Katherine Hayhoe: Climate Scientist and Evangelical

Hayhoe

The Washington Post is running a really interesting piece on Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical Christian. (Her spouse is a Christian author, pastor, and radio host). Those evangelicals who want to reach public audiences in their religious tribe can learn a lot of Hayhoe’s approach.  Here is a taste of Dan Zak’s post:

Her skills of communication do seem miraculous by the standards of modern climate politics: She can convert nonbelievers. She knows how to speak to oil men, to Christians, to farmers and ranchers, having lived for years in Lubbock, Texas, with her pastor husband. She is a scientist who thinks that we’ve talked enough about science, that we need to talk more about matters of the heart.

For her, that means talking about faith.

“We humans have been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet, which includes each other,” Hayhoe said at the conference. “We are called to tend the garden and be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us.”

You might say that the climate problem, while understood through science, can be solved only through faith.

Faith in each other.

Faith in our ability to do something bold, together.

Faith that the pain of change, that the sacrifices required, will lead to a promised land.

Does this sound believable? Maybe in some places, to certain people. In Washington, at the climate conference, Hayhoe was preaching to the choir. But the prophet wasn’t just in town to talk to believers. She was here to talk to Congress.

Getting activists to clap for fossil fuels was the easy part.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals Call for Renewable Energy in Indiana

Kyle Schaap

Kyle Meyaard-Schaap

21,000 evangelicals that is.  Learn more from Rebecca Thiele’s piece at WFYI (Indianapolis).   A taste:

A group of evangelicals in Indiana wants the state to expand wind and solar energy. The Evangelical Environmental Network delivered more than 21,000 signatures to Gov. Eric Holcomb Wednesday demanding 100% renewable energy in the state by 2030. 

“It gives [lawmakers] freedom to pursue solutions at the speed and scale that we need to address environmental pollution and the climate crisis,” says Rev. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, director of outreach for the EEN.

The EEN calls itself a ministry that mobilizes christians to care for God’s creation, which includes the environment. It says Indiana’s reliance on coal led the United Health Foundation to rank the state near the bottom for air quality.

Read the rest here.

 

Pennsylvania’s Pro-Life Evangelicals Call for Clean Air in the Commonwealth

Fracking

Rev. Mitchell Hescox is the CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network.  He lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania.  In his recent piece at The York Daily Record, Hescox argues that pro-life evangelicals should be concerned about the bad air emanating from fracking sites and natural gas facilities in Pennsylvania.  Here is a taste of his piece:

As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the unborn.  We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution.  The Bible calls us to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  Rescue the weak and the needy” (Psalm 82: 3-4 NIV).  Certainly, preborn and new-born children are the most vulnerable among us. They deserve a quality of life that can only be assured when we uphold both our Christian beliefs and our Commonwealth’s Constitution:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

We’re not alone.  This year over 15,000 pro-life Pennsylvania Christians wrote to Governor Wolf and asked him to create sensible fugitive methane standards. Another 5,000 Pennsylvania pro-life Christians added their comments against the EPA’s ill-fated attempt to cancel new source methane standards nationally.

Read the entire piece here.

The Effects of Climate Change

Climate change

We had a good discussion at my dinner table tonight about the Fourth National Climate Assessment.  As a young evangelical, my seventeen-year old daughter is passionate about this issue and it was fun to see her so engaged.  She is appalled at Donald Trump’s refusal to believe the findings.  By the way, she will cast for her vote a president for the first time in 2020.  She is heading off to a yet-to-be-determined Christian college in the Fall and will represent, I pray, the future leadership of the church on this issue and others.

As I said before, I think evangelicals must take this report seriously and treat it as a “life” issue.  Sadly, I think most evangelicals will ignore it or shrug it off because they are afraid it will divide their churches.  But my prayer is that some pastors and church leaders will have the courage to confront this head-on.  If your evangelical church is addressing this is in some meaningful and purposeful way I would love to hear about it.

Over at CNN, Jen Christensen provides fifteen “takeaways” from the report.  They are:

  1. Crop production will decline
  2. Cows could have it bad
  3. Food sources from the sea will decline
  4. Food and waterborne illness will spread
  5. Bugs will bug us more
  6. It will be hard to breathe
  7. Mental health will be challenged
  8. More of us will die
  9. We won’t be able to work as much
  10. We won’t be able to get around as easily
  11. Water infrastructure will be challenged
  12. Floods will be more frequent
  13. Wildfires will increase
  14. History will be lost
  15. There will be more snakes and other invaders

Read how Christensen develops these points here.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment Report is Here and it Doesn’t Look Good for the Planet

Wildfires

Read it here.

What is this report?  A taste:

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) deliver a report to Congress and the President no less than every four years that “1) integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program…; 2) analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity; and 3) analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.”

The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) fulfills that mandate in two volumes. This report, Volume II, draws on the foundational science described in Volume I, the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR). Volume II focuses on the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics, with particular attention paid to observed and projected risks, impacts, consideration of risk reduction, and implications under different mitigation pathways. Where possible, NCA4 Volume II provides examples of actions underway in communities across the United States to reduce the risks associated with climate change, increase resilience, and improve livelihoods.

This assessment was written to help inform decision-makers, utility and natural resource managers, public health officials, emergency planners, and other stakeholders by providing a thorough examination of the effects of climate change on the United States.

Key points from the report:

  1. “Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.”
  2. “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
  3. “Climate change affects the natural, built, and social systems we rely on individually and through their connections to one another. These interconnected systems are increasingly vulnerable to cascading impacts that are often difficult to predict, threatening essential services within and beyond the Nation’s borders.”
  4. “Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”
  5. “The quality and quantity of water available for use by people and ecosystems across the country are being affected by climate change, increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation, and the environment.”
  6. “Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable.”
  7. “Climate change increasingly threatens Indigenous communities’ livelihoods, economies, health, and cultural identities by disrupting interconnected social, physical, and ecological systems.”
  8. “Ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being altered by climate change, and these impacts are projected to continue. Without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, transformative impacts on some ecosystems will occur; some coral reef and sea ice ecosystems are already experiencing such transformational changes.”
  9. “Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability.”
  10. “Our Nation’s aging and deteriorating infrastructure is further stressed by increases in heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat, wildfires, and other extreme events, as well as changes to average precipitation and temperature. Without adaptation, climate change will continue to degrade infrastructure performance over the rest of the century, with the potential for cascading impacts that threaten our economy, national security, essential services, and health and well-being.”
  11. “Coastal communities and the ecosystems that support them are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change. Without significant reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions and regional adaptation measures, many coastal regions will be transformed by the latter part of this century, with impacts affecting other regions and sectors. Even in a future with lower greenhouse gas emissions, many communities are expected to suffer financial impacts as chronic high-tide flooding leads to higher costs and lower property values.”
  12. “Outdoor recreation, tourist economies, and quality of life are reliant on benefits provided by our natural environment that will be degraded by the impacts of climate change in many ways.”

Read more about all twelve of these points here.  Here is a Washington Post article on the report.

I am glad to learn so many young evangelicals are taking this seriously.  It is time for our churches to do the same.  This is a LIFE issue.

Young Evangelicals and Climate Change

climate-change-2-412-dsp-2-climatechange_020jpg-7190dd-1600

Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

What might the application of this verse mean for the evangelical role in fighting climate change?  How might creation care and environmental justice help the “welfare” of the cities where live and work?  For me and many others, this is a “life” issue.  It is something that churches must address as part of their missions.

The college students behind Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) agree.  Check out Meera Subramanian’s profile of this group at Inside Climate News.  A taste:

Climate science isn’t questioned at Wheaton College the way it often is in the wider evangelical community. The school is a brick-and-mortar rebuttal to the myth that science and religion must be at odds with each other. When Wheaton students step into their-state-of-the-art science building, for instance, they are greeted with signs stating that a “sound Biblical theology gives us a proper basis for scientific inquiry,” and a display featuring locally excavated Perry the Mastodon, which carbon dating shows to be more than 13,000 years old.

The school is not alone in intertwining commitments to love God and protect the earth, often referred to as “creation care.” The Cape Town Commitment, a global agreement between evangelical leaders from nearly 200 countries, includes acknowledgement of climate change and how it will hurt the world’s poor (and it is required reading for Wheaton freshmen). Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical, has been an outspoken advocate for climate action. And in addition to YECA, there are numerous groups active in this arena, including the Evangelical Climate Initiative, Climate Caretakers, Care of Creation and A Rocha.

In late 2015, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—the biggest umbrella group of evangelicals in the country, representing 43 million Americans—issued a statement accepting climate change, acknowledging the human contribution to it and encouraging action. YECA’s advocacy helped bring that statement, called “Loving the Least of These,” into being. In it, NAE argues that Christians should be compelled to care about climate change as a matter of social justice, equating those without the resources to adapt to failed farming or dry wells or rising seas as the modern-day equivalents of the widows and orphans of Jesus’s day.

Read the entire piece here.

Jack Wyrtzen: Evangelical Environmentalist

Word of Life Island, Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains, NY

Who is Jack Wyrtzen?

The founder of Word of Life was a household name in post-war evangelical and fundamentalism. He may have also been an evangelical environmentalist.

Here is Fred Clark, aka Slacktivist:

Jack Wyrtzen was an old-school evangelist — a little bit Billy Sunday, a little bit Billy Graham. He was a former insurance salesman and a Bible-school drop-out who went on to become a radio preacher and eventually the president-and-founder of a popular para-church ministry, Word of Life. Wyrtzen had a loud, genuine laugh and a penchant for even louder jackets. He was also a straight-ticket fundamentalist — young-Earth creationism, premillennial dispensationalism, plenary verbal inspiration, inerrancy, the whole platform.

I met him on several occasions over the years and found him a hard man not to like.

Word of Life was a big deal in the fundie church and private Christian school I grew up in. My family wasn’t part of the Word of Life club, but many of our friends and neighbors made regular pilgrimages up to Schroon Lake for Bible conferences and Bible camp, and they studiously worked their way through correspondence courses for Wyrtzen’s Word of Life Bible Institute….

…And so it came to pass that I wound up mailing a copy of the soon-to-be-declared Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation to — among hundreds of others — Jack Wyrtzen, President and Founder, Word of Life Ministries, Schroon Lake, NY.

I didn’t expect that one would get a response. Our declaration wasn’t proving very popular within the creationist and “Bible-prophecy” fundamentalist branches of evangelicalism. Many young-Earth creationists bear a suspicion bordering on outright hostility toward ecology which is, after all, a secular science. And most premillennial dispensationalists couldn’t be persuaded to care much about the environment because Jesus was coming back any day now and it’s all gonna burn. The world that Hal Lindsey had taught them to think of as “The Late Great Planet Earth” was going to be destroyed as part of God’s great plan, so why bother taking care of it? (For the record, I believe we also sent a letter and a draft of the declaration to the Rev. Tim LaHaye. We did not receive a response from him.) Sure, our “declaration” was full of chapter-and-verse proof-texts supporting “creation care,” but those tended to be from all the wrong parts of Genesis and Revelation, so most of the creationism and Rapture crowd weren’t eager to sign on.

But from that faction there was one surprising exception: Jack Wyrtzen. Jack added his signature and sent back an enthusiastic, hand-written note affirming that he was confident Jesus was returning soon (multiple exclamation points!) — but that he also believed that loving God meant, in the meantime, taking care of “God’s beautiful creation!!!”

I treasured that endorsement for personal reasons, and hoped it might persuade others from the fundier-side of evangelicalism to join Jack in permitting their followers to listen to what we were saying. (It didn’t.)

That was almost 25 years ago, but I found myself thinking fondly of that sweet note from Jack Wyrtzen last week as the hand-picked president of 81 percent of white evangelicals announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the global effort to combat the damage from climate change.

A lot has changed over those years and I’m not sure a new “Declaration on the Care of Creation” today would ever receive the kind of response the old one got from folks like Jack Wyrtzen. The evangelical “Christian radio” pioneered by old-school “Bible” preachers like Wyrtzen is now home to culture-warriors and scores of wanna-be Limbaughs and Hannitys who regard environmentalism as a hoax or a socialist conspiracy. The Fox News toxin has infected much of the evangelical subculture so that these days any talk of the environment triggers their hippy-punching instinct (liberals care about something so we must oppose it). And after the 2000 election here in the U.S., even the facts and science of climate change became a matter of partisan dispute.

Read the rest here.

The “Rapture Bet”

rapture

Check out Fred Clark’s piece titled “A death bet is morally repugnant.  So is a ‘Rapture’ bet.”

A taste:

Donald Trump is making a death bet on climate change. The president is 70 years old and he just doesn’t care about what the world will be like three decades from now. By 2050 he, personally, will be gone, so why should he care about anyone or anything in a future that he will not, personally, live to see?

The idea of a death bet is as vile as it is simple. Live large and indulge yourself, free of all responsibility, paying for it all with debt that won’t come due until after you, personally, are dead. This screws over your heirs, and your creditors, and everyone else who is not you. But, hey, what do you care? You’ll be dead…

But it’s not just Donald Trump making the death bet of climate-change denial. He has the support on this of millions of white evangelical Christians. They don’t care about climate change because they believe the world is about to end anyway. They’re not making a death bet so much as, in their minds, a “Rapture” bet: Can you imagine, Rayford? Jesus coming back to get us before we die!

This isn’t quite as brazenly immoral and selfish as Trump’s death bet. He doesn’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because he doesn’t care about anything he does not personally experience. These Rapture-Christians don’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because they don’t believe the world will still be here then. They’re sure it won’t. They’re sure the Rapture is imminent — that it will occur any day, any moment, maybe even before you finish reading this…

Ask them about climate change and they’ll assure you there’s no need to worry about famine and flood in 2050, because they’re “certain” that Jesus is coming back before then. Ask them about their teenage child’s plans to major in art history or theater arts and they’ll give you a very different outlook.

Or just consider the way, say, Rapture-preacher John Hagee is grooming his son to take over his family ministry to ensure that it continues for another generation. Or, more cynically, look at the way these Rapture-preachers and Rapture-believers invest for their own retirements. They’re hedging their Rapture bet when it comes to their own future, but not when it comes to a future they imagine will only affect the lives of other people they don’t personally know.

Read the entire post at Clark’s blog Slacktivist.

Historically, things are a bit complicated.  Of course there is a longstanding history of rapture thinking in modern American evangelicalism.  This is part of the reason why some early 20th-century fundamentalists did not like the Social Gospel.  Why work for social reform when Jesus would be coming back soon? But to be fair to the historical record, many fundamentalists also combined rapture-longing with social action.

A belief in the end times was also the reason why some premillennialists did not initially support U.S. involvement in World War I.  Why fight a war to “make the world safe for democracy” when Jesus would be coming back soon?

And we could go on.  Not all rapture Christians broke with the social demands of Christian faith that their 19th-century Second Great Awakening ancestors championed, but some did.

There is also some question about whether the general failure of evangelicals to support environmental causes today is directly related to their views of the “end times.”  In 2012, political scientists David Barker and David Bearce argued in an article titled “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change” that “believers in Christian end-times theology are less likely to support policies designed to curb global warming than are other Americans.”  Religion scholar Robin Globus Veldman challenged their findings in a piece at Religion Dispatches.

This all reminds me of when PBS host Bill Moyers accused James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior in the early years of the Reagan administration, of arguing that there was no need for Congress to pass legislation protecting the environment because Jesus Christ would soon be returning. Moyer quoted Watt as saying “After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” In 2005, Watt wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post claiming that he never said these things.  He wrote: “I know no Christian who believes or preaches such error.” Moyer apologized, but Watt wanted to make sure, over twenty years after he left office, that Americans understood that evangelical belief was not incompatible with environmental reform.

Today, in a piece on this issue by Washington Postreligion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey, does not mention the “rapture” argument.

In the end, I am sure there are evangelicals out there who believe that the environment is unimportant because the rapture is coming soon.  Clark is right when he says that these rapture Christians are inconsistent. They plan for the future when it comes to their own retirements and inheritances, but they do not plan for the future when it comes to the fate of the planet.

I will end with a tweet from conservative pundit Erick Erickson.  Not sure if it fits into the “rapture Christian” category, but it is certainly revealing.

"Do the Math": The Movie

Environmentalist Bill McKibben‘s movie Do the Math will be released on April 21 and he wants people to “join the movement” by hosting local screenings at their schools, colleges, and in their living rooms.  It is described as a “42-minute film about the rising movement to change the terrifying math of the climate crisis and challenge the fossil fuel industry.” Learn more about the “Do the Math” movement here or watch the trailer below.  I am glad to see that Richard Cizik, one of the evangelical champions of “Creation Care,” appears in this movie.
 

Dispatches from Graduate School–Part 19

Photo by Cali McCullough

 Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University.  For earlier posts in this series click here. –JF

My courses require an amount of work equal to the first semester, but they feel different, more purposeful. Two of three courses are in my presumed “field”: Environmental/American West. Each week in “Readings in the American West” our professor assigns two books. At the beginning of the semester he used a deck of cards to divide the readings evenly—each week half the group reads one, half the group reads the other; then we discuss each as a class. It’s like a two-for-one.

This week I read Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the American West, while the other students read Dan Flores, The Natural West:  Environmental History in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. This is my first taste of Worster, but I’m already smitten by his poetic prose and impassioned analysis of irrigation in the American West. And because that wasn’t enough water for the week (it is essential for life, you know), I read Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization by journalist Steven Solomon in my Global Environmental History course. 
Although each monograph is unique with different analytical frameworks, content, and calls to action, all three had something in common: a rather biting critique of the Judeo-Christian tradition. When it comes to the environment, Christians get a bad rap. Let’s face it, Genesis 1:26-28 has been interpreted in many ways, most often with a heavy emphasis on dominion. Worster briefly details the secularization of medieval Christian notions about nature (á la Horkheimer) into a Western worldview known for its exploitation of the environment. He’s not complimentary. But who can blame him? Or Flores, or Solomon. Of all the public interest issues evangelicals support (abstinence education, anti-abortion, politics and morality, etc.) concern for the environment lags behind, far behind.
Solomon suggests that stewardship and dominion are a contradiction in terms, but he accuses Christians of using the terms interchangeably. Genesis 1:26-28 does make clear the command to rule and subdue the earth, but I must agree with Solomon. Using a biblical mandate to justify wastefulness and exploitation seems hypocritical, and it clearly goes against the rest of biblical teaching.
In Genesis 2:15, one finds God’s further instruction to Adam and Eve—they are to keep the garden. The Hebrew word shamar means to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life, as a shepard over his flock. It’s the same word used when God extols Abraham for keeping His commandments. Shamar is also used in Proverbs concerning wisdom: “Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee.” Many Christians do take such commands seriously and also take personally the responsibility to be true stewards of creation. But, as is often the case, this portion is sorely underrepresented in the media and thus the Christian’s ambiguity in public life is perpetuated in the books of scholars such as Worster, Flores, and Solomon.  

I can’t offer a solution to our “public image,” one that is certainly grounded in historical reality. But I can ask you to consider what God asks of His people when it comes to his creation. When we fail to treat the whole of creation with honor and respect, we fail to fulfill part of our evangelical mission. We miss out on an important opportunity to show the world that a commitment to the earth is a commitment to the Kingdom come and that Christians do care about ecological issues.