November 8, 2009
By Renee Schoof
The Miami Herald
As an evangelical Christian living in Texas, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe found that many conservatives had questions about climate change based on things they'd heard on talk radio.
So Hayhoe and her husband, Andrew Farley, the pastor of a nondenominational church in Lubbock, Texas, decided to answer the questions in a new book from religious publisher FaithWords, "A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-based Decisions."
"The observed increase in greenhouse gas levels, due to human production, is the only explanation we can find to account for what has happened to our world," Farley and Hayhoe wrote. "We've dusted for fingerprints. There's only one likely suspect remaining. It's us."
Although the leaders of other religious groups have been calling on the world to take action to prevent climate change from spinning out of control, evangelical Christians remain divided on it.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, for example, has taken a strong stand on protecting the climate. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, wrote in a commentary last month, "Climate change will only be overcome when all of us - scientists and politicians, theologians and economists, specialists and lay citizens - cooperate for the common good."
The National Association of Evangelicals, a group that represents millions of American evangelicals in about 45,000 churches, takes positions on other social issues but it hasn't taken a stand on climate change because there isn't a consensus among its members, said its director, Heather Gonzales.
The evangelical group Cornwall Alliance argues that concerns about global warming are unfounded and lobbies against legislation that would reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. The Evangelical Environmental Network, in contrast, accepts the scientific explanation of global warming and calls for reducing the pollution that's causing it.
This contrast in views prompted the Texas authors to write their book.
"When it comes to conservative Christians, I think the real question is who can we trust on this issue?" Farley said. "The scientist who has opposed us in the past, perhaps on issues such as evolution versus creation? Can we trust the local radio talk-show host on conservative radio who seems to be vehemently opposed to the idea that climate change is happening and speaks out quite passionately? Should I trust my local pastor who has a B-minus in high school biology?"
Hayhoe teaches in the Department of Geosciences at Texas Tech University, and she was a lead author of a U.S. government report on climate change in the United States that was released in June. She also was one of some 2,000 scientists on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported in 2007 that there was unequivocal evidence of warming.
Farley, a conservative Republican, is the pastor of Ecclesia, a nondenominational Christian church, and teaches linguistics at Texas Tech.
"To get information on climate change, you have to go to the people who know the information. That's why we wrote this together as a climate scientist and a pastor," Hayhoe said. "He asked the tough questions. He said you've got to talk about this and this and this, and these answers have to satisfy me."
Many of the questions were from the arguments of conservative celebrities.
"Glenn Beck is saying this, Laura Ingraham is saying that, Rush Limbaugh is saying this, and these people are well-respected in conservative communities, so where are these talk-show hosts wrong and how can you show that they're wrong with data, not slick talk?" he said.
Their goal, he said, was to reach the average person with facts, "with no spin to it, no politics to it, no economic policy recommendations to it, stripped of all those and stripped of the common misconceptions as well, getting down to the core issue: Is it happening, are we causing it and how can we be sure?"
The book is a look at the scientific consensus that heat-trapping gases, mostly from the use of fossil fuels, are causing an increase in the Earth's average temperature. It explains how scientists reach their conclusions and why they rule out other possible explanations, such as the sun, volcanoes and natural cycles.
ON THE WEB
"Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science," a short guide by U.S. climate scientists: http://www.climate.noaa.gov/education/
"Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States," a U.S. Global Change Research Program report: http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts