November 9, 2009
Despite all the scientific inquiry and media coverage, there is a still a lot of uncertainty among the American public about what climate change is really all about, especially among conservative Christians.
My wife and I are both Christians. She is a climate scientist and a co-author on the 2009 U.S. Global Change Research Program's decisive report, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States," while I serve as a pastor and a Christian author. We have recently co-authored a book, "A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith Based Decisions." Although Katharine and I don't always agree on every issue involving science or politics, we both acknowledge that global warming is real and that it's having a significant impact on people around the world.
The evidence for a warming planet is convincing. But when we hear something in the news about record cold temperatures or massive snow storms, it's all too tempting to scoff, "So where's that so-called global warming now? I could use a bit of that!"
As humans, we find it difficult to reconcile what our five senses tell us about the weather outside with what scientists are saying about climate change. So let's clarify the debate.
Weather is what our minds are designed to remember. It describes conditions from day to day, week to week, and even from year to year. Weather is that one sweltering week in July, or the coldest November on record, or the snowiest winter ever.
Climate, on the other hand, is nearly impossible for us to remember. It describes the average weather conditions over tens, hundreds, and even thousands of years. Climate is the average temperature or rainfall in a certain place, based on what it's been like for decades.
To judge for ourselves whether climate change is real or not, we've got to focus on the long-term records around the globe. We shouldn't let our memory of some recent extremes, whether hot or cold, influence whether we believe global warming is happening. The reality is that global warming is about long-term changes in climate, measured over many decades or more. It's not about short-term changes that we see in the weather from one day to the next or even from year to year.
With such overwhelming evidence of the effects we're having on the planet, it just makes sense to seek out methods to reduce our individual and corporate impacts on the environment. As Christians, it's also an opportunity to love our global neighbors.
Admittedly, our home has air conditioning, and we drive cars. We don't have solar panels on our roof, nor are we vegetarians. Our brand of Christianity affords us the right to choose freely, without any environmental guilt. But that same freedom has also led us to care about climate change and to consider sensible choices that can make a difference.
Climate will continue to change in the future because of what we have already done. And we certainly cannot stop using coal, gas and oil overnight. But the choices we make now and over the next few decades will have a radical impact on the path we travel in the future. Of course there is risk to any major decision. But there is a much greater risk if we continue on our current path and do very little in response to climate change.
Andrew Farley is lead pastor of Ecclesia and author of the Amazon bestseller "The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church." He also co-authored "A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions," with his wife, Katharine Hayhoe, an expert reviewer for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
From A CLIMATE FOR CHANGE by Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley. Copyright (c) 2009 by Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley. Reprinted by permission of FaithWords, a division of Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.