Katharine Hayhoe is unique among her generation of scientists. She combines incredible scientific productivity with an ability to connect with the people who most benefit from a better understanding of climate science, whether they be fellow scientists, public office holders, or members of the public.
Katharine has worked with scientists outside the climate community to deliver and translate model data they could use to draw meaningful conclusions about local climate change impacts. She has pioneered methods for downscaling climate models and has found ways to apply them to climate assessments. She has demonstrated leadership in conducting widely cited climate assessments and changing, for the better, the way such assessments are done. For example, in 2008 she and Don Wuebbles took leadership roles in assessments for the city of Chicago and the Great Lakes; she has also been a leader in assessments for the Northeast, California, and the Southeast. Her leadership carried through to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, where she has served as a highly motivated member of the author teams of the 2009 and 2014 national assessments. In recognition of her contributions, she was asked by the U.S. Department of the Interior to prepare a primer on climate downscaling for use by the department’s Climate Science Centers and related interests.
Katharine has also volunteered her services as a “scientist on call” for AGU’s question-and-answer service and is a member of the organization’s Publicity Committee. She has demonstrated leadership in public outreach at local town halls, at churches, at universities, and at corporations, plus she has given her time to countless newspaper, radio, and television interviews.
She is a communicator who intuitively understands how to connect with audiences on the basis of their perspectives and who accurately conveys her expertise to them. She has done incredible outreach to fellow evangelicals and helped convey climate science through shared community values. Her book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions has had a large impact on the Christian community. Her widely viewed interview on NOVA for PBS provided powerful insights into the life of a scientist who also is an inspirational woman of faith.
Her willingness to experiment and innovate in science and in communicating science, her commitment to making science relevant to decision makers and the public, and her infectious positivity and passion make Katharine Hayhoe a most deserving recipient of the AGU Climate Communication Prize.
I am honored to receive the AGU Climate Communication Prize and, even more, to have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the outstanding scientists and communicators who have preceded me. Thank you to AGU, to my colleagues who nominated me, and to Nature’s Own for this recognition.
Scientists are on the forefront of documenting global change. We are the ones who measure the impacts human activities are having on our planet. We analyze the data, we run the models, and we draw the conclusions. As such, I believe we have a responsibility: to tell people about what we find.
The sad reality of our world, however, is that climate change is now the most politically polarizing issue in the United States. Credible sources—scientists who understand the problem and can connect climate change to our values and the things we care about—present a real and dangerous threat to those who would maintain the status quo and deny the reality of climate change. Because of that, any outreach or communication we choose to do may come with a hefty price tag. If we are going to stick our heads out of our ivory towers, we have to be willing to give up our rights to be judged fairly and not misunderstood. We can’t control what others say of us; we can only be true to who we are, and to the truth we have been given.
That’s why it encourages me and fills me with pride when I see how we, as a community, are stepping up to this challenge. Everywhere I go, I hear colleagues discussing effective outreach strategies. New efforts such as University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Climate Voices science speakers network are flourishing. Workshops and webinars offering communication training fill up and overflow. Scientists understand, better than anyone, the magnitude of the problem that confronts us, and we are taking seriously our responsibility to share this information with all affected.
So on behalf of every scientist who has ever visited the grade school down the road, sat down for a long chat with a local news reporter, or given a series of talks at the senior citizen’s home, thank you, AGU and Nature’s Own, for recognizing and appreciating what we do.
—Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
Citation: AGU (2015), Katharine Hayhoe receives 2014 Climate Communication Prize, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO022823.