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Climate Hustle

Study: Katharine Hayhoe is successfully convincing doubtful evangelicals about climate change

Posted on 28 August 2017 by dana1981

Approximately one-quarter of Americans identify as evangelical Christians, and that group also tends to be more resistant to the reality of human-caused global warming. As a new paper by Brian Webb and Doug Hayhoe notes:

a 2008 study found that just 44% of evangelicals believed global warming to be caused mostly by human activities, compared to 64% of nonevangelicals (Smith and Leiserowitz, 2013) while, a 2011 survey found that only 27% of white evangelicals believed there to be a scientific consensus on climate change, compared to 40% of the American public (Public Religion Research Institute, 2011).

These findings appear to stem from two primary factors. First, evangelicals tend to be socially and politically conservative, and climate change is among the many issues that have become politically polarized in America. Second, there is sometimes a perceived conflict between science and religion, as Christians distrust what they perceive as scientists’ “moral agenda” on issues like evolution, stem cell research, and climate change. As Webb and Hayhoe describe it:

theological conservatism, scientific skepticism, political affiliation, and sociocultural influences have reinforced one another to instill climate skepticism into the evangelical tribe mentality, thus creating a formidable barrier to climate education efforts.

Evangelical climate leaders

There are also evangelicals who have tried to convince their peer group about the reality of human-caused climate change and our moral obligation to address it. These include the Evangelical Environmental Network, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, and evangelical climate scientists like Sir John Houghton and Doug Hayhoe’s daughter Katharine Hayhoe(one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people). However, a majority of evangelicals continue to reject the reality of human-caused climate change, and there hasn’t been research quantifying the effectiveness of these evangelical climate leadership efforts.

Brian Webb and Doug Hayhoe’s study did just that by testing the effectiveness of a climate lecture delivered by Katharine Hayhoe to undergraduate students at the predominantly evangelical Houghton College in New York. Approximately half of the participants self-identified as conservatives and Republicans, 28% as liberals and Democrats, and the remainder as neither liberal nor conservative. 63% of the participants identified as evangelicals (most of the rest were of other Christian denominations).

Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture presented climate science information through the lens of an evangelical tradition. In addition to presenting scientific evidence, it included an introduction about the difference between faith and science (faith is based on things that are spiritually discerned, whereas science is based on observation). About six minutes of the 33- to 53-minute lectures were devoted to theology-based ethics.

Hayhoe lecture’s effectiveness

The participants filled out a survey before and after the lecture, detailing their acceptance that global warming is happening, its cause, whether there’s a scientific consensus, how high of a priority they consider it, how worried they are about it, and how much it will harm various groups. The results showed an increase in pro-climate beliefs for every single question after listening to Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture.

Acceptance that global warming is happening increased for 48% of participants, and that humans are causing it for 39%. Awareness of the expert scientific consensus increased among 27% of participants. 52% were more worried about climate change after watching the lecture, and 67% increased their responses about how much harm climate change will do. 55% of participants viewed addressing climate change a higher priority after attending Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture. For most of the remaining participants, there was no change in responses to these questions.

By testing three different lecture approaches, Webb and Hayhoe also concluded that the lecture was equally effective when presented in person or as a recorded video, and that adding material about common climate misconceptions didn’t make the lecture any more effective.

Facts matter – especially when they come from trusted sources

There’s been some debate among social scientists about how much facts matter in today’s politically polarized society. 

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Comments

Comments 1 to 4:

  1. I'm sure Katharine is changing some peoples minds for good but how many is an interesting question. 30% of americans are still very sceptical about evolution, ( more for christians) so this suggests she will probably have mixed success, but every little bit helps build a critical mass of public opinion.

    People become entrenched in their views over anything political or religious,  and sometimes not wanting to admit they were wrong. I recall the sin of 'pride' in the bible somewhere but Im not really religious.

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  2. I think Katherine is getting help from Harvey (not the professor, the hurricane).  Nuccitelli: "There’s been some debate among social scientists about how much facts matter in today’s politically polarized society."  We entered the 'Age of Consequences' about a decade ago and these consequences are now becoming obvious.  Among the 'trusted sources' that can help skeptical evangelical students to accept Hayhoe's message increasingly must be listed their own eyes.

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  3. An issue with these kind of studies, IMHO, is the undergraduate student audience. While chosen for convenience, it may not be representative of a wider population depending on what was asked and how the study was conducted. In this case, age may be the culprit. The young person's (political) mind is often still forming, changing, adapting, while over 30-year olds are more difficult to reach. This is a fundamental issue with much of social science research, although some results (see above link) are encouraging. I think the students would have to be followed, aka re-interviewed a regular intervals, to see if this actually made a difference. We know that an equal "treatment" with the myths can easily erase the effect, and if the fact-based "treatment" is not repeated, the effect diminishes over time.

    That does not discount the known effect of the "trusted source". I think it should rather be called "in-group" vs. "out-group": A source may not be "trusted" a priori (not literally), but if the information is coming from a person considered in-group in some way (here, also evangelical), his/her message is accepted much more easily, and if that experience is repeated, replacement of accepted myths by scientific facts may eventually happen.

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  4. It seems to me that the clincher argument to present to the christians is genesis.  Dad passed the family business on to us his children.  Do we think he then wanted us to grind it into the mud and destroy it.  Surly he would be more pleased if we preserved and nurtured his great works.  He gave us fish to eat but clearly didn't intend us to be so greedy that we drove them into extinction.  He gave us fossil fuel to use but surly didn't want us to use it at such a rate that we destroy the earth.  He gave us intelligence to understand what is best for us in the long term and the best for perserving this miracle we live in.  I simply do not understand the fundamentalists.  They should be the leaders in the environmental movements.  Instead it is the athiest who want to preserve the earth in it's beauty.

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