BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company, Christian and climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe on ending the gridlock between science and religion.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Climate change is a casualty of much larger societal issues. It's not a scientific issue, it's not a matter of one more report will do it. One more new analogy, and people will get it. Information is not the answer. The answer has much more to do with who we are as humans, and how we function politically.
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. There are roughly 80 million evangelical Christians in America and for years a majority of their ranks have refused to take global warming seriously. Many were swayed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who said, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming… you must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe that man controls something he can’t create.”
Then there is the powerful Republican James Inhofe of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, who said: “God’s still up there, and the arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what he is doing in the climate is, to me, outrageous.”
So it is that while more Americans believe global warming is real and caused by human beings, some two-thirds of white evangelical Christians are not convinced. And they wield a lot of political clout. These are people who believe that to be saved by god you must be born again – your heart and mind transformed by a cathartic spiritual experience. But as the climate crisis worsens every day, it’s clear these good folk need a different kind of conversion, one that opens them to the reality overtaking us. Only someone they trust, one of their own, is likely to help them see the light.
Which brings us to Katharine Hayhoe. You may have seen her with the actor Don Cheadle on the opening episode of Showtime's award-winning documentary series, “Years of Living Dangerously.”
KATHARINE HAYHOE in Years of Living Dangerously: When I look at the information we get from the planet I look at it as God's creation speaking to us. And in this case there's no question that God's creation is telling us that it is running a fever.
BILL MOYERS: That fever has been running high on the plains of Texas, where Katharine Hayhoe lives. West Texas is cattle country. Or it was, until prolonged drought killed off the livestock business and devastated towns like Plainview.
DON CHEADLE in Years of Living Dangerously: It’s 10am on March 16th, 2013. This has become a weekly ritual. Each Saturday these people walk the four miles around the Cargill meat packing plant on the edge of town. They’re praying for rain and for the plant to reopen. Six weeks ago it closed, and overnight 10 percent of the area's entire workforce was laid off. It shut down because of a three-year drought that devastated the cattle herd here in Texas. And without cows, you can’t run a meat packing plant.
CHURCH PASTOR in Years of Living Dangerously: Father, we pray for the situation in Cargill, by God. Because as you bring the moisture, as you bring the rain conditions will change, my God. Because it's your rain--
BILL MOYERS: Katharine Hayhoe knows those believers well. She, too, is an evangelical Christian, also a rising star of climate science, named this year as one of "Time" magazine’s "100 Most Influential People." She and her husband, Andrew Farley, who's a pastor, teach at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Together, they wrote this book, “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.” Welcome.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Thank you for having me, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: When I saw the film I couldn't believe that that was the Plainview, Texas I knew many years ago. Then it was bustling, like a beehive. The film reveals it as an almost lifeless place. Now why are you convinced that this has to do with global warming instead of just the usual droughts that come and go in West Texas?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Everybody living in Texas knows that droughts are just part of life there. So the first question people always ask is, well, how is this any different from what my daddy or my granddaddy experienced way back when?
First of all, we see things changing. We see plants and trees flowering earlier in the year. We see birds and insects and other animals farther north than they ever used to be. It's warmer now in every season of the year in Texas because of climate change. So along comes this drought just like you had 30 years ago and 50 years ago.
But now it's so much warmer that more water evaporates from the soil, more water evaporates from our lakes and our rivers and our streams. And the drought is more severe than it would have been otherwise. We had an incredibly severe drought that summer of 2011 throughout Texas and Oklahoma. And that drought conditions persist until today.
BILL MOYERS: As a scientist, you study consequences over time. And is it what's happening over time that has led you to think this is not just the weather, this is change?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: That's exactly right. One of the most common things people do is they say, oh we had a cold year. Or, oh we had a wet summer. Therefore, where's all this stuff? Where's all this global warming? Climate is defined as the long-term average over at least 20 to 30 years.
So we can't just jump on some band wagon immediately and say, oh that heat wave was definitely climate change. We have to very carefully analyze the data and look to see if there is a trend laid over the pattern of natural variability. So we've always had our highs and lows, our wet and dry. But the assumption that our society is built on is that over long periods of time, 20 to 30 years, it all averages out.
This is the assumption that we build our houses on, that we design our cities on, that determine where we grow our crops. What happens if that line is no longer stable? Then we still have our pattern of natural variability but the highs are getting higher over time. And that's exactly what we see.
BILL MOYERS: The Christians who show up in the film think drought is an act of God. Are they counting on faith to save them?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Oh yes. I mean, there are signs everywhere saying, pray for rain. During a drought, every church has a sign out front saying, pray for rain. They have prayer rallies, they have prayer walks.
We believe that God has the ability to do things like that, but as Christians I think we also believe that God set up the world such that there are these types of natural events, good and bad, and there are consequences to our actions.
And so in this case, first of all we have developed an agricultural society in a semi-arid environment. One that depends on an aquifer that is going one way fast. So as we become more and more vulnerable to rain fall, that's just when climate change is coming along and altering that rainfall. So it's a series of choices that we've made as a civilization, a society, at the local scale, national, and global, often not knowing what the result or the impact of those choices would be--
BILL MOYERS: But all their lives, those people were told that God is omnipotent. If you challenge them on that and say, not God, but we have to change the course or we will suffer from global warming irrevocably, aren't you undermining their faith?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: That's one of the most frequently asked questions that we get. And so when my husband, who's a pastor, when my husband and I wrote this book together, he was the one who laid out the book and said, these are the questions that we have to answer. And number one on that list was, if God is in control, if that's what we believe, then how could something like this happen?
But isn't that the age-old question? Every time something happens in our lives, or that of our community, or our country, we think, if God is in control, how could that happen? How could a plane full of innocent people on their way to the AIDS research conference be shot down?
And as I've talked to more and more people, I've started to figure out what the questions are that people have. And if you tackled the questions head-on, how do we know this is real? Why do we think it's humans, not a natural cycle of the sun or volcanoes, or anything else? Why do we care about it? Why do I care about it?
Here are my values, and here, based on my values, are why I care. If we can get past the issue of rhetoric and politics, and actually start talking about what's in our hearts, I have seen amazing things happen in terms of moving forward to look at solutions that are consistent with the values that we have.
BILL MOYERS: So let me ask about you. When it comes to science as you said, you crunch the data. You analyze statistical models, but to become a Christian, you don't crunch the data. You don't analyze the models. But why do you require evidence as a scientist, that you don't require as a believer?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: One of my favorite versus comes from Hebrews in the New Testament. It talks about how faith is the evidence of things not seen. By definition, science is the evidence of things that are seen, that can be observed, that are quantifiable. And so that's why I see faith and science as two sides of the same coin.
Science is by definition bounded by what we can conceptualize, what we can document, what we can observe. And faith, I think, is the other side of that. Why does this even exist? Why can we do science? Why does the world make sense? Why are there elegant, physical laws describing the behavior of our atmosphere that also apply to galaxies on the other side of the universe?
BILL MOYERS: And yet people we both come from, people who love us and we love, remain distrustful of science, and of scientists.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Why is that?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: For a long time, many of us have felt like scientists are on one side espousing one set of values. And Christians and or conservatives are on the other side. And so along comes this new issue of climate change, which in my opinion has enormous theological implications. It is entirely consistent with the Christian faith to love others and to love our neighbors.
So along comes this issue of climate change, but who are the primary spokespeople? It's these pointy-headed scientists who have been on the other side of the fence, on many other issues regarding creation, evolution, the age of the universe. Even other issues today, like, genetic modification and things like that. So, it's no surprise that when you get a messenger who is not trusted, who you perceive as not sharing your values, that you know, why would you believe them?
BILL MOYERS: It was so clear from the film that you have actually made some converts.
NELLY MONTEZ in Years of Living Dangerously: I’m Nelly. I used to work at the Cargill plant.
KATHARINE HAYHOE in Years of Living Dangerously: Oh, ok.
DON CHEADLE in Years of Living Dangerously: She was just talking about how all, that she hadn't really thought about … well tell me what you were …
NELLY MONTEZ in Years of Living Dangerously: Just, you know, like the things you know the things that we can do as far as, you know, taking some of that layer of blanket off, you know, right there, I'm sitting there going I didn't know that. Wow, you know, I didn't know that. […] I had never heard of climate change. After hearing Katharine I was just like wow. If we start using the right things and doing the right things we could probably save our planet.
BILL MOYERS: Do you often get feedback like that?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: In person, I would say there's more positive feedback than negative. But in terms of not in person, internet, email, letters, things like that, I would say it's probably about 99 percent negative. And I get five to ten times more hate mail from Christians than I do from atheists for example.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Well, caring about climate is entirely consistent with who we are as Christians. But over the last several decades, we have increasingly begun to confound our politics with our faith. To the point where instead of our faith dictating our attitudes on political and social issues, we are instead allowing our political party to dictate our attitude on issues that are clearly consistent with who we are.
BILL MOYERS: What does that tell you?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: That this issue pushes a button. It is a giant red button as big as this table, and it really makes people mad because they feel like it threatens something that they hold dear. And that's because we've been told that you can't be a Christian, or you can't be a conservative, or you can't be a person of faith or even a person of integrity and agree that climate is changing, that humans are responsible, and that there's something really important we need to do about it.
BILL MOYERS: Who's telling them that?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Well, if you read the social science, which is honestly my favorite reading material these days, we have found out from social science that number one, if you take conservative Protestants and you ask them what they think about climate change, but you control for age, for conservativism, and for political party affiliation, then the bias drops out. That's what is accounting for conservative Protestants thinking climate change isn't real. It's our political affiliation.
But here's the thing. In the majority of cases, if you really dig down to the bottom of people's objections to climate change, they're not based on the science. They're based on the solutions. People fundamentally object to the solutions to climate change, because climate change is a tragedy of the commons.
So by definition, one individual's actions will not be sufficient to address the problem. We have to act together. Together it means government. People are fundamentally opposed to government solutions to a problem. And so, but it's a lot easier to say it isn't a real problem, than to say it is a real problem, and it's a very serious problem. But we don't support any action to do anything about it.
BILL MOYERS: I think I hear you suggesting that conservative Christians are Republicans who, are deeply influenced more by Republican opposition to government than by global warming itself. Because if they take the science seriously, we have to do something about it. And the only way we can do something about it, is collectively through government.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Yes, I believe actually that climate change is a casualty of much larger societal issues. Just to give you an example going back even farther, when we talk about climate change, the words we hear are things like carbon tax, and government legislation.
If you go back in history, what was the whole American Revolution, what did the whole American Revolution come from? It came from tax and government tyranny, and government imposing sanctions and taxes on people that they didn't think were fair. And so I think it's actually imbedded in the American psyche to object to big government solutions that involve taxing people's rights to do or use whatever they want.
BILL MOYERS: You've been quoted saying you feel like the conservative community, the evangelical community, and many other Christian communities have been lied to. By whom?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: So with climate change, we have people who we trust in our community. We have people who are Christians, we have people who call themselves Christians, we have conservative leaders who may not be Christian but are very respected within the community. And these are the people standing up telling us it's a hoax, it's not real. Or even maybe it's real, but it's not a big deal and we don't have to worry about it.
BILL MOYERS: Well, this is the puzzling thing. You know, why so many conservatives in leadership positions, Republicans I'm talking about, why do they dismiss the science? What do they have to gain, except the satisfaction that they're limiting the growth of government?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: That's, oh that's a great question. And honestly, trying to figure out that question is one of the main reasons why I am now in the department of political science. My background's originally in physics, and then atmospheric science. And then just a couple of years ago, I actually moved departments for multiple reasons, as all of us do. But one of the reasons is because I feel like the science is there.
We have all the information we need to take precautionary steps on this issue. It's not a scientific issue, it's not a matter of one more report will do it. One more national climate assessment, that's what will solve the problem. One more new analogy, and people will get it. Information is not the answer. The answer has much more to do with who we are as humans, and how we function politically.
BILL MOYERS: So why is it that two Christians walking down the same road of faith suddenly turn in exactly the opposite directions of belief about this issue of global warming?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: I think it relates to the fact that we often look to leaders we trust and respect to tell us what to think about it. And especially in the more evangelical parts of the Christian community, we have a leadership vacuum. I mean, aside from Billy Graham, it's hard to name a conservative Christian leader who's been around for decades. People come and go. We don't have a Pope Francis. We don't have, you know, John Paul, who has written very extensively and eloquently on the environment.
So in that leadership vacuum, especially in the more conservative parts of the church, our political leaders step in. People who share values with us. The media steps in, people who will say the things that we agree with in terms of you know, abortion, gun control, immigration, things like that. So I think it's a matter of we are being told things by people who don't like the solutions to climate change, and have decided that it's a lot better and it's a lot smarter to deny the reality of the problem than to acknowledge it exists, but say you don't want do anything about it.
So we have people, for example, like Bob Inglis. Probably every politician when they're first elected, say, to Congress, they might be walked into a room and shown a picture of Bob Inglis and said, let me tell you what happened to Bob. He, very conservative person on every single issue, except climate change. His son convinced him that climate change really was real. Bob had the moral courage to stand up and say it is, and he was out.
BILL MOYERS: Defeated?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Yes
BILL MOYERS: At the polls?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Uh, huh. In the primaries.
BILL MOYERS: Presumably by many very Christian--
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: --believers.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: And he is an outspoken Christian man. He shared every single value with people except for that one, and that one was enough to end his career as a politician. But I mean, you know Christians. We have a history of majoring on the minors.
I grew up in a church where the church split between cousin Gordon and somebody else over whether when you get to heaven you cups of equal size filled with different amounts of joy, or whether somebody gets a full cup of joy but the cups are different sizes. So compared to that, climate change is a much bigger issue.
BILL MOYERS: So you said the recently, “the evangelical world is the last significant holdout on the reality of this issue.” This issue of man-made global warming. Do they have the muscle to prevent us from saving the planet?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Goodness, I don't know the answer to that question. And I'm glad I don't, because what motivates me is hope. The hope that by just changing a few minds, by giving, and it's not, the responsibility is not mine to actually change their minds. I see my responsibility as giving people the information they need to make the right decision.
And so bringing the issue home and saying, climate change isn’t just kind of number 151 on a list of things you care about. Let’s look at the top five things you care about. Let’s look at your kids health, your job security, how much your bills cost to pay, like, your air-conditioning bill and your water bill. And your faith. Let’s look at things that matter, and then let’s talk about how climate change interacts with and affects the things that you already love, you already hold dear. And so my hope is, I don't know how many people have to make the right decision to change the balance. But all I know is, I'm just gonna do my part.
BILL MOYERS: All right, then give people some concrete, specific things they can do about it.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Three things. The first thing we can do is prepare to adapt to what we can't avoid. We already have a great idea of what is happening in each part of the country. Are we getting more frequent heavy rainfall and flood events? Are we seeing rising sea level? Are we seeing stronger hurricanes? Are we seeing more heat waves? Look at the U.S. National Climate Assessment, great resource online, written in very plain English. Not for scientists, for other people.
That tells us what's coming, and it just makes sense. It's like we've been driving a car all these years, looking backwards. We need to take our eyes off that rearview mirror and actually look down the road and say, in ten, 20, 30 years, how high will sea level have risen? Therefore, should I be building my house here?
How warm, or how wet, or how dry will it be therefore what types of crops should we be planting, if any? So that's the first thing, adaptation. The second thing we have to do is mitigation. Mitigation is reducing the amount of energy we're getting from carbon-based fuels. We can do that two ways. We can switch to alternative sources of energy, or we can use less. So on an individual level, the number one thing I recommend is going online and figuring out what our personal carbon footprint is.
The enormous balloon of carbon dioxide that we produce every year. And if it's a good carbon calculator, and there's many good ones, it'll give you a list of ten, twenty, thirty things that you specifically could do depending on how far you drive to work, how big your house is, what part of the country you live in, how much money you have, things like that.
Number three is we live in a democratic society. We need to tell our leaders that we care about this issue. Tell them, I'm a mom, and I care about it because of my kids. I'm a Christian, and I care about it because of my faith. I'm a conservative business person, and I care about it because I want a healthy economy. And the myth is that climate change and a healthy economy are opposed.
BILL MOYERS: That’s right.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: We have the ability and I think we have the responsibility, to do that in the society that we live.
BILL MOYERS: Your parents were missionaries.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Are you?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: I'm starting to think I might be.
BILL MOYERS: For?
KATHARINE HAYHOE: I mean, imagine a world where, you know, the highways are made of solar panels that charge our cars as we drive. Where every house is just made out of shingles of solar panels with a little wind turbine in the corner. Where we have no air pollution anymore, you know, killing children with asthma and people with respiratory disease. I mean, I know this sounds like utopia.
BILL MOYERS: Sounds to me like it could be a new gospel.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: It may be. A gospel that builds on the resources that God has given us. We have more than enough abundant energy to power our society from wind, from solar, from tides. All the things that we believe, as Christians, God created and has given to us as a free gift. So I think that there is the ability to have a better future, one that is built on the goodness that God has given us here in this world.
BILL MOYERS: Katharine Hayhoe, thank you very much for being with me.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Thank you Bill.
BILL MOYERS: On Sunday, September 21st, Americans from all over the country are gathering here in New York City for the People’s Climate March. It could be the largest such march and rally ever. And it comes two days before delegates from around the world will meet at the United Nations for a summit on climate change. The demonstrators will urge the leaders and activists in attendance to act now to stop global warming before it’s too late.
At our website BillMoyers.com, you can find out more about the People’s Climate March and the UN summit plus our continuing coverage of climate change news.
That’s all at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.