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Book Review: Saving Us by Katharine Hayhoe

Posted on 21 September 2021 by John Mason

In late 2013, my mother went into a hospice for the final time. Her illness had reached a stage where little more could be done. I had to face the fact that she was going to die, and soon, when for the preceding few years of palliative care, there was no urgency to come to terms with that still inescapable truth. Now it had hit me. It was like a hammer-blow.

I mention this experience because, upon reading the Technical Summary of AR6, I had a vividly similar feeling. Here's a brief quote from page 11 of that summary:

"Levels of global warming that have not been seen in millions of years could be reached by 2300, depending on the emissions pathway that is followed. For example, there is medium confidence that, by 2300, an intermediate scenario used in the report leads to global surface temperatures of 2.3°C–4.6°C higher than 1850–1900, similar to the mid-Pliocene Warm Period (2.5°C–4°C), about 3.2 million years ago, whereas the high CO2 emissions scenario SSP5-8.5 leads to temperatures of 6.6°C–14.1°C by 2300, which overlaps with the Early Eocene Climate Optimum (10°C–18°C), about 50 million years ago."


But these are all familiar things to regular SkS readers. How many times have SkS authors covered research looking at aspects of Pliocene climate, for example? I know I have on several occasions. Readers and writers alike have long understood that a mid-Pliocene climate will be like nothing modern Homo Sapiens has ever seen. Even with that knowledge, though, for me, seeing it there in writing in AR6 brought the climate crisis into razor-sharp relief: the mess, long foreseen, that we are getting ourselves into.

Yet many people, people who probably don't read Skeptical Science, seemingly want to carry on as things were, pre-COVID. They want to return to, "normal", when it is "normal" that is placing us squarely in the path of ever-greater danger. Just how does one get through to people, to get them to understand the need for radical change, in the face of such antipathy? Waving the Technical Summary of AR6 in their faces is just as likely to be counter-productive.

Saving Us - front coverStep forward Katharine Hayhoe with a thoughtful new book, "Saving Us - a climate scientist's case for hope and healing in a divided world".

Many of you will be familiar with the name: for those who are not, Katharine is a Canadian-born climate scientist now living in Texas. She is also an Evangelical Christian and furthermore she is one of the best science-communicators we have.

Saving Us is an excellent in-depth primer on climate change in general, understandable to a non-specialist audience even where putting over the complexities of the situation. Such complexities are not just limited to the science but extend to politics and behavioural psychology: the sorts of things that, if they did not exist, there would have been no need for Skeptical Science.

Books appeal to different people for different reasons and the chapters that grabbed me in particular make up Section 2 of the book: Why facts matter - and why they are not enough. This is the area of climate change communication that fascinates me the most, because different approaches clearly work for different people and this is a point we need to recognise to a far greater degree. I have some experience with this idea through promoting my book, The Making of Ynyslas, but here Katharine goes into a wide-ranging discussion of the different ways in which to approach the subject, in some cases among people actively hostile to climate science. I think for anybody with a genuine interest in working in climate science communication, this is absolutely essential reading.

The importance of finding common ground in starting discussions cannot be emphasised enough, as opposed to lecturing people, an approach which might work with the already engaged but here we are talking about the disengaged, sometimes wilfully so. Katharine gives some good examples of this and after reading them, I thought about how it might work in my case and sea-angling came to mind, as it is an activity in which I frequently participate. I might start a climate discussion with a fellow sea-angler by swapping notes on how warm-water fish species are steadfastly extending their range Polewards (they are), or how the seasonal fish movements are changing (they are too), thus affecting catches.

Other conversations will occur to people who engage in other diverse activities but the point applies to many situations: find an area of common ground and work carefully forward from that. That's a way to engage people and get them thinking about both how the climate is changing and what they might be able to do about that in terms of mitigation and adaptation, for some adaptation will certainly be part of the transition to the future.

Saving Us will be available in print and as an e-book in North America from 21st September 2021 (also as an e-book in the UK and the EU from the same date). Katharine tells me the print version will become available in the UK and EU from 21st October 2021 and in Australia from December 2021. It will make a splendid addition to any bookshelf.

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Comments 1 to 7:

  1. The Hayhoe book if fine but a bit late. By some standards it could be seen as an "ad hominem" exercise to cheer up human failures. I carried out a major Swedish-based research effort in the nineteen seventies, that  was widely labelled "ad hominem" in 1979. Even the director of EPA at the time used that label in a furious letter. From that time I never respected those using that title to pretend they were more scientific. 

    My project included many corporations and six governments, as well as researchers like James Black. It was presented to OECD by Sweden's Prime Minister. The three volume research report ended with a threat of climate change if humans didn't improve on their reductistic science without context and legal-order regulations via threats that become humor. A negotiated order approach was proposed to manage environmental deterioration.

    A key finding, as presented in a keynote to the annual Liebnitz Conference, was that the glass is neither half full nor half empty. It is clearly empty with urine stains on it. A dissertation came out from the Swedish project where the Dean of the Wharton School, U of Penn, came out strongly against the research conclusions. He called it "ad hominem." It was not allowed in the library so a group of students, not including me, publlished it. They were upset with the Wharton dean's comments on the future relative to climate change.

    It was republished after 40 years as "Too Early, Too Late," Now what?"  An outline of the book was in a May, 2019 Science Magazine issue. More then 800 scientists responded with 2,100 pages of comments, where the majority were more pessimistic than the book. A Science community chat site director called it "ad hominen," and thankfully was let go.

    Now its even later. The book is being republished this winter under a much clearer title.  This was became the 2019 version was seen as having a "funny" title by Amazon. They moved if from acadmic science to their human section.  Sadly, its not all that funny, but humans and their counter productive attempts at rules of irrelevance are funny.

    Just now I'm managing my 1,500 acre Iowa farm to demonstrate the ravages of climate change to those who see it as a hoax, and say its "ad hominem."  The farm is winning, but humans are still losing.  Sorry for being too clear.

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  2. Time-Life put out a wonderful "coffee table book" in 1955 called The World We Live In. This popularization of the best we knew from science about our planet and universe was shown in beautiful, striking photographs, illustrations and clear language, at least for me as a child and my parents, for that matter.  On page 86, they wrote:

    "for the last cetury temperatures have shown an upward trend. This has been particularly true in the last four decades, during which glaciers have been in retreat all around the world. The reasons for this gradual warming of the earth cannot be defined with certainty. One suggested explanation is an increase in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. Along with water vapor and ozone, carbon dioxide helps to trap the earth's heat within the greenhouse of the atmosphere and prevents it from radiating away into space. In the last century the carbon dioxide ratio in the atmosphere has increased by 10%, a phenomenon which some attribute to expanding industry, pointing out that six billion tons of CO2 pour from factory chimneys every year. Other authorities believe that a more important factor may be the decimation of forests, which concume great quantitites of CO2, and the disturbance of the soil which exhales it."

    There have been popularized explanations from scientists explaining greenhouse gases and their impact on the climate my entire life.  I'm sorry folks ignored your efforts, just as I'm sorry that folks ignored the warnings put out by scientists in 1955 and at many, many other points before and since. What has become clear over those years is that it is not the job of our governments to discern the truth, rather they have the job of setting the rules for our economies to follow.  This is not the first time that those rules were set with other priorities than the truth in mind, since it almost never has been in the first place. 

    Science has a process to whittle away at alternative explanatory hypotheses, and, as fraught with messiness as it is, the curve bends toward better, more accurate algorithms. Politics has a process to choose society's governing rules, but there are many, many examples when the curve goes away from the truths about functional societies and sustainable relationships with the rest of the planet. Therein lies the issue, and why telling the truth is always insufficient in the political realm.

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  3. Very nicely presented "Wilddouglascounty."  I hope many read it. You are more optimistic than I can be; thus thank you for your sign of hope. I need such. I'll make it through the day.

    My take tends to be with the flaws in being human, and the laws of a natural order that human fight with. Yes, I'm a bit skeptical about "scientific method," as was one of my mentors who authored the 1962 book of that title. He moved on to systems sciences, as did I, thus I encountered climate change in 1975 via reading the 1856 work of Eunice Foote.

    In my courses, whatever they might have been titled, I covered two subjects. 1) Ethics: Fastian Negotiations always selling the soul, thus leading to end-state tragedy, and 2) Human economics and business always avoiding laws of thermodynamics, especially that funny 2nd one. 

    For the first I usually rely on Marlowe, Goethe, and Mann. For the second I rely on Einstein, Hawking and Sagan, where I considered Carl a friend.  In 2007 in this regard a debate was held with China's leadership council, prior to their selection of Xi as President. I recommended they give up on Confucian thought (too similar to Plato) and return to Lao Tzu wisdom (similar to Socrates).  They seems to really understand what such could mean to managing climate change, before they didn't a few years later.  A similar debate would not have been held in Washington, unless about a dozen lobbiest approved the script. (I can give you a list, ha..ha.. )

    I have a book coming out in Europe this winter on the above..."Short-term Gain, Long-term Pain."  Its about Faust, Industrialization, and life during the human end state.  Therein I cover 2,500 years of the idea of management as the problem, including the management of science. My focus ends with the inherent limitation in the first three letters of management. If so, we might try femagement for a bit? Their science is very promising. For politics they listen to their husbands, but are now moving on from that limitation.  See you on the other side, I hope. 

    In 2015, when is was obvious that America was moving to a Trump version of leadership, I began a foundation in China to prepare girls for managing humans during masculine created climate change.  An English version of its site is at 

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  4. See also Katharine's recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

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    Moderator Response:

    [BL] Link activated.

    The web software here does not automatically create links. You can do this when posting a comment by selecting the "insert" tab, selecting the text you want to use for the link, and clicking on the icon that looks like a chain link. Add the URL in the dialog box.

  5. Sorry BL. More haste less speed!

    See also my Arctic alter ego's recent missive:

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  6. Hello everyone! I could not figure out how to post a general message to the group so I am hoping this will work. I started a poll on LinkedIn regarding climate change and cause where initially the majority had chosen Climate change occuring, human caused however some deniers have statred sharing my post to their network to get more votes. Now I know this is super silly but would appreciate anyone's support.

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  7. UniteHumankind @6,

    I understand the intention, but yes, it is very silly. To have any validity, a poll must be taken on a representative sample. Many precautions enter in the rather complex selection process that allows for a representative sample. In your case, not only that is not the case, but you are even down to attempt overcoming a manipulation of the poll with a counter-manipulation maneuver. What validity can the poll have? Close enough to zero to be negligible.

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