Marrying faith and science to redeem all things
Jordan Raynor sits down with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, to talk about why climate change is a pro-life issue, how the “expressed word” of God’s creation aligns with the “written word” of Scripture, and how combating climate change can help Christians provide food, clean water, and shelter to the world’s most vulnerable populations.
\[0:00:05.3] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do their most exceptional work, for the glory of God. and the good of others. Every week, I’m bringing you a conversation with a Christian, who is world-class at their craft. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits and how their faith influences their work.
Today, you guys are going to love this conversation with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. She’s one of the world’s leading experts on climate change and a deeply committed follower of Jesus Christ. You may know Dr. Hayhoe’s husband, Andrew Farley, a very popular pastor and author. Listen, there is zero doubt that Dr. Hayhoe is a world-class scientist. She was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people on earth. She was named by Christianity Today as one of their 50 women to watch.
If you know her name, you probably know her from her wildly popular TED Talk on climate change that has more than 3 million views. She’s a professor at Texas Tech University and the Founder and CEO of ATMOS, a consulting firm that works with municipalities and airports and other organizations to plan for the impending impact of climate change.
Dr. Hayhoe and I sat down. We talked about why climate change and even our response to the COVID-19 crisis, how these things are pro-life issues that the church had deeply care about. We talked about how the “expressed word” of God’s creation in the earth aligns with the written word of scripture and we talked about how combatting climate change can help us as the church provide food and clean water and safety to the world’s most vulnerable populations.
You guys are going to love this conversation with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe.
[0:02:12.2] JR: Dr. Hayhoe, thank you so much for joining me. This is a pleasure. I was sitting down at breakfast with my five-year-old and four-year-old this morning. I’m getting excited about today, getting excited to talk to you. I wanted to tell them about it, but I realized, I have no idea how to talk to a five-year-old about climate change. This isn’t something we talk about a lot in our household. I'm curious. I'm sure you've been asked this question before. Can you help me out? Can you help our listeners out? How would you explain climate change to my five-year-old?
[0:02:38.8] KH: Yes. I get that question quite a bit. I'm a mom myself, so I've actually not just thought about it, but put it into practice. What I would say to a five-year-old is that by digging up and burning coal and gas and oil, we're producing heat trapping gases that are wrapping an extra blanket around the planet. Just like, imagine if you were asleep at night and your mom or dad snuck into your room and put an extra heavy blanket on you and you would wake up sweating saying, “Why did you do that? I don't need this blanket?”
In the same way, we're wrapping an extra blanket around our planet and that's why it's getting hot. The good news is that we can do all kinds of great things to take that blanket off. Some of them start right here at home, talking about what we're doing and why it matters, talking about how we can change what we do, whether it's reducing our food waste, eating more plants, figuring out how to get to school, we might walk or bike, instead of driving and talking to people about school at turning off the lights and recycling and what do you do with your food waste at school. There's a lot of great things that we can do, even if we're 5-years-old to make a difference.
[0:03:47.7] JR: You've clearly answered that question before. That was very, very well said. All right. Hey, today you're one of the world's, I would argue one of the world's biggest proponents of the truth that science and religion can coexist, right? Your upbringing doesn't make it obvious that that's where you would land. I can't imagine that you always believed that. I'm really curious, if you can tell us a little bit about your story that led you to really be able to intellectually marry science and your faith as a Christian, maybe going back as far as your experience as a missionary child. Talk about that.
[0:04:23.3] KH: Well, I can go back even a little further than that, because it was a lot about my upbringing that introduced me to this idea. For me, there never was a conflict from day one. My grandmother had eight children. Her degree was in science education. Part of her education of her children was appreciating nature, learning about nature, understanding this world that God has made.
My dad became a science teacher, but he was also a teacher in our local church. For him, the Bible was God's written word and creation was God's expressed word. Really when you think about it this way, Jordan, if we as Christians truly believe that God created this incredible universe that we live in, then how could studying God's creation in any way contradict what we learn about God in the Bible? If we believe the same person authored both of them, they have to be consistent with each other.
Now I'm not naïve. I know there's a lot of places where people don't think they are, consistent. Isn't that because of our own limited understanding? We put on some very thick cultural glasses when we read the Bible. We make some really big assumptions that we know and understand exactly what was meant when it was written thousands of years ago. In science, we're always learning more things. Some things stay firm, whether we've known them for 10 years or 200 years. Other things evolve over time as we learn more, as we study more, as we observe more.
[0:05:47.3] JR: Yeah. Dr. Keller has written about this. We just had Tim Keller on the podcast a while back. He's big and this Francis Collins has written a lot about this. No, you're articulating this really eloquently. Let me ask you this. You said somewhere that as a Christian growing up in the church, you come to this point in your career where you decide, “I'm going to be a scientist. I'm going to be a real academic researcher.”
You felt like telling people that was coming out of the closet. I'm curious if you can recall one of those first instances, where you told somebody another Christ follower maybe outside of your family the, “Hey, yeah. I'm going to go be a scientist,” and what the reaction to that was.
[0:06:25.0] KH: Well, that's actually a little bit backwards, because let me explain.
[0:06:28.7] JR: Yeah, please.
[0:06:29.5] KH: First of all, I grew up with the idea that with the science teacher dad that science is the coolest thing you could possibly study. My dad was well-known in our church and beyond. They grew up from the Plymouth Brethren denomination for toting around giant slideshows of nebulas and galaxies to teach people the wonders of God's universe.
When people in my own faith community found out, they said, “Well, yeah. What are you studying at university?” I said physics and astronomy. Everybody said, “Oh, of course. That's what you're studying,” because they expected that from my dad. That was in no way a conflict for me growing up in Canada.
In fact, growing at Plymouth Brethren, I don't know if you're familiar with that denomination, but it really encourages individual study. It's not a case where you show up, you sit in a pew, you listen to a 30-minute sermon. It's very much about you learn why you believe. The investigations in terms of manuscript studies, or learning about the Bible are very similar to the curiosity and the exploratory nature that drives science.
It wasn't actually until I arrived in the states that I met anyone who had a serious problem with an aspect of science who shared my faith. I had never met anyone who thought that the world was 6,000-years-old. I knew people existed, but I hadn't actually met anybody in person and I definitely had never met anybody who said climate change wasn't real, until I got to the US.
In fact, I was so naive about that that my husband and I, we met in Graduate InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. My husband I had been married for a number of months before we figured out we were on the opposite side of the fence on this issue. Because for me growing up, the grass is green, the sky is blue and climate change is due to human activities. You don't ask people what color you think the sky is. You just assume any right-thinking human obviously knows that it’s blue.
For me, I rapidly discovered however that in the Christian community, the vast majority of us, it's estimated about two-thirds of us who would self-identify as evangelical in the United States, don't agree with a lot of the science. They don't agree with it, because they've been told it isn't true. For me, where I really felt like I was coming out of a closet and I use that term – I don't use it lightly. I felt like I would be flushing my scientific reputation down the toilet when I finally decided with my husband after many years of conversations that we should write a book together, explaining to Christians why climate change is real.
I was worried that my scientific colleagues would be the ones who would judge and criticize me for that. I have to say, I was completely wrong. Absolutely, a 100% wrong. I have received so much support from my colleagues, some of whom say, “I don't share your faith, but I absolutely support what you're doing.” Even more who say, “I do share your faith. How could I start talking to people about what I believe?”
Whereas in contrast, I would say well over half of the hate that I receive every day and literally, it is every day. I mean, sometimes it's one or two people, other times, like yesterday, it was more about 20 or 30. Over half of those people are people who self-identify themselves as Christians. That just breaks my heart.
[0:09:30.8] JR: Yeah, mine too. I want to come back to that in a minute. First, we do spend some time in this podcast talking about mastery and what mastery looks like across a variety of crafts, whether you're a climate scientist, or a politician, or an entrepreneur, or whatever it might be, you're one of the first scientists we've had on the show.
I'm really curious to hear your perspective on what world-class scientists do that their less masterful counterparts don't do. In your profession of science and academia, what's the delta between good and great?
[0:10:05.0] KH: Well, I think that there's many examples that have gone before who illustrate this. The first step to being a scientist is being able to understand and recognize the incredible complexity of the systems we work with, whether it's the human body, whether it's this planet, whether it's the universe, seeing the weeds, identifying each weed, understanding how each weed is separate from the weed beside it, that is the first step to being a scientist.
The difference between being a scientist and having mastery in your field is the ability to see the forest. When you can take incredibly complex issues and simplify them without significant loss of accuracy so that the average person could understand it. You could explain a quasar to your grandmother, or you explain global warming to a five-year-old, I think that's the second and frankly, more challenging step, because you have to have mastered the complexity before you're able to accurately simplify the concepts.
[0:11:03.8] JR: Yeah. Mastering the complexity, or the basics of the craft, right? That's the baseline competency of just being an adequate scientist. But real masters are able to make those creative connections. I mean, like we started the conversation, teach climate change to a five-year-old, right? That's where a master comes in; being able to really teach it.
All right, so I'm really curious. You have a lot going on in your life. You have your research, you have your successful consulting practice, you're teaching, you're a mom, you're a pastor's wife. Let's talk about your routines that make it all work. Really practically, what does a typical day look like for you, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed?
[0:11:41.2] KH: Well, any of those can and often is a full-time job. Yeah, so for me prioritization and time management is really important. I live by my calendar. On my calendar, I don't only have my commitments, I have my other priorities scheduled in. Actually, scheduling in, I'm not available during this time, because this is family time. I schedule in days well ahead of time where we're going to be taking this day off to have a long weekend.
Making sure that my priorities are in-line with my commitments, because otherwise if I don't think ahead and plan out the times that are really important to me and those could include times to just sit and think and reflect, times to read, times to do research, as well as time to spend with friends and family and the people we love, then you end up looking back on your life and you've spent your life on most of the things that will not be written on your tombstone.
As academics, we're often obsessed with our publications and our research grants and our citations, but when you die, when they write your obituary, none of that information goes into it. What goes into it is the impact that you have had on your community and on the world and what goes into the personal obituary is your relationships, your friends, your family, your loved one. That's what really counts when it all comes down to it.
[0:12:56.8] JR: You're channeling, you know, Stephen Covey, don't prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities. For you, really practically day-to-day, what does that look like? Do you have a daily shutdown process at the end of the day where you're planning out here are the three things I want to get done the next day? How far out do you plan your schedule? Can you talk through some of that more practical stuff?
[0:13:15.7] KH: Sure. I plan my day-to-day, my hourly schedule about two weeks in advance and that’s simply due to the volume of requests that I get. Then I plan my travel schedule or my larger commitments that would take a full day or more, I plan those typically – it used to be six to eight months in advance, but now it's more like 12 to 18 months in advance. Again, that's simply reflective of the vast majority of requests I receive and it helps me to prioritize if I'm able to group them together.
For example as a climate scientist, I'm very conscious of the fact that the biggest part of my carbon footprint, the amount of carbon I produce personally is due to flying to scientific meetings and conferences and to give talks about climate change. Yes.
[0:13:56.7] JR: Oh, the irony.
[0:13:57.7] KH: Exactly. Not to mention the fact that our time is the most non-renewable resource we have. Traveling somewhere to give a one-hour talk takes orders of magnitude, more time than it would be if you gave it virtually. About five years ago, I sat down and I realized I was spending a disproportionate amount of my time traveling to and from places. I was spending the biggest amount of my carbon doing so too.
At the same time, I was contacted by a guy called Brian Webb, who is the Sustainability Coordinator for Houghton College, a small Wesleyan College in upstate New York. He was finishing his master's degree at the Harvard Extension Program and he said, “I would like you to come speak.” I said, “Well, I'm actually trying to cut down on that.” He said, “No, no, no. I want to run an experiment. I want to see if speaking to evangelical college students really makes a difference. I want to run an experiment where I ask some questions before, then they go to your talk and I ask them their opinion afterwards and I see if it's changed.”
I said, “Well, could we add something to this? When this students show up for the talk, could we divide them randomly into two groups, where one group goes and watches a video of me talking.”
[0:15:04.0] JR: Interesting.
[0:15:05.0] KH: Yes. Whereas, the other group sees me live. He said, “Absolutely.” We did that. Here's what we found. He asked the students over 30 questions. It was very detailed survey. Number one, he found a statistically significant difference in over, let's see, I think all but two or three of the questions between before and after both talks. Obviously, actually talking was effective. That was good, because if it wasn't effective, I was going to quit.
[0:15:31.9] JR: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was hoping you were going to say there was no difference, yeah, so I could stop traveling. Yeah.
[0:15:36.6] KH: Right. Right. I was hoping that, because again, if our time is the most non-renewable resource we have, you don't want to be doing something that isn't effective. Then he did not find any statistically significant difference between the video versus the live talk.
[0:15:50.5] JR: Wow.
[0:15:51.4] KH: Yeah. I said, “All right. I'm totally changing how I do this.” I have worked consciously over time to transition 80% of the talks I give to virtual talks. I now I'm able to give double the talks for a tenth the amount of my time investment. I do an online class, which I had already started before the pandemic hit, thank goodness. When I travel and here comes the planning part of it, when I travel, I only travel to a location when I have multiple events to do in the same location. I started off doing –
[0:16:21.7] JR: Quick matching.
[0:16:22.5] KH: Yeah, exactly. That's why you have to plan so far ahead of time, because you can't line up five different requests in Washington DC with three months lead notice.
[0:16:30.7] JR: I love this. I'm spending my time as an author. I’m writing books for Penguin Random House right now. It's just conventional wisdom that you're going to travel all the time and speak. It's something I've really been questioning lately. Listen, I think speaking live is important, but I have a question, do you really have to be there in person? It's so terribly inefficient.
I enjoy it. I love it. There's something different about speaking to a live audience that you can't get virtually. I love this. You're giving us data to deal with to make these decisions. All right, let's talk about the meat of this conversation and faith at work. Here's what I love about you, from the outside look, you don't appear just to be a Christian who happens to be a climate scientist, I think you said somewhere that you are a climate scientist precisely because you are a Christian, your faith drives you and your pursuit of mastery in this field. Can you explain what you mean by that?
[0:17:26.8] KH: Yes. Well, first of all when I first started studying science, I viewed it very much as studying God's creation. A theologian might study God's written word and I was studying God's expressed word. I was planning though to be an astrophysicist, because I still think it's absolutely amazing that with our brains and nothing more than we can create on this planet, we can study the farthest reaches of the universe.
My dad often referred to the universe as God's art gallery. It’s like, you're not only under – you’re seeing it, you're understanding how God set it all up. When you make one of those aha moment discoveries, the beauty and simplicity of the physical relationships that hold this universe together, it is an awe-inspiring and really worshipful experience. In and of itself, studying science can be an incredibly spiritual experience.
I was almost finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in astrophysics when I needed an extra class to finish my degree. I'd already taken a minor in Spanish, because I grew up as a missionary kid in South America and I'd already taken children's literature and the classes that we all take to fill the cracks in our schedule. I looked over in the geography department and there was this brand-new class on climate science that had just started this year. I thought, “Well, that looks interesting. Why not take it?”
I took it very much with the attitude of we have these environmental issues, like deforestation, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution and climate change. People who are environmentalists care about these issues and try to fix them and the rest of us wish them well. That's what they do. I certainly wish them well, but I really didn't see it as any of my business or my concern.
I took this class and I was completely shocked. First of all, I was shocked to learn that climate science is the exact same physics I've been learning in my astrophysics classes. I don't know what I thought it was, but I didn't think it was that. Then and this is what really changed the trajectory of my entire life, I learned that climate change is not only what we would consider an environmental issue, climate change is an everything issue.
Climate change is as the US military now calls it, a threat multiplier. It takes the concerns we already have today and it multiplies them, or makes them worse and the biggest concerns that we have today regarding poverty, hunger, disease, lack of access to water, resources, political instability, civil conflict, even refugee crises, all of the issues that I had seen firsthand affecting people who I knew and loved growing up in a developing country, climate change was making those worse. Even worse is the fact that those people, the poorest and most vulnerable in the world have done the least to actually contribute to the problem. It is the most unfair thing you can imagine.
As a Christian, I couldn’t not do what I could. I felt absolutely compelled to offer the skills and the resources I had, because I thought naively at that time. It's such a huge problem. Surely, we'll fix it soon and then I can go back to astrophysics. We have to fix it, because it just isn't fair, and how can we be loving our neighbor, loving our sisters and our brothers as ourselves, how can we be saying that we do that if we're not trying to fix this massive global issue that is making everything they already suffer from worse?
[0:20:44.3] JR: Amen. I'm so glad you went here without me having to ask, because when I heard you talk about this for the first time, this is a big deal and here's the deal, on the surface, right? Hunger, poverty, lack of access to clean water, injustice, refugee crises, all Christians agree that these are issues that Jesus would have us address and redeem and engage and alleviate in our culture. While evangelical Christians are disproportionately likely to not believe the claims of climate scientists, I think we can all agree that these problems need to be solved.
Can you give an example though of how this happens? Take one of those big humanitarian problems, draw a line between climate change and how climate changes this threat and multiplier for one of those issues that I think all Christians would agree we care about.
[0:21:33.3] KH: Mm-hmm. I absolutely can do that. First, let me just really confirm what you just said. Often, we feel like to care about climate change, we have to be a certain type of person. We have to be an environmentalist, or a liberal, or a tree hugger.
[0:21:44.8] JR: You have to be a registered Democrat. Right.
[0:21:46.6] KH: Yeah, yeah. Definitely that. The reality is that who we already are is already the perfect person to care. We as Christians are already equipped with every value we need to care. Not just every value, we have the love of God poured out in our heart. That's what we believe.
If we truly take the Bible seriously, if we truly act out of our new heart that we've been given, we are at the front of the line demanding action on this issue, because it affects everything that we already care about from the responsibility that God has given us over every living thing on this planet that he talks about in Genesis 1, Chapter 1, to our care for our brothers and sisters around the world and right here in the places where we live today.
Let me give you a couple of examples, starting big picture and then getting down to specifics. Big picture, since the 1960s, the impacts of a changing climate on food scarcity, on increased risk of floodings and stronger droughts, it has led to about 5 billion dollars’ worth of crop losses every year, the majority of those in poor countries and it has increased the economic gap between the richest and the poorest countries already by as much as 25%.
[0:23:03.3] JR: Wow. That's the 30,000 foot view. Let's bring this home. In many places in the world, which are primarily agricultural, like many places in Africa, the agricultural season is very governed by here's the rainy season, here's the dry season. The traditional knowledge handed down over generations is here are the science you look for when you plant and when you harvest.
Well, what's happening is the traditional timing of the seasons is being completely disrupted. We're seeing longer and stronger dry periods and then when the rains come, they come in heavy downpours that don't sink into the soil. They just wash away and they flood the crops. A lot of traditional knowledge, whether it's in Africa in terms of growing maize, or whether it's up in the Arctic with Native American peoples up there in terms of what animals to hunt, where and when and how, their traditional knowledge is becoming not only unhelpful to them, in some cases actually dangerous, because things are changing so quickly.
Those are the people who live off the resources of the land. They don't have bank accounts. They don't have insurance. They don't have the National Guard. All they have is what they can grow and what they can catch. Well then, bringing it home to the cities where we live, a couple of years ago, I was asked to give a talk at a fundraising banquet for a woman and children's shelter in Halifax, which is a city in Canada and the Maritimes. They dealt primarily with women and children who had become homeless due to various traumas.
During the day, the executive director took me around to the various homes and shelters they run and talked to some of the people and it became very obvious that as heavy rainfall increases, as flooding increases, as the heat waves, even in Canada we have heat waves, as the summer heat waves get more dangerous, as the storms that come all the way up the coast, hurricanes do come all the way up to Canada, but as those hurricanes get stronger and more damaging, who are the people who are most vulnerable? It's the people who live on the street.
After people who live on the street, it's the people who live in a shelter who don't have personal transportation, who have to rely on public transportation that gets shut down during a flooding or a storm, who if you miss one mental health appointment, you tend to – it's very common for you to just fall off the wagon, because you need that continuity to keep going. Or they can't make it to their job, they lose the money that they needed to pay their bills, they get evicted. There's this horrible snowball that happens even right here in our very cities, let alone on the other side of the world. Climate change is not initiating these problems, it is taking a problem that already exists and it is magnifying it, or making it worse.
[0:25:33.1] JR: Oh, man. This is serious stuff. I watched your TED talk a while back, which is as you know, wildly popular, something like 3 million views sounds like, which is terrific. Then I found your YouTube show, which I loved even more. It's called Global Weirding, for those of you guys listening. Global Weirding, Climate Politics and Religion. There was this one video that stood out to me. You were talking about how polling shows pretty consistently that white evangelicals are the least likely, like literally at the bottom of the polling data to believe in climate change, or that humans have anything to do with this. Why is that?
[0:26:12.1] KH: Well, when you tease that apart, it turns out that it has nothing to do with where we go to church. In fact, sadly, half of the people who self-identified as evangelicals in the last US federal election, when they were created further, it turns out they don't even go to church at all.
[0:26:26.3] JR: Right, right.
[0:26:27.1] KH: Yes. Evangelical in the United States has very much become more of a political label than a theological label. In fact, I often try to differentiate between the two. I once asked Leith Anderson, who was the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a pastor from Minnesota, asked Leith, “How would you define an evangelical?” He gave me a wonderful definition for a theological evangelical. A theological evangelicals as he said, someone who takes the Bible seriously. I love that.
Then we have seen the rise and this hasn't happened overnight, it's happened over decades. We've seen the rise of political evangelicals, whose statement of faith is dictated first, by their politics and only a distant second by what the Bible actually says. If the two come into conflict, sadly, a lot of times they'll go with what the politics say over what the Bible says. We've really seen this I think thrown into great relief in recent years, where positions that are radically opposite to anything you could see in the gospels in the New Testaments are advocated for people somehow in the name of Christ.
When they dig into why would somebody who calls himself an evangelical in the US and this is very, very US-centric phenomena, I have to emphasize. Why would they say that? It turns out it has nothing to do with where we do, or don't go to church. It has everything to do with our affiliation with the right-hand side of the political spectrum. A thermometer doesn't give you a different number if you're Democrat or Republican. Climate is changing, we have checked, it isn't volcanoes, it is not solar cycles, there's not natural cycles. It really is humans. The impacts are serious, because they affect every single one of us no matter how we vote, though they do affect the poorest and most vulnerable more than they do those the wealthy.
There's nothing political about those statements, so how did this become so political, it's because of the fourth. Number one, it's happening. Number two, it's us. Number three, it's serious. What's number four? We should do something about it. That's number four. That's where it gets political and that's where it should get political, because there is no one perfect solution. We need solutions from across the political spectrum.
Unfortunately, a large group of industry and then politicians and then by extension, those of us who adhere to a certain part of the political spectrum, we've decided that it's just easier to say it's not real than to say it's real, but we have to fix it.
[0:28:41.0] JR: Right. There's a big difference between those two philosophies. We talked about hurricanes, we've talked about increased hunger amongst the poorest people. I mean, isn't climate change a pro-life issue? Do you view it as that?
[0:28:53.8] KH: Oh, absolutely. 100%. In fact, the Evangelical Environmental Network, which if you haven't heard of, please look them up, their president, a pastor named Mitch Hesscox is really wonderful at emphasizing the links between fossil fuel extraction. He grew up in the coal mining area in Pennsylvania and he used to work in the coal industry himself. The fact that taking the tops off mountains massively pollutes the waters, it affects the unborn, it affects children, it affects maternal health.
Then when you burn the fossil fuels, it produces air pollution, which get this, air pollution kills 200,000 people in the United States every year, disproportionately the youngest, the oldest and the people who don't have access to quality healthcare, so the poorest and most vulnerable. Then you've got a changing climate, which disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable, especially woman and children. You put it all together and there is no doubt that climate change is a pro-life issue.
Again, getting back to what we're talking about, Jordan, caring about and acting on climate change is not something we do despite the fact that we're a Christian. Or even because we're a Christian, it's something that actually enables us to more fully express who we truly are for pro-life. It enables us to be even more pro-life than we were before.
[0:30:09.8] JR: Yeah. I'm as pro-life as they come, as that term is traditionally defined, but I have started to scratch my head over the last few years and especially frankly, in the middle of this COVID-19 crisis over how narrowly pro-life is defined. right? Yo, speaking of this current moment, this COVID-19 crisis, based on what we're seeing and polling, the people who are most staunchly pro-life are also the people least likely to listen to scientists at the CDC about what we need you to protect the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable in our communities, right? Are you reading the situation the same way? If so, I mean, well, these are the same things, right? It’s the same issues here, right?
[0:30:52.2] KH: You are 100% correct. I am so frustrated by the fact that pro-life seems to mean I care about life from conception and till birth. But then after birth, you're on your own, suckers. I mean, I'm sorry to be a bit extreme there, but that's actually what it seems like sometimes. I would say I'm pro-life in the true sense of it is I'm pro-life. That doesn't mean life from conception to birth. It means life from conception to death.
Especially when it's the poorest and most vulnerable people who are affected by all of these different issues, which climate change multiplies, how can we even call ourselves pro-life if we don't care about those two?
[0:31:25.9] JR: You’re a pastor's wife. I'm sure, I'm certain, I don't even have to ask you to know I'm certain you've heard people in the church say something to the effect of, “Okay, Katharine. Fine. You win. You're the scientist. I'll concede that climate change is real, but who cares?” Right? We talked about part of the reason why we care, because it affects all these other issues. Yeah, I've heard people say this before, the Bible says the world's going to burn up at the end anyway, so why care? Why do anything? I'm really eager to tee you up to respond to that line of thinking. Go ahead. How would you address that line of thinking?
[0:32:03.4] KH: Well, from a biblical perspective, the interesting thing is that we do have a Global Weirding episode that addresses this argument, “The world is going to end anyway, so why do we care?” Global Weirding is a PBS show, but they were very open as to doing any topic I wanted. I said, “Well, I would love to do just one video and what does the Bible say about climate change, because of all these questions I get.” If the world is going to end anyways, why does it matter? Are you saying that God is not in control anymore if we humans could affect the planet? God said that he would never flood the earth again. He promised Noah, so how can you say the sea level is rising? God said there will always be seasons, so how can you say the planet is warming?
I made this one episode, what does the Bible say about climate change, more for my own satisfaction and to provide to people who ask those questions. Guess what? It is head and shoulders, far and away the most watched episode of the entire show.
[0:32:55.4] JR: I'm not surprised.
[0:32:56.9] KH: Yeah. I was, but not anymore. How would I address that in that show? Well, as a Christian, I would say yes, the Bible says that the world will eventually pass away. In fact as a scientist, we also know that's true, because eventually as our sun evolves, it won’t support life on earth anymore. The Bible speaks very clearly, in Thessalonians for example, to people who are saying, “Oh, well Christ is returning any day now, so it really doesn't matter what we do. We'll just quit our jobs and lay around and gobble up all the food when we come together and not leave money for the poor people who come too late.”
Paul writes to people and he says very sternly. He says, “Care for the poor. Care for the people. Care for the widows and the orphans. You don't know when the day or the time is. In the meantime, we've got things to do.” There's no excuse in the Bible for just sitting back in the lazy boy, putting our feet up and waiting for the eject button to be pushed.
[0:33:45.9] JR: By the way, scripture also makes clear that Revelation 21 in particular, that there's coming a day where there will be a new earth. That Christ will eventually redeem all things. That's why I talk so much about heaven on this podcast, because I think the church's theology of heaven, frankly, is more influenced by culture than it is scripture. Randy Alcorn does a great job talking about this in his book Heaven, the difference between the present heaven and the future heaven on the new earth. A lot of theologians believe this is going to mean a fully redeemed, basically second earth with the restoration of the one we are working to redeem today. That's got to influence how you approach your work today.
You're fighting against this massive problem, but in the end, there's this biblical promise of a new earth. I'm curious how that drives you and your work right now.
[0:34:38.1] KH: Well, the messaging is very different depending on whether you're speaking to people who believe that the earth will ultimately be redeemed and it's our job to do that. Versus if you're talking to people who think the earth will ultimately be destroyed and rebuilt as God's agency rather than ours.
[0:34:53.3] JR: What do you believe?
[0:34:54.5] KH: I'm not out to argue with people in that theology, because no matter what we believe, what happens today still matters.
[0:35:00.2] JR: Amen.
[0:35:01.0] KH: The message of stewardship, of caring for creation, which of course includes us humans, not just animals and plants, we're part of creation too, the message of stewardship often resonates if we believe that we are to be engaged, we have agency in restoring the earth.
Then in terms of if you feel the earth will ultimately be destroyed, those are the people Paul was writing to in Thessalonians, basically saying, get a job, take care of people, you've got stuff to do. Don't worry about when the day or the time is. That's something that God is going to take care of. Right now, we are called to walk in the good works that have been prepared for us in advance.
Those good works again, do not consist of putting your feet up in the lazy boy and waiting for God to push the eject button for you. Moving on from that though, people might still say, “Okay, but why should I care?” Because you're talking about these poor people that don't even know. Well, no. Often, they're the people right in the city where you live, are the people who are most affected by these issues. When there's a heatwave, they can't pay their air-conditioning bill. If they are a farmer or a producer, then a flood or a drought comes, they don't have adequate insurance or money in the bank to cover themselves. If they're living on the street, they are disproportionately affected by all of the again, heavier rain, more intense heat that comes.
When we're talking about climate change often, people perceive it again to be an environmentalist issue. If you care about polar bears, if you care about trees, then you care about climate change. If I don't care about polar bears or trees, I don't care about climate change.
In fact, I am really convinced that over 99% of us, in fact probably 99.9% of us, we already have all of the other values we need to care in addition to being a Christian too, because I have yet to discover anyone that I've been able to have a conversation with that doesn't care about something that's affected by climate change, whether that something is hunting or fishing, whether it's their kids and their kids’ health, whether it's having a healthy economy, whether it's having local jobs, whether it's national security, whether it's the quality of the food that we eat, or the quality of the air that we breathe, whether it's our health.
You and I are talking in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. I think the pandemic has really showed us in a way that we haven't seen in our lifetimes that when it all comes down to it, when all the chips are on the table, it does not matter who we are, where we live, what language we speak, what country we’re from, what part of the political spectrum we identify with. When it all comes down to it, the same thing matters to all of us. It's the health and the safety of our family, our loved ones, our friends, our community, the area where we live, the region we live, the state, the country. That's what matters to every single one of us. That is what the pandemic threatened and that is exactly what climate change threatens too.
It isn't a case of trying to instill new values into people, which comes with a hefty side of judgment, the undertone of you don't have the right values, so let me instruct you. That always goes over a ton of bricks. It's a case of respecting the fact that people already have all of the right values, but they just haven't connected the dots. If we can connect the dots, we're actually helping that person be a truer and more genuine expression of who they already are and who God has made them.
[0:38:20.8] JR: Speaking of connecting the dots, you have connected the dots between your faith and your work as a climate scientist in a very public way, but you didn't have to do that. You could have very easily engaged in your work as a climate scientist and been a Christian and had that influence your work in a private way, but you've chosen to make those dots connected publicly. Why have you done that?
[0:38:44.0] KH: You're absolutely right. Many of my colleagues have chosen the latter. In fact, people often have the stereotype as all scientists are liberal atheists. It turns out that thanks to the work of Elaine Eckland, who's a social scientist at Rice University, who I highly recommend having on your podcast.
[0:39:00.7] JR: Yeah, okay.
[0:39:01.5] KH: Thanks to Elaine's work, she has surveyed over 1,600 scientists at top research universities across the US. She's found that 70% of us are spiritual people, in other words that we believe there is more to life than what science can observe. 50% of us identify with a specific religious tradition. We would say I am Hindu, I am Jewish, I am Christian. Christian being the largest category in the United States.
My own experience has borne that out. I have met everyone from graduate students, to the most accomplished professors in my field who are Christians, but they've been living out their faith through doing good science, through the directions that they decided to pursue, the questions they decided to ask, why they mattered to people.
One of the giants in our field, a man called Sir John Houghton, just passed away a few weeks ago from COVID-19. He was already retired. He was 88-years-old, but he had led the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He had been involved in climate science and climate action for decades and he was very outspoken about the fact that he did it not despite of, but because of his Christian faith, because climate change affects the poorest and most vulnerable people.
[0:40:11.0] JR: That’s beautiful.
[0:40:11.5] KH: For a long time, I was like other scientists for about 10 years doing my science and asking the questions I was asking, because I was concerned about how people were being affected. Increasingly, here's what happened. My husband's a pastor and as people in the church started to figure out what his wife did, they didn't want to be rude, they didn't want to come up to the pastor's wife and say, “How could you be setting [inaudible 0:40:32.9]?” 10 runs lower on the credibility ladder than astrology.
They would ask him. They would come to him and they would say, “Well, if you don't mind me asking, why do you think the climate is changing, or that it isn't just volcanoes that are doing it? Don't it's been warmer before, or won't fixing climate change require a complete socialist takeover of the government?”
He would come home to me and we would talk about it and we would try to find resources we could give people. The more we looked, the more we realized it, there weren't very many resources. There was a lot of stuff written for people who already assumed yes, it's all real. Let's just learn more about the science, or talk about solutions, but we couldn't find hardly anything at that time more than 10 years ago now, whether it was a website, a series of videos, book, documentary. We really couldn't find anything that would meet people where they were at that would say yes, that's a really good question. How do we know it's even happening? Let's look at that.
Instead of just saying, “Oh, how dare you ask that question?” A lot of people felt like that was the response they often got. After a couple of years of this, we finally decided we should really write a book together, where my husband outlines the book all of the questions that we need to address and then I write in the responses. He makes sure that they actually makes sense, because then we would have something to give people.
That was the moment at which I decided I had to tell people I was a Christian, because I'd be writing this book and well really, a big part of the reason why we felt we could do this was not just because I was a scientist, but because I was also a Christian too.
[0:42:08.8] JR: Yeah. It's the why and why changes everything, right?
[0:42:11.3] KH: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
[0:42:12.9] JR: Yeah. I love it.
[0:42:13.7] KH: That was a watershed moment for me though, because that was when I was scared about what will my colleagues think? It turns out, I’m one of those evangelicals. What will they think about that? I was really worried that I'd be flushing my career down the toilet at that point. I am delighted, 10 years later now, to say that I could not have been more wrong and that I completely, completely misjudged the scientific community as a whole and my colleagues in particular.
[0:42:36.2] JR: I love that. Hey Dr. Hayhoe, three questions I love to end every conversation with, number one, which books do you recommend, or gift most frequently to others? Could be on any topic; faith, work, business, science, whatever.
[0:42:49.4] KH: Well, I love to read and I have huge bookshelves. There's not one book that I tend to give to people in general, just because it really depends on what that person is interested in.
A book that I am reading right now is called The Evangelicals. I have to say it's a very dense book. It's not easy to read. It's not written in a way that's very accessible to a non-expert historian, but The Evangelicals tracks the history of religion in America specifically. Most of all, it tracks the fact that politics and religion have been in bed together since day one and politics and culture and the social pressures of the day have rewritten our theological statement more times than you can possibly count.
What it does is it really opens our eyes to how many things we take for granted as a core part of what we believe that actually came into being just in some cases, decades ago, in other cases, maybe a hundred years ago. They came into place, because of the response of the United States to this World War I, rather than any fundamental problem with evolution in the beginning.
[0:43:57.6] JR: Who would you most like to hear talk about how their faith influences their work, maybe on this podcast?
[0:44:03.3] KH: I highly recommend that you invite Elaine Eckland, if you haven't already.
[0:44:06.9] JR: Yeah. Okay, I haven't yet, but I'm going to put her on the list. She’s sounds amazing.
[0:44:10.7] KH: Yeah, because I'll tell you a very short story about hers. She is a sociologist who studies people, that's what sociologists do. She was still in the early parts of her career when she was in church one day, she's goes to a Presbyterian Church, and during the time in the service when you stand up and you chat to people around you and shake their hands, in the course of a conversation, the woman beside her said, “Well, you know those scientists, they're all godless liberal atheists.” Elaine thought to herself, “I wonder if that's true.” That's where her whole research program started.
[0:44:41.1] JR: That’s fascinating. I love that.
[0:44:42.6] KH: [Inaudible 0:44:42.3] great time and the service at church.
[0:44:44.1] JR: That's really funny. Presbyterian church, I love it. All right, so Dr. Hayhoe, we haven't talked a ton about master of craft. We talked a little bit about it, but this is a group of people that you're speaking to who love Jesus and out of a deep love for him and care to love their neighbor as themselves, they want to do great work, whether they're scientists, or entrepreneurs, or artists, what one piece of advice would you leave them with as they seek to do their best work for the glory of God and the good of others?
[0:45:12.7] KH: There are so many books that tell us to have a one-year plan, a five-year plan, a 10-year plan that tell us to have three priorities, or 10 priorities, that tell us how to structure our life, how to plan for the future, but the reality is we can only live in the present. Jesus talks quite a bit about not living in the past, or not living in the future, but living in the present. The biggest thing that I have discovered is that every plan that I had of what I could possibly achieve, most of those never came true.
In fact, I've achieved things that I never even dreamed of achieving. It happened not by making one-year, five-year, 10-year, 20-year goals, it happened by doing one simple thing, which is taking one step forward and again, the good works that I know that God has designed for each of us to do. I didn't know where that one step would lead. Often, I've taken a step forward in a direction that colleagues I respect have advised against, or questioned, or thought why on earth would you be doing that or moving there, engaging in this?
Each time, just one step forward, not even seeing the next step and sometimes taking that step forward thinking, I don't really want to do this, but I feel compelled that this is what I should be doing. Even again, thinking why am I doing? It doesn't even make rational sense per se. That one step forward has led me to a completely and radically different and frankly, much better place than if I had been the master of my own ship controlling my own destiny, laying out the path of my own life from the early days.
[0:46:42.8] JR: In the words of Princess Anna from Frozen 2, just do the next right thing, right? Take it one step.
[0:46:49.1] KH: That’s a great way to end it. I like her better than Elsa.
[0:46:51.6] JR: There you go. Yeah. Me too. We should talk about that some time. Hey, Dr. Hayhoe, I just want to commend you for the important God-glorifying, eternally significant work that you do. Thank you for showing us that science and Christianity do not conflict and thank you for your commitment to mastering your craft as a means of really practically being the hands and feet of Christ, redeeming every square inch of creation.
Hey, if you guys want to connect with Dr. Hayhoe, it's pretty easy to find her at katharinehayhoe.com, on YouTube, her TED Talk. We're going to have all those links right here in the show notes. Dr. Hayhoe, thanks again for joining me.
[0:47:24.9] KH: Thank you for having me.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:47:27.0] JR: That was terrific. We've been trying to get Dr. Hayhoe on the phone for some time now. I'm so glad she was finally able to make it. Hey, thank you guys so much for tuning in to this episode of The Call to Mastery. I'll see you next time.