An evangelical Christian explains why she fights climate change — and how her religion merged with the right

An evangelical Christian explains why she fights climate change — and how her religion merged with the right

Texas-based Katharine Hayhoe is a rarity: a scientist who is heavily focused on climate change but is also an evangelical Christian. Scientists who go to church and believe in climate change are not unusual, but it's less common in her denomination. Climate change is actually Hayhoe's area of expertise, and journalist KK Ottesen discusses the politicization of climate change in a Q&A interview with Hayhoe published by the Washington Post this week.

Hayhoe, who serves as director of the Climate Center at Texas Tech University, told the Post, "Climate change is a casualty to the political polarization that has been emerging in the United States over the last few decades. And why are we becoming so politically polarized? There's a number of factors — the fact that we all have access to customized media today. So, we're all living in these echo chambers, or bubbles, where we just have our beliefs reinforced constantly. But it's my opinion, at least, that it stems from fear. The world is changing so fast."

Hayhoe, however, believes that those she describes as "really hardcore" climate change deniers comprise only 7% of the population in the United States.

"When I run into people who are very adamant about rejecting climate change," Hayhoe told the Post, "they're not that many. Only 7% of people are dismissive, but they're very loud about it…. And easily 90% of the time — probably more than that — climate change is just one of a package of issues: extreme nationalism, anti-immigration, right-wing politics. You know, whatever the current issue of the day is — COVID, school shooting — you can guarantee that whoever rejects climate change will also be adamantly defending the right of people to bear weapons and supporting COVID myths and disinformation. It all goes together."

During the interview, Hayhoe went on to explain why so many far-right evangelical Protestants are likely to be climate change deniers.

"In the United States," Hayhoe told the Post, "the word 'evangelical' has become synonymous with conservative politics. But it really wasn't until the '80s — when the Moral Majority gained force and began to say, 'How can we bring Christians around to supporting a single political party?' — that 'evangelical' and 'Republican' really became associated with each other."

According to Hayhoe, "The term 'evangelical' is now used in the United States for two very different types of people. One I would call political evangelicals, who base their statement of faith on their politics. And then, at the other end of the spectrum, are theological evangelicals, who base what they believe on the Bible…. When I connected the dots between poverty, hunger, disease, lack of access to clean water and education, and basic equity — and the fact that climate change is making all of those worse — that's what led me, personally, as a Christian, to become a climate scientist."

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