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In late August, the coordinator of the Belgian environmental association Arbeid & Milieu contacted the ETUI, to ask whether we could co-organise a lecture by the renown Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Nobody could imagine that it would attract an audience of more than 200 people. Katharine Hayhoe is the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University and lead author for the Second, Third, and Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessments.

On top of what her peers usually do - produce research reports and teach at high-ranked universities - she is also concerned with whether and how those findings reach the wider public and what impact they have on how people think and act. That is why she hosts the digital series Global Weirding, which tackles different issues related to climate change in a very comprehensible way using short animated videoclips. Her deep involvement in translating climate science into something that has a meaning to people in everyday life has made her one of the world’s most influential communicators on climate change. She has been named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People and Fortune’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders and in September 2019 she was also awarded the 2019 Champions of the Earth award, which is the United Nations’ flagship global environmental award.

At the ETUI, Katharine Hayhoe spoke about how actors such as trade unions and environmental organisations, who are concerned with climate change, should communicate in order to overcome the polarization which exists in the society on this topic. According to a poll carried out in the US five years ago, it was the second most polarizing issue. As a matter of fact, humanity has known that humans are affecting the planet by their actions since the 1850s and global warming has been observed since 1938. Hence, the facts have been there for a long time, yet research shows that this is a subject on which people tend to be very selective on which information they pick and choose to proof what they believe is true. An example from the US is: conservatives tend not to believe that there is solid evidence that human activity is causing global warming and it is exactly the other way around for democrats.

In the second part of her lecture Katharine Hayhoe spoke about the most persistent myths which climate sceptics invoke: that the consequences of climate change policies will destroy our economies and our quality of life, climate change will harm the others but not us, solutions are worse than impacts etc.

But what can we do about it? The third part of the very interactive lecture focused on the solutions. Facts alone just won’t cut it, “we should rather connect the dots on what we agree on and talk solutions”, she said. It does not help to just say to people that they are wrong, we need to understand what people find important and start our argument from there.

Ludovic Voet, Confederal Secretary of the ETUC and responsible for just transition, welcomed the discussion on how to build public acceptance for climate policies and reveal the barriers that exist for these policies to be accepted. Working people are right in not wanting to see their material situation deteriorate and, in this respect, ecological taxation is not the preferred solution. “For somebody struggling to make ends meet at the end of the month it is too much to also be asked to save the world”, he said. We need to discuss just transition, which is more than a fund, but also jobs, training, re-skilling, workplace democracy etc. Workers need to be more involved in the decisions which companies make, what kind of products they produce, how companies are transformed. They need to take their time to deliberate on the measures which need to be taken. If we want them to support climate change policies, it is crucial that people are involved in the political and workplace decisions.