Trusted Messengers, Trusted Messages

By Emily Parker

Of the over 327 million people residing in the United States of America, roughly 1 in 4 people — or just over 80.5 million — identify as evangelical Christians. More than half of this group rejects the notion that the activities of humans have caused climate change, either in part or in whole.

The American conversation on climate change has become to a point of division for many.  While the majority of Americans are concerned and want solutions, there is still a population which rejects the role of humans in this issue. A question permeates the climate conversation: how do we get everyone to a place of consensus on the gravity of the climate change? How do we foster a common will to change our communal climate’s trajectory?

According to new research by climate scientists Doug Hayhoe, Mark Bloom, and Brian Webb, the solution to reaching the American evangelical population might be simpler than we think. “I don’t believe in climate change, and I never have because it is not a religion,” Doug Hayhoe’s daughter and fellow climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explains. “As a scientist, I look at the data and the facts and they are clear: climate is changing, humans are responsible, the impacts are already serious, and there are solutions if we act now.” The issue with climate change isn’t the message, according to the research — the problem is the delivery. The research team investigated into how best to reach the evangelical demographic using Katherine’s own environmentalism lecture, which sets aside the issue of scientific arguments and graphs, instead focusing on who is delivering the message of climate change and how they frame the issue.

In the research study of undergraduate students at evangelical higher-education institutions, Hayhoe et al. found that students who witnessed the lecture by Katherine about the facts of climate change in a Christian framework had significantly higher rates of acceptance of climate change than students who learned about climate change from a more “straight facts” lecture. Acceptance of climate change as a real occurrence rose from 51% to a whopping 87% for the group who saw the issues discussed in the framework of their belief system, by an evangelical leader.

When a leader of a community speaks out on an issue, the community members are more willing to entertain the ideas being presented, even if they’ve heard the facts before. Take the example of Pope Francis and his writing of his second encyclical, Laudato Si’, in 2015.

Leadership from within, it seems, carries enormous weight for us as humans. We want to trust the source of our information and beliefs, and we need people in positions of power to put their positions to use for the common good. Learn how to speak out with our Let’s Talk Faith and Climate Guide, available under “Resources.”

Read the full research article by Hayhoe, Bloom, and Webb

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