BY KATHARINE HAYHOE AND THOMAS ACKERMAN
Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words, that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.
Specifically, during a recent segment on his radio show Limbaugh stated, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”
Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.
We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.
From the very beginning of the Bible, the goodness of God’s Creation and God’s love for people is front and center. In Genesis, humans are tasked with stewardship of the earth and its creatures. The Psalms praise the beauty of the earth. The gospels exhort us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The epistles emphasize the importance of caring for those in need. It is hard to read through Scripture and not be convinced that caring for people and for the environment in which we live is part of our vocation as humans. It is something we are called to do in order to live faithfully in the world.
These convictions led us to join with 200 evangelical scientists in urging Congress to take action on climate change. Earlier in July, we sent congressional leaders a letter stating, “All of God’s Creation – humans and our environment – is groaning under the weight of our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels, bringing on a warming planet, melting ice, and rising seas. The negative consequences and burdens of a changing climate will fall disproportionately on those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these’: the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed.”
For us, global warming is not a matter of belief – it is about applying our understanding of science to the climate of this planet. The author of Hebrews tells us, “faith is … the evidence of things not seen.” We believe in God through faith. Science, on the other hand, is the evidence of our eyes. We can measure the extent to which natural levels of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere regulate and maintain our climate. We can track how excess heat-trapping gases, beyond what would naturally occur, are being added to the atmosphere every day by human activities. We can calculate how this artificially warms the Earth’s surface, increasing risks of extreme heat, rain, and drought. We can see how these impacts often fall disproportionately on those with the least resources to adapt, the very people we are told to care for by our faith.
While our expertise allows us to understand the complexity of a changing climate and its causes, it is our faith that compels us to speak out and motivates us to push forward despite the opposition from voices like Rush Limbaugh and gridlock in Washington.
We were appalled at the ignorance behind Rush Limbaugh’s statement but we weren’t surprised. One of us had previously been dismissed by him as a “climate babe.”
This isn’t meant to invoke pity, but rather to highlight the absurdity of our public debate around faith and climate change. Rush Limbaugh has a very big megaphone but no expertise or formal credentials to be considered an expert on the changes in climate occurring all around us. He has no theological training or record of leadership within a faith community. He’s simply a radio show host willing to say controversial things, regardless of whether they are true or not.
As a nation, we need to get serious about climate change. This requires informed and sustained conversations followed by practical but significant action. Faith communities are critical as spaces where education happens, where this issue is understood in relation to our deepest values, and where constructive activity is inspired.
Voices like Rush Limbaugh might be entertaining, but they can also become stumbling blocks. We’re speaking out to remind people that Rush is neither a scientific authority nor a religious expert. People of faith know climate change is happening and believe God calls us to action.
Thomas Ackerman received the M.Sc. degree in Physics in 1971 and the Ph. D. in Atmospheric Sciences in 1976 from the University of Washington. He is currently Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Director of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) at the University of Washington. He served as the Chief Scientist for the DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program from 1999 to 2007 and prior to that was a Professor of Meteorology at the Pennsylvania State University..
Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist who studies climate change, and an expert reviewer for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Her life’s work has been dedicated to discovering and communicating the realities of a changing climate to those who will be affected most by it. She is director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University.
This article was first published in the Christian Post on August 31, 2013. It is republished here by permission of the authors and the Christian Post.