Caring for Every Living Thing on This Planet
Growing up as the daughter of parents who were missionaries and a father who was a science teacher, Katharine Hayhoe never saw any opposition between faith and science.
In her childhood world, she says, “Science was the coolest thing, because who doesn’t want to understand how the world works?”
The Bible went hand in hand with it.
"I’m a Christian. The Bible teaches me to care for every living thing on this planet. I have to — and I want to."
“We thought the Bible was God’s written word and nature was his expressed word,” says Hayhoe, now a Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist. “If we believe the same God is responsible for both, it could never be in conflict to believe and take care of the earth.”
The experience is what has led the author, public speaker, and activist to become one of the most sought-after and widely followed advocates in the fight against global warming.
Hayhoe is among 60 leading women thinkers on climate change featured in a new book, All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, which is part of a new project — All We Can Save Project — to support and cultivate women climate leaders. An evangelical Christian and mother, Hayhoe also recently helped launch ScienceMoms, a $10 million advertising and educational campaign to help recruit mothers — who polls show are more likely to share concerns about the climate — into the fight against global warming.
A Good Future for Our Children
“As a parent, you want to do everything you can to ensure a good future for your child,” says Hayhoe. “Thinking smartly about the climate is a big part of that. Often, when you hear people speaking of climate change, they are men or people who do not speak explicitly from a faith perspective. We are here to change that.”
Scientists widely agree that human activity around the world — and in particular in heavily industrialized countries such as the United States that have a large reliance on fossil fuels — has contributed to increasing average temperatures and a variety of interconnected changes to the earth. Ice caps are melting, ocean temperatures are rising, farmlands are getting too little or too much rain, and natural disasters are coming at greater frequencies and strengths.
Research by the United Nations shows that the negative consequences of climate change are hitting women — especially poor women around the world — the worst. As the U.N. puts it, “climate change is the defining issue of our time.”
"As a parent, you want to do everything you can to ensure a good future for your child. Thinking smartly about the climate is a big part of that."
But belief in the human role in the climate crisis varies greatly in the U.S., especially when it comes to different faith communities.
According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelicals are the faith group least likely to believe that human activity is behind the earth getting warmer. Pew found that 28% of the demographic believed humans play a major role in global warming, compared to half of all adults overall regardless of faith. The faith group most likely to believe in the human role in climate change was Hispanic Catholics, at 77%.
Hayhoe, who is the director of the Climate Science Center of Texas Tech University, has made it part of her life’s work to slowly change those perceptions.
Impacting Women and Girls the Hardest
In All We Can Save, which is divided into sections that include those on “advocating,” “reframing,” and “persisting” on the climate crisis, Hayhoe writes on “how to talk about climate change,” one of her specialties.
“We connect best on issues when we talk about them with people who share our values,” she says. “We have to use our voices to advocate for change and talk about why climate change matters on every level. Our voices are the most important tools we have.”
The book is co-edited by Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, a climate scientist, author, and co-founder of the All We Can Save Project — whom CircleAround featured last year with her co-founder Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Wilkinson says emphasizing the role of faith and gender in conversations around climate is a must.
“Climate impacts hit women and girls the hardest,” says Wilkinson, citing a “greater risk of displacement” among women from the effects of increasing temperatures, “higher odds of being injured or killed during a natural disaster, prolonged drought [that] can precipitate early marriage as families contend with scarcity, floods [that] can resort in last-resort prostitution as women struggle to make ends meet — the list goes on.”
For many climate scientists, the fight to convince more and more Americans about the dire threat of global warming to daily life can seem like a Sisyphean task, considering the relative progress made over the decades as problems have become more persistent globally.
But for Hayhoe, the work is inspiring, motivating, and required by her faith.
“The New Testament talks in great detail about caring for people who are less fortunate than us — in the Book of Revelation, it says God will destroy those who destroy the earth,” she says, referencing Revelation 11:18. “I’m a Christian. The Bible teaches me to care for every living thing on this planet. I have to — and I want to.”