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Staff Picks: An Evangelical Christian Believer In Climate Change


As the year 2014 draws to a close, we've been listening back to some of our favorite interviews over the past year. This week's pick comes from our editor Natalie Winston. Hi, Natalie.


MARTIN: So which interview did you choose?

WINSTON: I picked a conversation we had with Katharine Hayhoe. She is a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and also a devout Christian. And she has spent time going around to other evangelical communities where she lives trying to kind of explain why climate change is real and also how caring about climate change fits into Christian values.

MARTIN: So kind of an interesting tension. What particularly struck you about this conversation?

WINSTON: The thing I loved about Katharine is that she just defies all stereotypes. She defies the stereotype about scientists, about being conservative, about being a so-called tree hugger, about being an evangelical Christian. And that's what I think is just so cool about her. And you can hear that in the conversation.

MARTIN: All right, let's listen to it. This is my conversation with Katharine Hayhoe.


KATHARINE HAYHOE: One of the biggest issues I often get asked is if God is in control, how could this happen? Or to put it another way, doesn't the idea that humans could change climate threaten the idea of the sovereignty of God? And the answer to that is actually pretty simple. It's free will. God gave us the brains to make good choices, and there's consequences to the choices that we make. And that's what climate change is. It's a consequence to the fact that we have an industrialized society that depends on coal and oil and gas for many of our resources.

And another argument that you hear a lot in Christian circles is, well, if the world is going to end anyways, why bother? In fact, won't this just hasten the end of the world? And in that case, we can actually look directly to the book of Thessalonians where Paul wrote to people very strongly. And the apostle said, don't just quit your job and lay around waiting for Christ to return. Go get a job, work, support your family and care for the poor. That's what we're intended to do, not just sit around and say, ah, it's going to end anyways.

MARTIN: How do people receive your message?

HAYHOE: Well, if we can get past the stage where we're kind of bashing each other over the head with our facts and our political opinions, and if we can get to the point where we're sharing what's actually in our hearts, what we care about - then, at that point, I think we can really make some good progress forward because to care about climate change, we've been told - and when I say we, I mean all of us, have been told that we need to have green values. That we essentially need to be tree huggers. These days, it's gotten to the point where we need to be liberals. I think the most important message for people is that each of us already has the values in our hearts that we need to care about this issue.

If we are a conservative, conserving is what we do. If we are Christian, loving others is what we do. If we're a parent, wanting a better world for our child is what we do. If we're human, we, you know, we live on planet Earth. We want that earth to be able to support our society, our way of life, our economy. We want a better world for ourselves.

MARTIN: What does your presentation look like? I mean, when you go out into the country, to communities, into churches, other groups, do you have a PowerPoint? Do you just sit and take questions? How do you structure your message?

HAYHOE: Well, I'm a scientist so I have to have a PowerPoint.


HAYHOE: So what I've found to be very effective is to address the questions that I've learned that people have because people have really good questions about climate change. Depending on who I'm talking to, the questions could be how do we know this thing is even real? Or, again, I'm a conservative or I'm a Christian or I'm a Republican, how could I care about climate change? Isn't this an, you know, a foreign thing to me? Wouldn't it mean giving up my identity, turning into somebody else - somebody who I might not like very much to care about climate change? And then a big question - one of the biggest questions now - is what can we do about this? Are there plausible, palatable solutions or is it just this hopeless case?

MARTIN: Have you ever changed any minds when you leave these presentations and these groups, communities? Do you have any evidence that perhaps you have changed an opinion or perspective?

HAYHOE: From the responses I've gotten, I would say that that is definitely happening. I've had people say things to me like, well, I didn't think that this whole global warming thing was real. But you addressed every single argument I had. So if I'm going to keep on thinking that, I have to come up with new arguments. (Laughter) I don't think it gets much more honest than that.

And I think that I'm also seeing a major shift these days in the types of questions I get. The questions I'm getting these days are not questions about, well, I heard the Antarctic ice was doing this. Or isn't the ice cap on Mars melting too? Or isn't this just a natural cycle? These are not the questions I'm getting anymore. The questions I'm getting now are what can I do about this problem? And that's where we want to go.

MARTIN: Lastly, I wonder if your faith has taken on a new dimension through this kind of dialogue that you're doing on climate change with Christian communities. Has that affected you personally?

HAYHOE: Absolutely, it has. I feel like - this has been one of the biggest challenges for me is to understand, first of all, what my faith means in the context of this global issue. And second of all, to really understand what it means to love others, not just people who are, you know, living on the other side of the world being harmed by this issue, but people who live right here beside me who feel radically different than I do on the issue. That's the hardest challenge, I think, to love.

MARTIN: It's interesting in hearing that again. She didn't like the moniker climate change evangelist. But like religious evangelists, she has that same energy.

WINSTON: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And that same joy about her message.

WINSTON: Yeah. And she's available to talk about these topics like atmospheric science and religion in a way that's so accessible, which is, I think, what made the interview really engaging.

MARTIN: Well, thanks for bringing it to us. That was my conversation with Katharine Hayhoe. She's an atmospheric scientist and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. And our editor Natalie Winston chose it as one of our most memorable conversations from the past year. Natalie, thanks so much for sharing.

WINSTON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.