Why do Evangelicals reject climate change?

Why is it so hard to find allies among the largest protestant religious bodies in the US to take action on global climate change? Almost every world-wide religious body agrees that something needs to be done, and soon. But American Evangelicals don’t agree and their lack of political support means that American continues to spin its wheels on this issue.

Shannon Brescher Shea tries to tease out the reasons for this reluctance to engage the issue among Evangelicals. She sees three reasons. First, the fact that for Americans, the effects of climate change are not happening in a locally observable way. If you don’t know anyone from island countries in the Indian Ocean, it’s hard to feel worry that entire economies are being disrupted. Second is the idea that all of us contribute to climate change, and like other pervasive issues (sexism, racism) it’s sometimes hard for people to do the necessary self-examination to recognize our personal responsibility.

“The third major reason some evangelicals have rejected climate change is very different from the other two – their vast cynicism about and misunderstanding of science. Even the most heart-felt testimonies will not sway those who think the very cause is made up. Unfortunately, I think climate change is too politically fraught to solve this problem. For this group, the most effective approach may be showing how the solutions to climate change can improve their communities and lives. This was actually the main approach I used when I recently lobbied Congress, another place where science is not very popular. People don’t want to pay $100 to fill up their gas tanks and then sit an hour and a half in traffic. Instead, they want to walk and bike to the corner store; many even remember doing so fondly from their childhood. People want clean alternatives to the coal-fired plants that contribute to childhood asthma. People want clean, healthy food that supports the local economy instead of that which poisons the land and the workers that pick it. And so on and so on. The beauty of this approach is that I know it actually works. I received a very generous Climate Ride donation from my conservative aunt for this reason. In addition to her fondness for me, she supported me because she frequently uses a Rails-to-Trails walking/biking path, one of the Climate Ride beneficiaries. Changing the conversation from problems to solutions helps people see that they have a place in this new society, removing much of the fear. Ideally, it also helps them see the larger context, that everyone benefits from a more environmentally and socially sustainable economy. Although it fails to challenge their privilege, a baby step may be all we can ask from this group right now. “

Read the full article here.

Would this work? Can we appeal to people’s self-interest to get them to support the common good?

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