Interview with Katharine Hayhoe: An Evangelical #Climate Scientist Wonders What Went Wrong — The New York Times #ActOnClimate

Katharine Hayhoe. Photo credit: Allen Best

From The New York Times (David Marchese). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Such is the grimly politicized state of science these days that the descriptors typically used to explain who Katharine Hayhoe is — evangelical Christian; climate scientist — can register as somehow paradoxical. Despite that (or, indeed, because of it), Hayhoe, who is 49 and whose most recent book is “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World,” has become a sought-after voice for climate activism and a leading advocate for communicating across ideological, political and theological differences. “For many people now, hope is a bad word,” says Hayhoe, the chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy as well as a professor of political science at Texas Tech. “They think that hope is false hope; it is wishful thinking. But there are things to do — and we should be doing them.”

Where, if any, are there areas where you see a conflict between scientific consensus and your religious beliefs? The biggest struggle I have is that in the Bible, Jesus says to his disciples, “You should be recognized as my disciples by your love for others,” and today when you look at people who self-identify as Christians in the United States, love for others is not one of the top characteristics you see. Christianity is much more closely linked with political ideology and identity, with judgmentalism, partisanship, science denial, rejection of responsibility for the poorest and most vulnerable who we, as Christians, are to care for. You know, there was a really interesting recent article about the landscape of evangelicalism in the United States, and it said that about 10 years ago if you asked people, “Do you consider yourself to be evangelical?” and they said yes, and then you asked, “Do you go to church?” about 30 percent would say no. But nowadays something like 40 percent of people who self-identify as evangelicals don’t go to church. They go to the church of Facebook or Fox News or whatever media outlet they get their information from. So their statement of faith is written primarily by political ideology and only a distant second by theology…

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You talk a lot about the importance of trying to communicate with people outside of our respective bubbles. You do that out of necessity because you’re doing the work you do while living in an conservative part of a conservative-leaning state. Where might cross-ideological conversations, particularly about climate change, happen for people who aren’t in a similar situation? So here’s the interesting thing: Your question contains a misconception. The misconception is that climate action isn’t occurring because of the people who aren’t on board with it. The reality is that more than 70 percent of people in the U.S. are already worried about climate change, and about 35 percent of those are really worried. So the biggest problem is not the people who aren’t on board; the biggest problem is the people who don’t know what to do. And if we don’t know what to do, we do nothing. Just start by doing something, anything, and then talk about it! Talk about how it matters to your family, your home, your city, the activity that you love. Connect the dots to your heart so you don’t see climate change as a separate bucket but rather as a hole in the bucket of every other thing that you already care about in your life. Talk about what positive, constructive actions look like that you can engage in individually, as a family, as an organization, a school, a place of work. Add your hand to that giant boulder. Get it rolling down the hill just a little faster. Even if we live in a progressive bubble, most of the people are not activated, and we activate them by using our voice…

How do you see rational thinking and emotionally driven behavior as working together — or not — in this context? That is something that I have thought about but nobody has ever asked me before. I think it’s Jonathan Haiti who says that we think that people use information to make up their minds but they don’t. People use what Haidt calls our moral judgment. We use moral judgment to make up our minds and then use our brains to find reasons that explain why we’re right. There’s no way to separate the emotional from the logical. We think it’s possible to convince people to act rationally in their best interests: Well, look at people who, as they are dying, are rejecting the fact that they have Covid. Look at people who are still rejecting simple things like taking a vaccine and wearing masks. We are primarily emotional, and emotions are engaged deeply with climate change because it brings up the most profound sense of loss: People on the right, for example, deeply fear losing their liberties because of climate solutions. So what we need to do is to show everyone how climate solutions are not only not incompatible with who they are but help more genuinely express who they are and what we care about; make us an even more-genuine advocate for national security, an even stronger supporter of the free market, an even more independent person or, in my case, a more genuine expression of my faith.

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