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Evangelical source changes evangelical minds on climate –

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Around one-quarter of Americans identify as evangelical Christians and a majority of this group reject man-made global warming. Now a study shows that being presented with clear factual information endorsed by a trusted – evangelical – source can change the minds of climate sceptics.

That source was Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, US, and an evangelical Christian. Hayhoe is well known for outreach work where she communicates the facts about climate change, explains the impacts and tackles many long-held misconceptions. If addressing an evangelical audience, Hayhoe provides a Christian perspective and highlights the difference between faith and science.

“I don’t believe in climate change, and I never have because it is not a religion,” says Hayhoe, who was one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014. “As a scientist I look at the data and the facts and they are clear: climate is changing, humans are responsible, the impacts are already serious, and there are solutions if we act now.”

So are evangelical Christians more receptive to changing their minds if the facts on climate change are presented with a Christian perspective? And does the presentation have to be given by a fellow evangelical Christian? To answer these questions, Katharine’s father Doug Hayhoe from Tyndale University College and Seminary in Canada, Mark Bloom from Dallas Baptist University, US, and Brian Webb, from Houghton College, US, measured how much people’s opinions shifted after listening to Katharine Hayhoe give a presentation on climate change.

I don’t believe in climate change, and I never have because it is not a religion

Katharine Hayhoe

Doug Hayhoe and his colleagues recruited undergraduate students from three different evangelical institutions: Houghton College, Dallas Baptist University and Tyndale University College. The students completed a survey asking them key questions about global warming, including whether they thought global warming was happening, whether it was natural or human-caused, whether it was harmful, and whether they were worried about it. In addition, they provided information about their political and theological perspectives.

Then the students watched a recorded climate change lecture given by Katharine Hayhoe at Houghton College in February 2015. Some of the students saw an extended lecture where Hayhoe provided a Christian framework, and others watched a shorter talk that just presented the climate change facts. Afterwards, the participants repeated the climate change survey. The students at Dallas Baptist University also completed another survey one month later.

In all cases, Doug Hayhoe and his colleagues measured a significant change in views after students listened to Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture. The greatest change in view occurred at the institution with the most politically conservative respondents, Dallas Baptist University; the percentage of students who thought global warming was happening rose from 51% to 87% after seeing the presentation. But gains were significant at all institutions, with concern about global warming rising sharply, from below 50% to over 70%.

It appeared not to matter whether the students had seen the longer version of the talk – with the Christian framework – or the shorter, straight facts version.

“This suggests that a presentation by a climate scientist not identified as an evangelical, but an equally gifted communicator, may be just as effective when sponsored or hosted – and therefore implicitly validated – by an evangelical community such as a church or Christian university,” says Doug Hayhoe, whose findings are published in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

Hayhoe believes the work suggests that clear factual presentations endorsed by a trusted source can be highly effective. “We would encourage faith-based community leaders – academics, pastors and so on – who are concerned about stewardship and climate change to use videos like this with their constituents,” he says.

More broadly, the findings indicate that people are more open to changing their mind about controversial topics when information is endorsed by their own community. “If true this carries enormous implications for outreach and engagement to groups and on topics far beyond the scope of our study,” Hayhoe adds.


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