Christians Who Believe in Climate Change
WASHINGTON -- Climate change is one of the most contentious issues of our time. Many conservative Christians don't agree that humans help cause it or that people can affect the Earth's warming or cooling.
They might be surprised to find, however, that two of the more respected believers in climate change are evangelical Christians with conservative leanings.
Pastor Andrew Farley leads Ecclesia: Church Without Religion in Lubbock, Texas, and heads up Network 220, a national association of counseling, discipleship, and training ministries.
His wife, associate professor Katharine Hayhoe, is a climate scientist that in 2014 TIME magazine named one of the most influential people in the world.
26,500 Points of Proof
And that influence is growing with audiences both religious and secular because Hayhoe's job adds weight to her contention there's overwhelming evidence of climate change.
"There are 26,500 indicators of a warming planet all around us, many in our own backyards," Hayhoe, the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock told CBN News.
"We see our plants and our flowers and our bushes flowering earlier in the year," she continued. "We see birds and animals and insects much further north than they've ever been before. We see that sea level is rising. Glaciers are melting. Our weather patterns are changing."
When Farley married his climate scientist wife he thought global warming was just one more environmental fad.
"Whether it's 'save the whales' or 'hug the trees' or 'eat granola,' 'wear hemp,' 'bathe in a stream,'" Farley said. "Along came this issue of climate change and I lumped it in with everything else."
Farley and his bride fought over climate science for about two years.
'But, Honey, What About This? '
"I would even go to climate-denier websites and gather all the ammunition that I could find and come back to her and say, 'But, honey, what about this and what about that?'" he recalled.
The evidence Hayhoe and others had of a definite radical spike in temperature and carbon dioxide finally got to Farley.
"Her determination to show me the facts and then, quite frankly, going to NASA's website and looking at global temperature over the last 200 years and just saying, 'Look what's happened: here's this spike; it's undeniable.' Either all of NASA is duped or maybe there's some validity to this thing," Farley stated.
This July some 400 moms and their kids travelled to Capitol Hill for what they called a "play-in protest" against climate change and carbon pollution. It was a play-in because the mothers acknowledge most kids are too rambunctious to sit still for a sit-in protest.
The moms believe reasonable energy restrictions could reduce about 150,000 asthma attacks a year among children and prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths.
It's concern for children like those and their own that has Hayhoe and Farley anxious to see the world do something.
Not Just about Polar Bears
"Often people think that we really only care about this climate change thing maybe because of the polar bear," Hayhoe said.
But she warned global warming is hurting, even killing, thousands of peope now - like causing stronger, longer heat waves.
"In 2003, there was a heat wave in Europe that led to 70,000 premature deaths," Hayhoe said. "Seventy thousand people died who would not have died otherwise because that heat wave was so extreme."
Stronger rainfalls hitting with more frequency are leading to more flooding.
"If the air is warmer, more of the water evaporates out of the oceans and lakes and rivers," she explained. "When a storm comes along, as it always does naturally, there's more water vapor available for that storm to pick up and dump on us."
"We're also seeing that hurricanes are getting not more frequent but stronger because they get all their energy from warm ocean water," she noted.
And in the future, Hayhoe sees trouble coming for hundreds of millions more people -- for instance, those on coastlines.
"There are nearly 300 million people who will lose their land as sea level rises this century. Most of those live in Southeast Asia, in Africa and places where if you lose your land, there's nowhere to go," she said.
Intersection of Science and Faith
Hayhoe's frequent public appearances, reasonable-sounding arguments and down-to-earth style have led some to say she's the best communicator about climate change in the world.
"She is at the intersection of science and faith," husband Farley said of her. "She's bringing her expertise in the science field and she's bringing her faith in Jesus Christ. And she's saying, 'Hey, Christians, this thing this time is actually real and we need to be doing something about it.'"
When it comes to this recent spike in global temperatures and carbon dioxide, Hayhoe works to rule out natural suspects that could warm the Earth, like the sun has done in the past.
"Well, for the last 40 or 50 years or so, the sun's energy has been going down while the Earth's temperature has been going up," Hayhoe pointed out. "So it can't be the sun because if it was, we'd be getting cooler, not warmer."
How about the natural cycles that take place over vast numbers of centuries?
"The next thing that should be happening on that time scale is another ice age," Hayhoe said. "But we're getting warmer and warmer."
Overheating the Planet
As she points to her number one suspect, you see the evangelical in this scientist and child of missionaries come alive.
"When we burn coal and oil and natural gas, it releases that carbon trapped in those fuels into the atmosphere," Hayhoe explained. "And in the atmosphere we already have this amazing natural blanket that God has designed for our planet that keeps us almost 60 degrees warmer than we would be otherwise."
"And putting all that extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we're adding to that blanket," she added. "We're overheating. That's what we're doing to our planet."
Pastor Farley argued Christians are scripturally bound as God's stewards of the Earth to take action if two things are true:
"Is this happening and are we contributing to it? And those answers are 'yes' and 'yes,'" he stated. "What's happening now is strange, it's unusual, it's out of the norm, it's not a natural cycle, it's above and beyond, and it's because we're contributing to the problem."
What You Can Do
Hayhoe suggested fighting globally for practices and methods that reduce carbon emissions and then reducing one's own carbon footprint. She said it's easy and simple to start and gave one example.
"If every home in the entire United States replaced just one light bulb with a new LED, that would be like taking a million cars off the road," she said. "And we would each save $30 in electricity over the lifetime of the bulb, even taking into account the fact that the bulb costs more than a regular one."
There's a long list of other actions one can take. For instance, when it comes to commuting to work, people can mix it up by occasionally carpooling, sometimes taking public transport, biking, and tele-commuting.
In addition, people can buy things locally grown or made. They can eat less meat, recycle, insulate, compost, weatherize - the list goes on and on.
Even if Hayhoe and Farley turn out to be wrong about global warming, those who take such actions will at least help make Earth a healthier, cleaner planet.