Panelists discussed how to bridge the perceived gap between religion and climate change at a panel discussion Wednesday.

The event, called "Climate Change is Not a Leap of Faith," focused on the possible tensions between religion and climate change.  Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, spoke about her faith and her career as a climate scientist—emphasizing that opposition to believing in climate change is primarily a phenomenon of politics, not religion.  She encouraged attendees to work with people who disagree to find shared values.

“The loudest voices that we hear come from the smallest groups,” Hayhoe said. “That is where we can build the bridges and talk.”

Scientists often assume people will believe in climate change if they only have more information, Hayhoe said. Instead, she said she thinks hesitation to support environmentalist positions comes from the perception that supporting environmentalism could threat one’s political and social identity. Many who couch their disbelief in religious justifications really just do not want the “government to take away their freedom," Hayhoe said.

Panelist David Toole, associate professor of the practice of divinity, ethics and global health, noted that many Christians do have a problem with climate change itself, but with the politicians who support it. 

“It’s actually not theology, it’s Al Gore,” he cited Hayhoe saying before the talk.

Amy Pickle, director of the State Policy program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Megan Mullin, associate professor of environmental politics, joined Toole on the panel.

Hayhoe, who is an atmospheric scientist by training, referred to studying the intersection of religion and climate change as her “accidental second field of research.”

She said she first realized the rift existed six months into her marriage.

“It never occurred to me growing up in Canada that any intelligent, educated person who understands data and science would think that climate change wasn’t real,” Hayhoe explained. “It never occurred to [my husband], growing up south of the Mason-Dixon Line, that any Bible-believing Christian would think climate change was real.”

Despite claims to the contrary by conservative politicians, Hayhoe emphasized that most important climate science is settled.

“We have wrapped an extra blanket around our planet that it didn’t need,” she said. “We should be heading into the next ice age and we are not.”

The Bible actually promotes the idea of stewardship of the Earth and love for one’s neighbor, both of which are threatened by climate change’s effects on the planet, Hayhoe noted. Many Protestant organizations and the Catholic Church acknowledge the existence of climate change.

Several in the audience of approximately 60 people posed questions about how to actually create change and how to consider the impact climate change will have on human lives.

“Decision-makers respond to immediate and fixable problems,” Pickle said. “Everyone wants to be a pragmatist when you’re a decision-maker.”

The event was sponsored by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Kenan Institute of Ethics and the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.