By Dr. Katharine Hayhoe
The IPCC reports represent a stunningly comprehensive and carefully balanced summary of everything scientists know about climate change.
Every six years or so, hundreds of scientists volunteer weeks and even years of their time to help with this process in authoring, reviewing, and communicating the findings. Because all these hundreds of scientists have to agree on the report’s key conclusions, these reports tend to be quite conservative and understated in their conclusion.
This tendency towards understatement underscores the urgency of scientists message today. Around the world, many of the impacts of climate change are occurring faster and/or to a greater degree than were predicted 20 or even 10 years ago. While the science has grown more certain with every year, however, public opinion in the United States has moved in exactly the opposite direction. From a scientist’s perspective, our viewpoint is perhaps best captured by this poignant cartoon:
This new Working Group 2 report addresses the impacts of climate change: in other words, how will climate change affect people, places, and the natural environment? The findings of this report emphasize once again how climate change is not just a concern for polar bears in the Arctic, or for South Pacific islanders living in low-lying areas. Specifically, the report clearly shows how:
- Climate change is already affecting us today, in the places where we live
- Climate change disproportionately affects the poor, the socially vulnerable, and the disadvantaged- not coincidentally, the very people we are told to love and care for as Christians
- We will need to adapt to the impacts of climate change because they are already occurring and will continue to occur in response to both past and future emissions from human activities
- The risks of potentially dangerous impacts increase with emissions. We need to reduce our emissions in order to be able to successfully cope with the impacts of climate change.
So how do we, as Christians, respond? Looking to the Bible, there aren’t any verses about climate change per se. But there are plenty of verses talking about what and who we should care about, and what should be our motivation.
Ephesians 5:2 tells us to love others as Christ loved us
Verses like Acts 4:34 and others demonstrate how caring for the poor was a key priority of the early church
Lastly, 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love.
When we look at the issue of climate change, we see that it is affecting others, particularly the poor. And when we look at resistance to climate change, we see fear: of losing our comfortable lives, our freedom, our money, our ideology.
So if we find ourselves reacting out of fear, or to secure our own well-being at the expense of others, we know that we are not acting in accord with the new creation we have become. On the other hand, when we act from love, caring about others and desiring the best for them, we know we are acting from God’s compassion.
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist who studies climate change, one of the most pressing issues facing the planet today. An expert reviewer for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, her life’s work has been dedicated to discovering and communicating the realities of a changing climate to those who will be affected most by it.As an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, part of the Department of Interior’s South-Central Climate Science Center, Katharine develops new ways to quantify the potential impacts of human activities at the regional scale. As founder and CEO of ATMOS Research, she also bridges the gap between scientists and stakeholders to provide relevant, state-of-the-art information on how climate change will affect our lives to a broad range of non-profit, industry and government clients.