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Atmospheric scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe explains why climate change is a social justice issue that demands action now INTERVIEW BY KRISTIN OSTENSEN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR


s an atmospheric scientist, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe has an impressive resumé. She’s the director of the climate science centre at Texas Tech University, a lead author for the U.S. government’s 2014 Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, and she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most-influential people of 2014. Hayhoe is also an evangelical Christian who is committed to educating others about the urgent need for action in response to climate change. She spoke to Salvationist from her office in Lubbock, Texas. As an atmospheric scientist, what do you do? What is the focus of your research? I study what climate change means to us in the places where we live. So often we think of climate change as this distant issue—that it’s about the polar bears or the people in Africa—but I study how climate change affects us if we live in Toronto or Texas, whatever part of the world we live in. You were born in Toronto but you moved to Colombia when you were nine years old as your parents became missionaries. How did that experience affect you? That was a life-altering experience in many ways, and one of the biggest ways was seeing how vulnerable we can be 20 • September 2014 • Salvationist

to the natural environment. Climate change is increasing the risk of a lot of the extreme events that we are already experiencing today. It’s making floods more frequent. It’s making coastal storms and hurricanes stronger. So to actually know people and see with my own eyes the destructive power of these events really brought home why this matters. Often, climate change is seen as a planet issue or a creation care issue, but I really think of it as a people issue because we’re the ones who are suffering the most from it. Not “we,” living our nice, insulated lives as middle-class citizens in North America. It’s many of our brothers and sisters who are not so fortunate, who we, as Christians, are told to care for. They don’t have the resources that we do, and these are the people who are being affected. Looking around the world, where have we seen and where will we see the greatest impacts of climate change? The magnitude of the impact depends on three things. It depends on how much change you’re seeing, what kind of change you’re seeing and how vulnerable people are. You could have the same event hit a city in North America, where social services and infrastructure are available, and the impacts would be much smaller than in a place that doesn’t have that. With events like flooding

or sea-level rise, if you have a highly developed population along the coast— especially in Southeast Asia and Latin America, for example—you’re going to see big impacts because you have a combination of lots of people, vulnerable populations and rapid changes (see Figures 1 and 2). There is a stereotype that Christians aren’t interested in science. What led you into this field? My father is a science educator. He just retired recently as the science coordinator for the Toronto District School Board, and he’s now a professor training science teachers at Tyndale University College and Seminary. So I grew up with the idea that science is the most fascinating thing you could possibly study in the entire world! I also grew up with the idea that in studying science, we’re studying what God was thinking when he set up the planet. My dad has this tremendous innate sense of wonder and awe at God’s creation and he did a fantastic job of communicating that to me and my sisters. So I was preconditioned to see science as an extension of my faith, as well as just my interest in the world. You’ve been called a climate change evangelist because you speak about the reality of climate change to Christians, many of whom, in the United States at least, don’t think it’s

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The Gathering Storm

Salvationist - September 2014  
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