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Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe. Photo courtesy of Katharine Hayhoe.com

‘Christians are beginning to realize that climate change . . . can have serious consequences on our lives.’

Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe talks softly about environment crises, but is there a better way?

By Dennis Gruending

I’ve been writing blogs for nine years now, and I receive the greatest response — much of it negative — whenever I write about climate change. I accept the scientific consensus that that climate change is real, that it’s human-induced and that it’s already causing catastrophic damage. Taking my cue from organizations, such as the International Panel on Climate Change and NASA, I tend to be uncompromising whenever writing or speaking about the issue.

Katharine Hayhoe, however, takes a softer approach. The Texas Tech University scientist is coming to prominence in the U.S. She’s a Canadian by birth and an evangelical Christian. And that’s important in the U.S., where 30 percent of the population are evangelicals — most of them loyal supporters of Republican politicians who deny the science behind climate change.

In 2009, Hayhoe and her husband, Andrew Farley, published a book called, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. In it, they acknowledge that many Christians are skeptical of climate science and suspicious of those who describe it as a crisis. But the couple respond with both science and a kind of popular theology. “Christians are beginning to realize that climate change is really about physical changes that can have serious consequences on our lives,” they write. “It’s about temperature records and rainfall patterns, not liberals or conservatives.”

These days, Hayhoe seems to be everywhere addressing climate change, giving speeches, creating videos and posting regularly on social media. More recently, she has been invited to the White House by U.S. President Barack Obama and profiled in the New York Times. In the article, NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt explains that Hayhoe’s religious faith is a key to her message with Christian groups because people are more likely to accept unwelcome truths if they come from within their community rather than outside of it. What’s more, she’s ommitted to consensus rather than confrontation and to having conversations with people rather than debates. 

Still, while Hayhoe tried to convince skeptics in church basements, other environmental activists, such as Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben, organized giant rallies in anticipation of the 2015 climate talks in Paris. More than half a million people took to the streets in the world’s cities, including the estimated 10,000 who marched in Ottawa.

By all means, Hayhoe should keep talking to church people. But when it comes to convincing political leaders, we need the likes of Klein, McKibben and others to maintain the pressure. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has donned an environmentalist mantle, his carbon reduction target is precisely that of the former Conservative government and something that the Liberals, while in opposition, criticized as being completely inadequate. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, an evangelical Christian, also continues in his attempts to obstruct any meaningful, coordinated action on climate change.

Simply put, politicians are more likely to be influenced by the feet in the street than they are by the views from the pews. 

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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