review of Katharine Hayhoe's book Saving Us

This is a book about how to convince people to take action on climate change. Perhaps the most important advice comes in the first chapter: there's a specific, small subset of people you shouldn't even bother with. Hayhoe references a research project called Global Warming's Six Americas, which routinely surveys Americans to get a more fine-grained sense of our attitudes toward global warming than a simple so-do-ya-think-it's-real?. I've copied this infographic from the project's site:

Hayhoe thinks you can have productive conversations with all of these groups - except the "Dismissives". (Disappointingly, this group has gone up from 7% to 9% since the 2019 data she cites, though I'm not sure that means much for a study with n≈1000.)

Dismissives can't leave the topic of climate change alone. They're constantly commenting on Facebook posts, talking about it at family dinners, forwarding articles they've found that buttress their point. They may go out of their way to ridicule people who support climate action and environmentally friendly behavior, such as driving fuel-efficient cars, installing solar panels, and adopting plant-based diets. ... Dismissives dominate the comment section of online articles and the op-ed pages of the local newspaper. ...

...when we dream about having a constructive conversation with someone about climate change, often a Dismissive is the first person who comes to mind. Unfortunately, ... [they] are the only ones it's nearly impossible to have a positive conversation with.

She relates a story about one of her uncles who falls into that category. He'd sent her a list of arguments dismissing climate change, and she sent a detailed reply...

I imagined it would take my uncle at least a few days to wade through and consider the resources I'd provided. Instead, he responded almost immediately, dismissing what I'd sent and voicing even more arguments.

This echoes some of my own experiences in discussing controversial topics. The people most interested in picking a fight and bombarding you with their own opinions are often also the least willing to actually bother understanding or interacting with anything you say in response. The good news is that apparently, on the topic of climate change, those people are only about a tenth of the population.

So how should we engage with the other nine-tenths?

Start with something you have in common. Connect it to why climate change matters to us personally—not the human race in its entirety or the Earth itself, but rather us as individuals. Climate change affects nearly everything we already care about.

Hayhoe gives numerous encouraging examples of getting positive responses from crowds that you would expect to be antagonistic. Emphasizing the local effects of climate change can help - the Texas Water Conservation Authority was receptive to her talk as long as she "never mentioned the touchy words 'climate' and 'change' together". A Rotary Club in Texas became engaged when she explained how climate change connects with the club's stated values. As a Christian, Hayhoe has found that talking about "the biblical mandate for stewardship and care for creation, the connection between climate change and poverty, and the Bible verses that directed [her] concern" resonates with other Christians. Hobbies are also an inroad for conversation; for example, she mentions how climate change affects winter sports and underwater diving.

She also gives important advice on what not to do:

The book is fundamentally hopeful. Hayhoe depicts the world as moving in the right direction. Renewable energy has become much more widespread than I realized (for example, "[a]lmost 23 percent of the electricity on the Texas grid in 2020 was generated by wind"). Some policy changes have had promising results; she points to Canadian provinces that have implemented carbon pricing, noting that those provinces still "led the country in economic growth". Nevertheless, she says, "we aren't moving fast enough":

...according to the Climate Action Tracker, as of 2021 current policies around the world would limit warming to a best-case scenario of just under 3°C, when we need to keep the rise to 1.5°C or at most 2°C to avoid disastrous impacts. Worldwide, replacing coal, oil, and gas is still happening ten times slower than what's needed to meet climate goals.

Taking action personally and talking about it is important because it can lead to a cascade of other people following your example. To illustrate, Hayhoe discusses some studies on the prevalence of solar panels:

Having solar panels on a house near you, where you could see them and talk to a real live person who had them, it turned out, was the biggest predictor of whether you'd get them yourself.

So we shouldn't let ourselves be complacent just because the direct effects of any one person's actions may seem negligible.