What Strategies for Convincing Evangelicals About Global Warming Have Been Effective?

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.

Category: Q&A


20 Responses

  1. Alex says:

    Most scientists believe the world’s warming and cooling happens in cycles. To say the world is warming because of humans is a very bold claim. Lots of factors go into warming the Earth. To focus on just one, CO2 is very naïve. In the Middle Ages the temperature deviation was the same as today. This period did not have industry that created man made CO2. NASA data also confirms the fact that mars and venus have been on a warming trend just like the earth, CO2 emissions there as well?

    The Antarctic Ice Sheet is growing at a record pace. The media seems to focus on just the Wilkins ice sheet, which is only 0.01% of Antarctica’s ice cover. The rest of the ice cover is returning 60% faster than last year at 4.0 square km. Even Greenland is seeing a 15 year high in ice levels between Canada and itself.

    By studying models that are more inclusive, scientists are now worried about the warming trend reversing.

  2. John says:

    I totally agree with Alex, this issue has been getting the wrong kind of attention, more people with objective thinking, with out inside interest or tunnel vision (like the author of this ariticel), should be looking at this.  

    Back in 2007 Arctic Ice measurement terms quietly changed, return of ice kept quiet, Antarctica Ice increases either not reported or blamed on human failing “So why do we continue to hear warnings about receding Arctic ice? How is that possible when the extent is quickly approaching its 1979-2000 mean? Simple — the rules have changed again. It’s no longer the area of the ice that counts, but rather the volume….So there’s a new metric in town — The ice that has been forming at a record pace since the 2007 record low simply doesn’t count because it’s not yet as thick and “effective” as older ice.”… 

    Back in 2005, NASA attempted to excuse the failure of their climate models to predict continued southern ice expansion as an omission of the “snow-to-ice conversion” process in their programming. Once that algorithm was incorporated, they insisted, their models properly recognized the phenomena as completely consistent with warming predictions, and they offered this assurance:

     “A new NASA-funded study finds that predicted increases in precipitation due to warmer air temperatures from greenhouse gas emissions may actually increase sea ice volume in the Antarctic’s Southern Ocean. This adds new evidence of potential asymmetry between the two poles, and may be an indication that climate change processes may have different impact on different areas of the globe.” [ie, change the definition, move the goal post. ed]

    Two years later (in 2007), alarmists everywhere were screaming about what horrors the opening of the Northwest Passage would portend. It seems the lowest level of Arctic ice since satellite measurements began nearly 30 years ago had actually created the fabled Arctic Ocean shipping lane that had eluded explorers from John Cabot in 1497 to Henry Hudson in 1609 and beyond. That could only mean one thing — frightened pundits warned.

    But as I pointed out then, while it was true that satellite photos had found an ice-free corridor along Canada, Alaska and Greenland and Northern Hemisphere ice at its lowest level since such images were taken in 1978, it was also true that Antarctic ice levels (Southern Hemisphere) were at record highs for that same period.

    And that fact was being completely ignored in the headlines.

  3. Eric says:

    I would point both John and Alex to:

    To say that there has only been focus on CO2 is actually naive. That has not been the only focus, but it is one of the biggest human contributors.

    Speaking of sea ice, while there may have even been an increase in Antarctic sea ice, the total global amount still decreased. Saying “hey look! I found a spot that didn’t get hit so hard somewhere on the planet!” is no way to weigh the entire globe. On top of that, land based ice has been melting consistently. I would also point out that great ice shelves have collapsed in Antarctica, dissolving into the ocean.

    There has been no ‘moving the goal post’. Only better information and revised understanding, as one would expect from good science.

  4. John says:

    I’m sorry to over simplify it to C02 only, but simply don’t have enough personal time to write an all encompassing comment on such a complicated issue. There a numerous studies and finding point to cyclical and not manmade global warming. Some of the stories are disgusting and disturbing, there have been many respected scientists that have come forward about misused or misrepresented information in UN and other global official warming studies, words are twisted and omitted to fit the manmade global warming theory which is then published without approval or review process. Some actually had to go to court in order to take out their missed used quotes and studies out of the publication. (But just like a murder trial which gets on the front page of all news papers, the defendant’s acquittal is usually on page 16 and no one hears about it.) I am sorry but once again anyone who looks at this issue objectively, including the so called 26,500 indicators of a warming climate, read countless studies and expert interviews from all angles, using only logic and reason there is no way anyone can come to the conclusion that this “warming trend” is manmade, the theory is at best flawed and at worst is completely misleading and will bite all us in the ass in the future. It is very dangerous to proclaim that a theory is fact, this goes against all scientific guidelines and doctrine.

  5. joe says:

    Evangelicals live on faith and authority. Faith is an emotion and their authority is a book. Forget about converting evangelicals with evidence and reason. It is never going to happen. We need to involve and motivate more people who will weigh scientific evidence and vote in local state and national elections for candidates who are more interested in the earth as our home in the here and now and how we can be most effective in our stewardship and less interested in the here after.

  6. mandas says:

    Well there’s a shock! People who don’t accept evidence and who view the world through ideological glasses do it for climate change as well.
    Why is this a surprise for anyone?

  7. Tom says:

    John & Alex — If your objective is to search for arguments to “disprove” the human impact on climate, you can always find something to bolster your belief. There’s an entire online cottage industry devoted to providing bits of “facts” and arguments to contradict the science.

    But if you are genuinely interested in discerning the truth about this, and a true “skeptic,” then you’ll apply your skepticism equally to all the information you received, and consider all the evidence, pro and con.

    If you take that approach, you’ll find, as I did when I first looked into this, that the evidence overwhelmingly points to 1) greenhouse gases as the main cause of recent warming, and 2) a long list of clear human “fingerprints” (from isotopes, spectral analysis, warming patterns, and many other sources of direct measurement) on the additional greenhouse gases observed in the atmosphere.

    On one point above: The fact that the earth warmed previously from natural causes in no way negates the fact that, this time around, human emissions and other activities are causing it. Similarly, forest fires occurred naturally, before humans. But today, records show that the most common cause of wildfires is human (camper recklessness, arson, etc.) The historical fact doesn’t negate the current reality.

  8. Dear Tom & Eric,

    Please point to one single wikipedia article proving that Lady Gaga is the greatest musician of the 21st century.

    Oh right, y’all are jabbering about gobble worming or some dim garbage. Well, skepticalscience.com is a political website run by a cartoonist.

    A cartoonist. Think about that while you’re listening to Lady Gaga or Larry Adele or whatever his name is.

  9. Brad Arnold says:

    It turns out that legislating cutting our greenhouse gas emissions is less important than we thought because there is a new clean energy technology that is 1/10th the cost of coal. Don’t believe me? Watch this video by a Nobel prize winner in physics: http://pesn.com/2011/06/23/9501856_Nobel_laureate_touts_E-Cat_cold_fusion/

    Still don’t believe me? It convinced the Swedish Skeptics Society: http://www.nyteknik.se/nyheter/energi_miljo/energi/article3144827.ece

    LENR using nickel. Incredibly: Ni+H+K2CO3(heated under pressure)=Cu+lots of heat. Here is a detailed description of the device and formula from a US government contract: http://www.lenr-canr.org/acrobat/GernertNnascenthyd.pdf

    This phenomenon (LENR) has been confirmed in hundreds of published scientific papers: http://lenr-canr.org/acrobat/RothwellJtallyofcol.pdf

    Here is a PowerPoint presentation by George Miley of the University of Illinois who has successfully replicated the LENR “cold fusion” reaction: https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/mragheb/www/NPRE%20498ES%20Energy%20Storage%20Systems/Nuclear%20Battery%20using%20Clusters%20in%20Nanomaterials.pptx

    According to Forbes, electricity will be “too cheap to meter” if Rossi’s Oct 28 demonstration succeeds: http://www.forbes.com/sites/markgibbs/2011/10/17/hello-cheap-energy-hello-brave-new-world/

    Here’s the latest, according to MSNBC it passed the test: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45153076/ns/technology_and_science-science/#.TrNo9rJqwe4

    By the way, here is a current survey of all the companies that are bringing LENR to commercialization: http://www.cleantechblog.com/2011/08/the-new-breed-of-energy-catalyzers-ready-for-commercialization.html

    Brad Arnold
    3033 Monterey Av
    St Louis Park, MN 55416

  10. Ed says:

    Two other reasons evangelicals do not embrace global warming are 1: they are typically conservative (they don’t like Al Gore and they love Rush) and 2: they think that the global warming scenario somehow conflicts with Christ’s return and the end of the world. As for me, I know that CO2 absorbs in the infrared. Skeptics should explain why the increase in CO2 will not cause a rise in temperature.

  11. Josh says:

    I find Katharine’s views intriguing and will learn more.

    I agree with John and Alex above and find Eric’s reference to the ironically named ‘skepticalscience’ site the usual alarmist’s hand waving exercise in deception. How does Eric know the global amount of ice has decreased? Can he point me to the data on the volume of Antarctic ice?

    Tom – I did just as you said. I looked at the evidence and found 1) Greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere and CO2 plays an insignificant part compared to water vapour. 2) Humans affect the climate, as do ants, trees, grasses and every other living thing on the planet. 3) Climate changes – has done, always will do. 4) Follow the money.

    A more honest approach would be to discuss the uncertainty around many aspects of the science. This does not mean we should do nothing but it does mean we should be cautious about taxing the air we breathe – it is a great wheeze, of course, and is making billions for some people but at the expense of the poor.

    Which is why I am intrigued that Katherine, a Christian, holds the views she does.

  12. DEEBEE says:

    Tom — since you seem passionately the balanced kind, what in your search did you find that did not fit the AGW mold, or is everything pointed that way?

    Also IMO if the temp in the past has arisen in similar magnitude then current warming explanations have to discount this natural variation not with “fingerprints” but with direct links.

    I have tried to follow these fingerprints at various “skeptical”, “non-skeptical” and “pretend skeptical” blogs. Trying to follow the quantitative chain of reasoning and invariably come across qualitative reasoning road block that want me to take a leap of faith over them.

    IMO,there might be hints of warming and further hints of AGW but more in the sociological sciences level of certainty and not the physical sciences level.

  13. Michael S. says:

    The average minimum temperature on Mercury is -280 deg F (-173 deg C). The coldest temperature ever recorded here on Earth was -128 deg F (-89 deg C) in the heart of Antarctica.

    Mercury gets that unbelievably cold despite being the closest planet to the Sun, because it has no atmospheric greenhouse effect to retain the energy received from our local star.

    Here on Earth the gases oxygen, nitrogen, and argon make up over 99% of the dry atmosphere, and none is a greenhouse gas. So, what prevents us from freezing solid? Water vapor and CO2. That’s just about it.

    So, why aren’t we concerned about water vapor? It simply doesn’t hang around long enough. Water vapor cycles through the atmosphere in around 7-10 days. Inject massive amounts of H20 into the air, and it comes back down in about a week, much too short a time to drive long-term climate changes on its own.

    CO2 on the other hand can hang around for hundreds, even thousands of years, accumulating and building up in the atmosphere.

    So now, human activities are driving up the primary, long-lived greenhouse gas that prevents our planet from freezing solid. This critical gas is now at its highest levels in over 800,000 years and likely the last several million years.

    That the Earth is warming as a result is not faith. It’s physics.

  14. caerbannog says:

    One way to reach evangelicals re: global-warming is to point out that many hard-core global-warming skeptics are also militant atheists, as in followers of Ayn Rand. This can be used to reassure religious folks that global-warming education/outreach is not part of an anti-religious agenda, because a good number of the most hard-core global-warming skeptics are anti-religious themselves!

  15. Diane says:

    In a world where global warming is an increasingly critical issue, it is crucial to recognize that it is also a moral imperative. Katharine Hayhoe does an excellent job of communicating about climate change in a much-needed way; by appealing to peoples’ principles. Hayhoe not only talks about the science demonstrating climate change, but the ethical implications of climate change for all people, especially those of faith.

    The effects of global warming are already causing harm to ecosystems and people around the world, in both developing and developed countries, and these effects will continue to get worse if efforts are not made to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas pollution in our atmosphere. Regardless of which faith you associate with (if any), caring about global warming and its impacts is about compassion for humanity and for our shared environment.

  16. Josh says:

    Michael S. Greenhouse gases: would that be an annual anthropogenic increase in CO2 proportion of 0.1%, yes? So nature adds 99.9% and presumably fluctuates year by year – does not sound very convincing that CO2 is the so-called thermostat of the planet. And if it is where is the warming (the famous Climategate ‘travesty’) recently?

    CO2 hangs around in the atmosphere – are you sure? Ever heard of plants?

    Diane, I agree with you – it is a moral issue. Sadly Global Warming policies to reduce CO2 emissions, including biofuels and expensive renewable energy, hurt the poor and the developing world far more and do nothing to mitigate the effect, such as it is, of increased CO2.

  17. Janus Daniels says:

    caerbannog – good points.
    Anti-AGW people – Perhaps you could bring up at least an unfamiliar fallacy? You can inform yourselves here:

  18. Michael S. says:

    Josh, Natural emissions of CO2 have been counterbalanced by natural sinks over thousands of years. Human emissions, roughly 3% of total emissions on an annual basis, are now being added much too rapidly for natural sinks to compensate, thus the rising atmospheric concentration of the gas.

    As an example, take a balanced scale with 5,000 pounds on each side. Then, each day, add 150 pounds (3% of the total) to the same side. Notice how quickly the scale becomes unbalanced. Is the imbalance a result of the 5,000 pounds with which you started or the successive 150 pounds you added?

    How long CO2 remains in the atmosphere is dictated by the nature of the sinks that remove it. And, yes, large percentages of the gas can remain for hundreds or even thousands of years. See “Atmospheric Lifetime of Fossil Fuel Carbon Dioxide” by Archer et al. for more details.


    Over the past 30 years of satellite observation, multiple natural mechanisms have promoted stasis or cooling of the climate system, including the Earth’s orbital cycles, a steady ENSO, declining solar irradiance, increases in galactic cosmic rays, and a cooling PDO. All of these natural forces combined indicate that the global climate should have been cooling over the last 30 years.

    Instead, it has been doing the exact opposite.

  19. Andy says:

    Joe, Mandas, as an evangelical Christian, who understands and accepts the evidence, I couldn’t disagree more.

    I don’t really know whether the reasons listed above why U.S. evangelicals are more likely to be skeptical are true or not, but I suspect that a more important reason, is that in the US, Christians are more likely to be conservative, and unfortunately, too many people mix the message – man made global warming is happening, and we need to increase taxes to fix it. The first part is true and backed up by the science, the second is political. It’s not the only solution – just the one favoured by the left. Separate the science from the politics, and you’ll have more success at convincing people.

  20. XXtian says:

    Is there any wonder we’ve made such a mess of the planet with so many people believing that this life is but a portal to eternal life?

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