By Ericka Andersen
Katharine Hayhoe became a climate scientist because of her Christian faith. Where some view religion and science as disparate subjects, she sees them as overlapping in the most meaningful way.
“Climate change disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable, those already most at risk today,” she wrote in the New York Times. “To me, caring about and acting on climate was a way to live out my calling to love others as we’ve been loved ourselves by God.”
Hayhoe holds many related titles, including that of director of the Climate Center at Texas Tech University and Chief Scientist for Nature.org. She stands in the gap for those who may see conflict between science and religion.
As a Canadian, she’s also living outside the partisan boundary lines of the U.S.—those that often dictate opinions on weighty matters like climate change and environmental policy. The geographical lens plays a big role, as well.
In her TED Talk, Hayhoe relays the story of a guest teaching a science class at a very conservative, Texas university. One student asked her outright if she was a Democrat, after hearing her lecture. “The number one predictor of whether we agree that climate is changing, humans are responsible and that the impacts are increasingly serious,” she said, “has nothing to do with how much we know about science, or how smart we are, but simply where we fall on the political spectrum.”
Polls offer conflicting insights into Republican beliefs about climate.
That partisanship is reflected in The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which found that only 52% of registered Republicans believe “climate change is happening” –as opposed to 91% of registered Democrats.
Given that 80% of Republicans identify as Christian, this lends the idea that Christians don’t care much about climate change or the environment—but there’s important nuance to uncover.
Other polls, like this one from the Climate Center, show that 68% of Republicans between the ages of 18-54 say climate change is important to their vote. C3 Solutions features many Republicans in our Right Voices series representing Christian-majority districts—those like Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Sen. Marco Rubio—who are committed to responsible, climate change policy solutions.
For older generations, the stereotype that Christian Republicans deny man-made climate change is somewhat accurate. Younger Christians, however, are more in line with Hayhoe, identifying earthcare and climate change policies as top priorities regardless of party preference. In a podcast interview with me, Hayhoe affirmed that there is a generational divide in the criticism she hears coming her way. Younger Christians believe, as Hayhoe does, that “tak[ing] the Bible seriously” means pro-actively caring for the planet via personal choices and effective government policy—in large part—because of the tangible effects these things have on “the least of these.”
In a 2002 essay, Christian and acclaimed environmental essayist Wendell Berry wrote that “the most important laws of human conduct are religious in nature”— things like mercy, forgiveness, neighborly care, hospitality, creature kindness and love for one’s enemies. “Every person’s obligation toward the Creation,” he writes, “is summed up in two words from Genesis 2:15: ‘Keep it.’”
“To keep,” my friends, is a verb. To keep the land and the people—this is a divine and serious calling.
Hayhoe, who is married to an evangelical Christian pastor, too affirms how these Biblical values link directly to Christians’ responsibility to help combat climate change:
“Climate change will strike hard against the very people we’re told to care for and love, amplifying hunger and poverty, and increasing risks of resource scarcity that can exacerbate political instability, and even create or worsen refugee crises.“
Those living in impoverished countries or locations generally aren’t physically or economically equipped to deal with the changing environment—or to rebuild after frequent natural disasters often linked to climate change. In these same places, health conditions are linked to lower air quality and rampant disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that the second-leading cause of death in developing countries were lower-respiratory conditions.
Consider that geographic regions like sub-Saharan Africa must contend with how changing temperatures affect the mosquito population—which causes malaria, one of the most deadly conditions for those in rural areas. Adequate water supply is another concern. If rainfall patterns are affected, people may lose access to enough clean water, which leads to hygiene, sanitation and other disease-laden problems, notes Visiting Distinguished Professor at Brown University, Lenore Manderson.
As energy prices rise to heat and cool our homes, and increase the cost of food, those already struggling will be first to suffer. Young Christians have taken note, creating organizations like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, whose mission is “coming together and taking action to overcome the climate crisis as part of our Christian discipleship and witness.”
Not every group agrees on the policies and protections necessary, but it’s clear from the wide span of efforts and organizations alive today, that plenty of Christians believe in the need to combat climate change. There’s the Evangelical Environmental Network, which aims “to be faithful stewards of God’s provision” and Plant with a Purpose, which works to heal damaged ecosystems and combat environmental degradation. Biologos, an organization that exists to “see the harmony between science and Biblical faith” is another empowering platform The National Association of Evangelicals has also been supportive of environmental protection efforts.
Combined with conservative organizations like C3 Solutions, American Conservation Coalition and Conservamerica, there is a strong bipartisan and diverse, Christian movement to find solutions that will protect the climate. By prioritizing the people of earth first, American Christians and non-Christians, Republicans and Democrats alike, can come together to combat climate change, and enforce responsible policy solutions that respect life, fiscal responsibility, property rights and lead the world toward a better future.
In her NYT piece, Hayhoe quotes 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, as Christians, we’ve been given not a spirit of fear, but one of empowerment to act, love to care for others and sound minds, to make good decisions.
“These,” she writes, “are the very tools we need to combat climate change.” As an evangelical Christian, I couldn’t agree more.