One important obstacle to effective climate policy in the United States is the deep political divide between conservatives and liberals. In the conservative camp, which is skeptical of climate science, evangelical Christians are a core group, as about one-third of all Americans belong to this group.
Talking about climate change with evangelical Christians presents a difficulty to climate scientists. Most climate scientists talk about climate change in secular terms and evangelicals see the topic “as part of the liberal agenda”.
How can climate scientists and policy advocates engage the evangelical audience? Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley have written a book titled A Climate for Change to solve the problem. The book contains a basic introduction to climate science, addresses common misconceptions about climate change, summarizes the consequences of higher temperatures, and offers some practical solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
There must be hundreds of such books and, to nobody’s surprise, none of them have had much effect on policy. Books about climate change are mostly read by people who are worried about… climate change and the global environment. Duh.
What’s different about this volume is that it’s written by two Christians and talks about the topic in religious terms. The authors argue that there is no tension between Christian beliefs and climate change. Further, the authors offer a theological argument emphasizing our freedom to choose our actions.
Theology notwithstanding, the argument is ultimately quite simple. We can choose to allow climate change or to mitigate it, just like we can either do nothing or help the poor. It’s our choice, and we must make that choice based on our values and beliefs. The Bible does not give even the most devout Christian a clear answer as to what we should do about climate change.
The book is engaging and well-written, and it is suitable for an important audience that is mostly neglected by climate scientists. Hayhoe and Farley offer an important contribution to the debate on climate science and policy.
Though my overall impression is positive, I have one complaint about the book. The part on solutions is a little thin, as it avoids talking about the most important question — federal climate policy and international cooperation. Personal energy conservation and investment in renewable energy are all good and fine, but a serious approach to climate change mitigation must be based on ambitious policies to constrain carbon dioxide emissions in all key countries.
The authors may have chosen to leave this topic for the future because many evangelicals associate climate policy with Al Gore and Barack Obama. However, talking about climate change to evangelicals is irrelevant for action unless it contributes to building a robust political coalition for action.
So, the next step for Hayhoe, Farley, and others in a position to engage evangelical Christians and other conservative constituencies should be to develop a political strategy that allows the federal government to act to constrain carbon pollution. My own guess is that this requires engaging both ordinary Americans and Republican activists.