Dec 13, 2011
Polls consistently show that a disproportionate number of U.S. evangelicals, in comparison with the average population, tend to disagree with the scientific consensus on climate change. There are several reasons why this may be the case.
First, many erroneously believe that it’s necessary to agree on evolution and an old Earth in order to agree on climate change. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humans have only been altering the climate of our planet since the Industrial Revolution, which began less than 400 years ago. By separating these issues from each other, it’s possible for people who disagree on creation and evolution to agree on climate.
Second, there has been a lot of doubt cast on the data used to track climate change. It’s important for us to recognize that it’s not just about satellites and temperatures. Around the world, there are more than 26,500 indicators of a warming climate. Many of these lines of evidence are right in our own backyards: trees and plants flowering earlier in the year, birds migrating southward later, insects and invasive species moving northward. All we need to agree that the planet is warming is the evidence of our own eyes.
Third, many believe we can blame the sun, or natural cycles, or some other natural factor, for climate change. However, over the last 30 years or more, we’ve been getting less energy from the sun—not more. So if our planet were being controlled primarily by the sun, we’d be getting cooler. Similarly, our current climate change looks nothing like any natural cycles we’ve seen over the last 6,000 years. To invoke natural cycles, you also have to believe in an old Earth; but even then, the next thing on the geologic agenda is another ice age—not warming! There is no natural explanation for the change we see today. According to natural factors, we should be cooling.
Finally, we need look no further than Jesus’ words to find our motivation to care. He told us to love our neighbor as ourselves; and today, it’s our global neighbors—the poor and needy, the disadvantaged and hopeless—who are already being affected by climate change. Droughts and floods, heat waves, and rising sea levels are just a few of the climate impacts we see around the world. To ignore their cries and cast scorn on those who attempt to draw our attention to their plight is not a response of love; it is acting out of fear, and God is not the author of fear.
Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and co-director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, an expert reviewer for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the co-author of A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.