values we share and we say, "well, what do they think about this issue "because surely they've spent more time thinking "about it than we have." or they have a research team that tells them what to think. so we go to our thought-leaders and in the conservative sphere now, the majority, not all, but the majority of thought-leaders are saying this isn't real, god's in charge anyway, it's all gonna be over, so it doesn't matter
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what we do to the planet. they're telling us comfortable, religious-sounding untruths. that when you go to the bible, you see genesis one, humans were given responsibility over every living thing on this planet. we're not usurping god's authority, we're in charge. go to revelation, the last book of the bible, it says god will destroy those who destroy the earth. and all throughout the entire bible, there are verses about god's care for creation, for nature, for the planet, but also how we're supposed to love and care for other people. - i'm wondering if the world is shifting a little bit in your direction. i couldn't believe my ears when i heard rick perry as a candidate nominee for secretary of energy say before the united states senate, "i believe in sound science." he actually changed the view that he held as governor of our state of texas. he actually held open the possibility that climate science is not illegitimate completely. maybe the world is beginning ever-so-slightly to move
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in the direction that you're going. - well, i think the sooner he and others realize that climate science is not a threat to the nuclear and energy economy, and the nuclear and energy economy is the future. - so the climate science or the embrace of climate science may not be the disease, it may be the cure? - yes, it could be. - as far as that goes. - yeah because what's the fix? the fix is to replace coal and gas and oil with wind and sun. what do we have here in texas? - the most wind. - the most wind. - of anybody. - yes and we have enough sun and wind to supply the entire country with electricity. that's how much we have. we have the technological know-how, we have the jobs, we have the infrastructure, we have the people. texas is poised to again lead the nation in energy by embracing the clean-energy economy. - we visited before we came out here. you have a nine-year-old. - [katharine] i do. - you're watching this wonderful child of yours grow up in a world in which a lot of closely-held political positions are beginning to fragment.
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we're sort of in a, you know, whether it's same-sex marriage or race, we have a lot of work to do in this country on race, but on the other hand, our kids are growing up in an era very different from the one we grew up in in terms of accepting diversity as a part of the fabric of all of our lives. i wonder if the answer here is generational more than anything else? that generation is growing up in a world much more hyper-aware of this stuff. - yes. - and maybe a lot less ideological about this stuff and so that possibly it's just gonna take us to pass the baton to the next generation for this to stop being such a big stinkin' bomb of an issue, right? - it is true. there's a huge age gradient. one of the biggest predictors of what we think about climate change is sadly, our age. now, there's also the strongest correlation is with where we fall in the political spectrum. not just one or the other, but what part of the spectrum we're on. and, i'm sorry to tell you this, there's also a bit of a gender gap too. (laughs) - there is and i've given up on there not being a gender gap on anything, so that's fine.
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but seriously, you must talk to you son, right, about this issue. if you're your son's mom, how do you not talk about this issue? - oh, i take him with me on half my trips. - so are his perceptions of this different than what you would've expected? does he arrive at conclusions that surprise you? or is he simply parroting? - no, what surprises me, he definitely processes the information and comes up with his own conclusions and what surprises me is his indignation and frustration when he sees people doing things that he just says are silly. like why would you drive a gas-guzzling vehicle? it just doesn't make sense. why is that person doing that? so there's a whole new attitude and perspective on that just isn't cool anymore. i do think that things will be incredibly different with the new generation, but here's the issue that i run into with the climate science and that is the fact that we don't have 30 or 40 years. - we can't wait for those nine-year-olds?
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- no. - to become 39 or 49-year-olds? - no. we have to act now and that is why we need to find ways to act together where it's okay if we don't agree on the science as long as we can agree on the solutions, that's the most important thing. - it really is about individual choices as much as we talk about governments needing to bend in the direction of this or business bending in the direction of this. at the end of the day, it does get back to individual behavior and personal responsibility. - i have a little pbs digital show called global weirding. - global weirding, i love that name. - yes, you can find it on youtube or on my facebook page, global weirding, and the little episode this week, they're only about five minutes long, is about what each of us as individuals can do. - so give us the kind of top line. what's your best takeaway for people if there's one thing that people can do? - the most important thing that each one of us can do is talk about it because studies have shown that we just don't talk about it. we're kinda scared to talk about it. we think we might start an argument with somebody. - [evan] we know it's controversial, we'd rather avoid it? - exactly. so because of that, our concern levels
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are really not very high because we never talk about it. so that's the most important thing we can do is talk about it. - yeah. you spend how much time? you're a professor at texas tech, you run the atmospheric science center, you have actually a number of responsibilities under the umbrella of your academic life that keep you certainly very busy, but you're also spending a lot of time, increasing amounts of time, out on the road. how much time are you spending out talking about it as you say? - i added up, i think i gave about 55 talks last year, but i try to do as many of those talks as i can via video. zero carbon and you can do a lot more. - oh my god, you're just on this constantly, aren't you? (laughing) - i have to be, yes. - well, i appreciate you modeling best practices for the rest of us. katharine hayhoe, thank you for everything you're doing. it's a pleasure to hear from you and good luck in all your work. - thank you for having me. - [evan] very good, thank you, good. (applauding) - [narrator] we'd love to have you join us at the studio. visit our website at to find invitations
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to interviews, q and as with our audience and guests and an archive of past episodes. - so we have discovered that carbon dioxide does indeed help plants grow, but it primarily helps weeds grow. it is not so helpful to crops. so we're actually running into problems where weeds are flourishing and crops are getting taken over. - [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy and by klru's producers circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community. (chimes)
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