Students at three evangelical colleges were used as guinea pigs several years ago to see if a scientist who is also an evangelical Christian could persuade the schools' devout students that climate change was a man-made catastrophe requiring urgent action to combat. Students at Houghton College, in rural northwestern New York, Tyndale University College, in Toronto, Canada, and Dallas Baptist University, in Dallas, Texas were treated to a nearly one-hour lecture video by Canadian-born Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science who teaches in Texas. One of Ms. Hayhoe’s self-declared missions has been to reach evangelical audiences who are skeptical that there is a dire man-made climate change crisis. She wants to convince them that the scientific warnings about the seriousness of the crisis are very real. “I feel a bit more like a prophet warning of impending doom if we don’t change our ways,” she told an interviewer in 2015, the year that her lecture video was first shown to the evangelical students.
According to an article summarizing the results of the student lecture experiment entitled “Changing evangelical minds on climate change,” co-authored by Ms. Hayhoe’s father, “a single lecture can significantly alter acceptance of climate science, concern regarding its impacts, and support for action among undergraduate students at evangelical institutions in the US and Canada—both immediately following the lecture, as well as up to a month afterwards…this study's participants were all evangelicals, committed to deeply religious views about the Bible, and yet still able to be moved on climate change.”
We do not know how long-lasting the purported conversion of the evangelical students lasted beyond 2015 and 2016, when the students saw Ms. Hayhoe’s video presentation.
Ms. Hayhoe began her lecture with an attempt to distinguish between faith and science. She cited the Bible verse: 'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen' (Hebrews 11:1 KJV). Then, according to a summary of the lecture set forth in her father’s co-authored article, Ms. Hayhoe said that science is the opposite.
“Now science is the substance of things here and now, the evidence of things we can observe,” Ms. Hayhoe said. Global warming or the fact that human beings are affecting the climate is not a matter of faith or belief but of science, which Ms. Hayhoe defined as “the systematic study of the world through observation and experiment.”
Ms. Hayhoe then proceeded with her description of the science of climate change and its conclusions. In doing so, however, she displayed the moral certitude of a fervent believer rather than the inquiring mind of a scientist who continues to question conventional wisdom. She said, “Only when we have examined and discounted the natural suspects for a changing climate (i.e. changing solar output, natural cycles, etc), can we attribute climate change to people.”
It’s all about the burning of fossil fuels by humans since the start of the Industrial Revolution, Ms. Hayhoe argued, which has added an extra blanket of carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere above what would be considered the natural state needed to sustain life. “This extra blanket is causing our global warming,” according to Ms. Hayhoe. Not one of several contributing causes, mind you, but the single most important cause of all.
Ms. Hayhoe’s certitude, she said, is rooted in the science of the greenhouse effect that goes back two centuries. But what she is expressing is little more than a leap of faith of her own, premised on the belief that human beings are the most important entity in the universe contributing to climate change. And from her position of certitude, she preaches drastic action.
“Of course, what we are asking for is a huge change in the fabric of society, as large as the change from slavery to today,” Ms. Hayhoe declared in her lecture. She praised China, in contrast to the United States, for being “the top country in wind producing energy, and the second top country in solar energy production,” while neglecting to mention that China remains the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
Finally, Ms. Hayhoe touted Citizens Climate Lobby in her lecture. This lobby group has promoted a carbon tax. Citizens Climate Lobby also has stated that it shares the goals of the proponents of the Green New Deal and is “encouraged that Green New Deal supporters have raised the urgency of climate change in the media and within the halls of Congress.”
In short, Ms. Hayhoe morphed from scientist to moralist to political lobbyist advocate, all in the space of her 44-minute lecture to the evangelical students.
Ms. Hayhoe has not limited herself to taking her climate change message to the evangelical community. Wearing her scientist’s hat, she was a co-author of the latest supposedly scientifically based volume of the National Climate Assessment report issued last year. This report set out dire projections as to what may happen by the end of this century if drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not taken in time. The long-range predictions are based not on observable evidence but on computer models, which Ms. Hayhoe herself has admitted are inexact. The authors didn’t allow that inconvenient problem to get in the way of advancing their radical policy prescriptions.
Ms. Hayhoe has also worn the moralist hat, extending her attempt to connect fighting climate change with evangelicals’ core values to reaching broader audiences with a similar message. She has exhorted that the urgency of fighting climate change is strongly connected to whatever core value system a person has.
“Does the thermometer give us a different answer depending on if we're liberal or conservative?” she asked rhetorically at a TEDWomen conference last year, for example. “Of course not. But if that thermometer tells us that the planet is warming, that humans are responsible and that to fix this thing, we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels as soon as possible -- well, some people would rather cut off their arm than give the government any further excuse to disrupt their comfortable lives and tell them what to do.” She then advised, as an antidote to such selfishness, that “just about every single person in the world already has the values they need to care about a changing climate. They just haven't connected the dots. And that's what we can do through our conversation with them.”
It is Ms. Hayhoe who has not connected the dots. She lives within her own bubble of moral certitude, which assumes that everyone must think like she does and worship at the same climate change altar.
"I study climate change because I think it's the greatest humanitarian crisis of our times," Ms. Hayhoe was quoted as saying last year by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Many people do not share Ms. Hayhoe’s value system and do not connect their own value systems to fighting climate change as their most urgent priority. Some people may, for example, question how Ms. Hayhoe can view climate change as the greatest humanitarian crisis today, eclipsing the mass murder, torture, sexual abuse and persecution of many millions of her fellow Christians and other people of faith by jihadists.
It is not about worrying that government will disrupt our comfortable lives, as Ms. Hayhoe assumed in her condescending explanation of why she believes people resist urgent action to deal with climate change. Many people genuinely worry about having jobs and enough money to take care of themselves and their families today. They worry about seemingly endless wars, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism that can endanger them or their loved ones today. In short, the immediate challenges of life and simply getting through the day take precedence over doomsday predictions of mid to late century economic disasters that climate change may or may not bring about.
The failure of Ms. Hayhoe and her fellow climate change activists to understand all this is what happens when critical thinking and empathy with human beings’ real-life daily concerns are thrown to the wind.