Speaking the Truth in Love: Katharine Hayhoe on Climate Change

By Elizabeth Palmberg 02-02-2012
Dr. Hayhoe, with one of her inspirations to fight climate change.

Dr. Hayhoe, with one of her inspirations to fight climate change.

There are a lot of heinously unmerited personal attacks going on in these United States right now, but for some reason I’m most bothered by the ones against Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian. As this current Sojourners action alert describes, she’s been targeted by Rush Limbaugh, among others, for her efforts to speak the truth about global warming.

Partly, these attacks get under my skin because I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for evangelical scientists. My dad is one, and my Intervarsity-linked Bible study in grad school was so full of them that, as often the lone humanities student, I jokingly made up a scientific discipline to fit in (“I’m in immunostatistics — I model atypical populations.”)

But mostly, the attacks on Hayhoe sadden me because she’s so genuine and earnest in her desire not just to convey the evidence for climate change, but also to engage in respectful dialogue.

You can see this in the short article she wrote for Sojourners last year, Addressing the Naysayers. You can also see it in a recent interview she gave the Responding to Climate Change website, in which she recounts how her volume of hate mail has gone way up recently: “The abuse, the virulence, the hatred is astonishing. And much of it is coming from people who share much of the same values as I do, and that’s what is so hurtful…. I got an email the other day so obscene I had to file a police report. They mentioned my child.”

She sees in this — and I think her analysis is spot-on — an example of a general failure of civility in public discourse:

It’s unacceptable right now for anyone to be in the middle, so everybody is being pushed to one side or the other, being stereotyped or caricatured.... The political forum is the most obvious, because it has the most people, but it’s happening everywhere. That’s why I talk to people — I go to Christian colleges and churches and seniors’ homes and talk to people.

After speaking to a group of petroleum engineers in Texas, she recounts,

I got an email in the past week from one of them who said ‘I still disagree, but I just wanted to tell you that you don’t deserve anything that they are saying about you because you were courteous, respectful towards me and I felt we had a good interaction’, and I thought — that was the best email.

That, she says, is “one of the nicest emails I ever got.”

Right now, Sojourners is collecting up something else nice for Dr. Hayhoe — signatures on a letter of support. There’s still time to sign through early next week.

Elizabeth Palmberg is an associate editor of Sojourners magazine and tweets @Zabpalmberg.

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