Before heading off into the Vancouver evening last week, we watched the first half of the PBS documentary, Climate of Doubt, which examined the manner in which a coalition of powerful moneyed interests, in alliance with like-minded citizens’ groups and (mostly) Republican politicians was able to successfully stymie US congressional efforts to address some of the potential negative consequences of a warming planet.
The documentary takes us through a case of public opinion formation that fits Charles Lindblom’s definition of circularity perfectly. According to Lindblom, government policies that reflect the will of the general public may nonetheless be considered undemocratic if those opinions are formed as the result of undue influence by powerful interest groups and large corporations (read: Exxon Mobil). I have embedded the documentary below, so please watch the remainder. I’ll also use my first post of the semester to provide an example of the what a suitable QIP might look like (after the fold).
Amongst those interviewed is Professor Katharine Hayhoe, who is introduced to viewers as “a climate scientist at Texas Tech [University] in the [Texas] panhandle.” What, in my opinion, distinguishes Professor Hayhoe from many other climate scientists is her deeply professed religious (Christian) faith. In the United States, at least, the manner in which climate science has been politicized has put the majority of religious fundamentalists in the skeptics’ (or denialists’) camp with respect to the debate regarding anthropogenically-induced climate change. In Hayhoe’s words:
I think the perception is often that climate scientists are godless, tree-hugging liberals out to suck all the money out of the average person and use it all to fund all of this research…
My faith is integral to who I am. That’s what defines me, not what I do on a day-to-day basis. And so when I study the planet I feel as if I’m studying something that god created.
It does seem odd that Evangelical Christians* in the United States would not share Professor Hayhoe’s views on the link between god, faith, and environmentalism. No less an expert than Louis C.K. (note: that link is positively, absolutely, NSFW) has commented on this puzzling phenomenon.
Given the curiously high levels of “religiosity” in the United States (the USA is an outlier amongst developed economies), and the overwhelming influence that it has on the economics, politics, and science of climate change, how important is this phenomenon? Can this be something that can be rectified politically, or does a change in Evangelical Christians’ attitudes in the USA have to begin from the minister’s pulpit? Moreover, what is the responsibility of climate scientists to use religion-friendly language to appeal to these religiously-based climate skeptics? Is this phenomenon exclusive to the USA? Are evangelical groups in Canada similar in this respect? I’m not sure, but I suspect that the answer is “sort of.” What about Muslims? In Islam, does the Qu’ran and belief in Allah predispose Muslims to either side of the climate skeptics/believers debate? Or is Islam (and the Qu’ran) just as multi-vocal about environmental issues as is the Bible and Christianity?
* I believe that it is important here to distinguish Evangelical Christian sects–Baptists, Pentecostals, Mormons, etc.–in the United States from Catholics. The Catholic Church’s official view on climate change is closer to the “godless” climate scientists than to Evangelical Christian groups in the USA.