Katharine Hayhoe, Saving Us

Katharine Hayhoe, Saving Us. A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi: One Signal Publishers, 2021.

ISBN 978-1-9821-4383-1
ISBN 978-1-9821-4385-5 (eBook) $27.00 U.S./$36.00 CAD

Saving Us is based on two fundamental convictions: the impacts of climate change are serious and must be acted on now; and the present climate crisis is not just about science, it’s about what we can do in our own personal lives. Hayhoe, a climate scientist who is internationally recognised for her work on climate change and has been named as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People, emphasises the importance of connecting who we are to why we care about the current climate crisis.

Hayhoe describes some of the many different conferences and international meetings she has attended, where her goal has been to explain the urgency of the situation. With the aid of numerous examples, she describes how unprepared we are for the present situation. Her examples are both personal and universal; they are also easy to understand. The metaphor based on the straight roads of Texas, where Hayhoe now lives, is a case in point. You can drive down most roads in Texas while looking in your rear-view mirror the whole time, she tells the reader. But what happens if there is suddenly a curve? We are at the curve today, Hayhoe argues.

Saving Us also describes Hayhoe’s extensive research on climate change. Her goal ‘has been to quantify the damage rising temperatures will inflict on the systems that sustain our lives – water, food, infrastructure, health – so that we can make decisions now’ (p. 112). This is exemplified by a powerful metaphor: we are on a locomotive’s footplate, ‘with our hand on the throttle. The train is heading for a bridge that’s down. We can assume protective positions to ride out the crash, but we can also stop accelerating (stop increasing our emissions) and hit the brakes (decrease our emissions) to minimize the damage. We’ll have a lot better chance of surviving, the more we do’ (p. 113).

Hayhoe’s argument is based on Christian principles, and most especially, love. ‘Love is the key to acting on climate: caring for the poor and the needy, those most affected by the impacts of a changing climate, as well as creation itself. It’s not only our responsibility, it’s who Christians believe God made us to be’ (p. 142, author’s italics).

We can make a difference as a community, Hayhoe argues. We can also make a difference as individuals. Hayhoe provides examples: ‘Every year, I add two new low-carbon habits to my life. I don’t do it because I believe my personal carbon emission reductions will make a difference’ but because ‘it’s the right thing to do’ (p. 207). Hayhoe urges us to explore what we can do in our own personal lives. Only we know what this can be, she emphasises.

Saving Us is about all of us, our individual choices, our commitment to our planet, and our willingness to talk about climate issues with others. It is a powerful book that helps us to understand how all of us can build ‘castles of possibilities’, to use Ben Okri’s expression. These will not only save ourselves but also our world. It is an individual as well as a combined effort that is required. And now.

Saving Us is a pleasure to read because it is both personal and universal, and because it offers hope and healing. Hayhoe not only wishes to tell us her story: she encourages us to tell our own story. The comprehensive chapter notes, and the index enable readers to navigate the challenging climate change path which we must all follow. Our goal is to recognise the consequences of our choices, appreciate the importance of our own stories, and understand how they can help others on their journeys. Saving Us is dedicated ‘to everyone who believes the difficult issues in life are worth talking about’. The present climate crisis is the most difficult issue right now! Hayhoe helps us to understand this and to do something about it.

Jane Ekstam, 21 October 2021

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