The Nature Conservancy is one of the most far-reaching environmental groups and is involved in conservation work in 72 countries. The group claims to have protected more than 125 million acres of land and is also involved in marine conservation projects.
The United Nations selected Hayhoe for its U.N. Champions of the Earth award in 2019, and the World Evangelical Alliance named her its climate ambassador last year. She is a frequent media commentator, and her TED talk has earned nearly 4 million views.
In an interview, Hayhoe, who was a lead author of the most recent National Climate Assessment, said the Nature Conservancy’s values overlap with her own. She has spent years communicating climate science information to diverse audiences, including some groups that might be politically opposed to such information, including farmers, ranchers and religious communities.
“I truly believe that climate change affects everyone,” she said, noting that the Conservancy works with a wide range of constituencies, including international corporations, governments and local populations.
The group came under fire in 2019, accused of creating a hostile workplace for women and minorities, leading to the resignation of its senior leaders. Hayhoe will be the Conservancy’s first female chief scientist, something she considers as a sign of positive change.
Describing her conversations with leaders at the group, Hayhoe said, “Every single person has brought up their concern over diversity, over equity” and over ensuring that all voices are heard. “I feel very much the same way,” she added.
Her sense, she said, is that “they have taken this extremely seriously.”
“As the climate emergency and biodiversity loss continue to affect our health, economies and very way of life, Katharine doesn’t see these challenges as ‘environmental issues,’ but rather, ‘everything issues.’ And she’s right,” Jennifer Morris, the Nature Conservancy’s chief executive, said in a statement. “As we race to address these interrelated crises, Katharine’s ability to galvanize audiences beyond the usual environmental bubble is monumental.”
The Conservancy is known in the environmental community, particularly during the past decade or so, for its close ties to major international corporations, which have invested in its projects.
Hayhoe said having conversations with corporate leaders grappling with the environmental damage caused by their business models is key, but not so they can get away with the “greenwashing” of their activities.
“I think there’s a lot of people that do want to do the right thing today,” she said, noting that companies, like individuals, might feel a lack of efficacy regarding how to change a business model to account for the environmental damage it causes.
Hayhoe says she is in favor of “building bridges rather than digging trenches” when it comes to such a polarized issue as climate change. Her forthcoming book, to be published in September, tackles how climate change became so polarized and where to go from here.
“We can do more together than we can apart,” she said.