Katharine Hayhoe — an evangelical Christian, atmospheric scientist and climate change advocate — does not believe she’s an anomaly.
Hayhoe is a nationally known climate advocate who will visit Juneau to give a pair of Friday speeches. When Hayhoe speaks at Chapel by the Lake, she’ll be the guest of a local organization that formed about three years ago, Alaska Interfaith Power & Light, which works to unite people of faith in combating climate change.
“She sees things, I think, in the way that we do,” Alaska IPL co-chair Stuart Cohen said in a phone interview. “That is that climate change is a moral issue, but she is a Ph.D-level scientist. We are trying to break down this sort of blockade that’s been thrown up between ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals.’ I think we all agree on things like a decent world for our children.”
In a phone interview with the Empire, Hayhoe said despite climate change historically being a liberal cause, people of faith who are conservative are also worried about the issue.
“There is an increasing concern among the faith community to the point where if we take the Bible seriously, if we believe that God created this amazing world that — as it says in Genesis — he gave to us responsibility over every living thing on this planet, if we believe that God takes joy in creation and nature as it says throughout the Bible, and then — most importantly for me — if we get to the New Testament, if we truly believe we are to love our neighbor as ourself, that we are to care for people, especially people who do not have the advantages that we do, then we, rather than dragging our feet at the end of the line, we should be out in front demanding climate action. The reason I care about a changing climate is because it disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, the very people who we are told to love and care for.”
This will be Hayhoe’s second visit to Alaska and first to Juneau, and she said she is keen to hear local observations of climate change.
Ahead of the trip, Hayhoe took time to talk to the Empire about what she hopes people will take away from her talks.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What are you looking forward to telling the people?
What I look forward to is hearing from people. Climate change is a global issue, but everybody experiences it in a different way. It interacts with and affects and exacerbates many of the effects that we’re already trying to cope with in the places we already live.
Are people of faith generally receptive to your climate change message?
In the United States, we have been told, deliberately that if we are Christian, we can’t get on board with this whole climate change thing. That it’s all about worshipping the Earth rather than worshipping the Creator, or if we believe God is in control, then that means we can just fold our hands and wait for the end of days. That perspective is totally false. Throughout the Bible, it tells us there are many for us to do that God has prepared for us in advance, and all of those have to do with loving and caring for each other and every living thing.
There’s a growing divide, and unfortunately, a lot of divide is generational. If you look at younger people, there is a huge upswell of levels of concern.
How do you bridge that divide, what’s an effective strategy?
That question is the most important question, so when I was asked to do a TED talk last year, I said, “I want to do a TED talk on the most important question.” In a nutshell, the most important thing you can do with these conversations is begin with something we agree on, not with something we don’t agree on. You both agree on the fact you want a healthy economy, or you’re concerned about Alaska’s future or even the changes you’ve seen in the place that you live. Then, connect the dots to climate change, but in a personal way.
For people who are on the fence about attending one of your talks, why should they invest some of their morning or afternoon or evening in hearing about climate change?
We often think, “Well, I’m not really an environmentalist. I’m not really a green person,” but to care about climate change all we have to be is a human being living on planet Earth. The reason we care about it is because it affects all of the other things we already care about. It affects our incredible natural ecosystems, which, Alaska and Juneau in particular are so known for. It affects our glaciers. It affects the fish in our seas. It affects the wildlife, our summers with heat and wildfire and heavy rain events. It is changing the character of Alaska, so if you care about Alaska, you need to understand what’s happening to your state.
Know & Go
What: “Combating Climate Change Silence” and “Christianity & Climate Change”
When: 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 13
Where: University of Alaska Southeast Egan Library, 11120 Glacier Highway. Chapel by the Lake, 11024 Auke Lake Way.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.