Katharine Hayhoe is a highly-respected expert on climate change. As an associate professor and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, her focus is developing new ways to quantify the potential impacts of human activities at the regional scale. Katharine’s work has resulted in over 120 peer-reviewed publications, which include serving as lead author on the Second and Third U.S. National Climate Assessments as well as on reports by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Science. In 2014, Katharine was named one of 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy and one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME, and was awarded the American Geophysical Union’s Climate Communication Prize. Together with her husband, pastor and Christian author Andrew Farley, she wrote A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.
Every day seems to bring startling new headlines about climate change. From climate refugees and out of control wildfires to record flooding and warnings of global water shortages, its impacts are here, now, and serious.
The science is clear that climate is changing. It’s not just a matter of thermometers or satellites. Around the world, there are more than 26,500 indicators of a warming planet—from cherry trees in Washington, D.C. blooming ever earlier in the year to the wintering ranges of migratory birds creeping northward—many of them right here, in our own back yards.
The science is also clear that it’s people—not natural cycles or the sun—causing these changes. If the earth’s temperature were being controlled by natural factors right now, it would be cooling. Why isn’t it? Because when we dig up and burn massive amounts of coal, gas and oil, we are wrapping an extra blanket around our planet. This extra blanket traps the earth’s heat that would otherwise escape to space. And that’s why the planet is warming.
The science is clear too that our choices matter. If we continue to depend on fossil fuels, the impacts will be expensive, extensive, and dangerous: for our food supply, our water resources, our economy and our health. Transitioning to clean, renewable sources of energy will give us time to adapt, and to help others – particularly the vulnerable and disadvantaged of the world –prepare. The choice is up to us.
Science can tell us a great deal about how we are affecting this world we live in. But science can't tell us what’s the right way to fix what we’ve done. Should we divest from investments in the companies that profit from them, or work from within to change their trajectories? Should we support a price on carbon here at home, or a Green Climate Fund to help poor nations prepare? These are questions we can only really answer from our hearts; and for many of us, what’s in our hearts relates directly to our faith.
As Christians, we believe that we have been given responsibility over every living thing (Genesis 1:26-28), and we are to be faithful stewards of that with which we have been entrusted (I Cor 4:2). The Bible doesn’t just talk about duty and responsibility; it also tells us that we are to love one another in the same way we have been loved, and we will be recognized by that love (John 13:34-35). And finally, we know that we are not called to act out of fear, but rather from the spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind we’ve been given by God (2 Timothy 17).
So what is an appropriate response to a changing climate? It’s one that accepts our unique responsibility to care for all of creation, including ourselves; one that demonstrates in a clear and unmistakable way our love for our brothers and sisters here at home, and on the other side of the world; and one that is not motivated by fear, but rather by a spirit of power and conviction, and informed by a sound mind. That’s our litmus test for the right choice.