‘I thought climate change was a hoax. Now I’ve changed my mind’

'I thought climate change was a hoax. Now I've changed my mind'

Sarah Ott once believed climate change was a hoax, but now she is passionate about the environment

Sarah Ott, a former climate change skeptic, shares her personal journey from doubting the science to becoming an advocate for clean energy and teaching the science of climate change to school students. Influenced by friends at church and a popular right-wing radio host, Ott’s transformation highlights the power of education, self-reflection, and the importance of understanding and empathy when engaging with climate change deniers.

A Childhood Love for Nature

Ott’s love for nature and the environment was nurtured from a young age. Growing up in a family with a Polish Catholic background, she attended church regularly while also being exposed to science through her parents’ professions. As a child, she spent time outdoors and engaged in community service, picking up litter in her neighborhood.

Initial Doubts and Influences

Despite her early exposure to the concept of climate change, Ott’s beliefs were swayed by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who dismissed climate change as a hoax. Listening to Limbaugh’s show for hours each day, Ott absorbed his views and began to doubt the scientific consensus on climate change. This skepticism was further reinforced by the controversy surrounding “Climategate,” which involved stolen emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.

Challenging Beliefs and Seeking New Perspectives

Ott’s turning point came when she tuned into NPR, a non-profit broadcaster, and encountered a different perspective on climate change. The reasonable and evidence-based reporting she heard challenged her existing beliefs and prompted her to explore alternative media sources. As she consumed more diverse media, Ott realized the limitations of her social network, which consisted primarily of her church community. This realization led her to reassess her relationships and seek intellectual stimulation outside of her comfort zone.

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Embracing Change and Taking Action

After the 2016 US presidential election, Ott made the decision to leave her church community and re-enter the teaching profession. She became involved in non-partisan organizations like Citizens’ Climate Lobby, advocating for climate solutions, and the National Center for Science Education, using physical science concepts to teach climate change to her students. Ott’s personal transformation motivated her to be a role model and engage in conversations with others who may still hold climate change denial beliefs.

Empathy and Understanding

Ott emphasizes the importance of empathy and understanding when engaging with climate change deniers. Drawing from her own experiences, she acknowledges the fragility of beliefs and the need for a supportive environment for individuals undergoing similar transformations. Ott believes that finding common values, such as protecting children’s futures or advocating for energy independence, can serve as a starting point for meaningful conversations about climate change.


Sarah Ott’s journey from climate change skeptic to advocate highlights the power of education, self-reflection, and empathy in changing deeply held beliefs. Her story serves as a reminder that transformation is possible and that engaging with climate change deniers requires understanding and connection. As the world grapples with the urgent need for climate action, Ott’s experience offers hope that change is attainable, even in the face of skepticism.

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