“Hate mail” and “good Christian woman” are not phrases usually found in the same sentence. Good Christian women certainly do not write hate mail, and heaven forbid they should act or speak in a way that warrants receiving it.
And yet, when a good Christian woman steps outside the bounds of her prescribed social or political boundaries, when she dares to speak or act without permission from those setting the status-quo agenda, watch out. And get ready for an avalanche of vitriol.
Katharine Hayhoe is one such woman. She receives up to 250 pieces of hate mail a day—some of it so obscene and threatening that the FBI has been called in to investigate.
She’s a Christian woman of a theologically and politically conservative stripe and she is a Ph.D. climate scientist. Her mission: convince fellow Christians of the realities and dangers of climate change, a mission that last year landed her on Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” list.
Hayhoe is accomplishing her mission by presenting the irrefutable science in presentations across North America. She also is demonstrating how the proponents of climate change denial have purposefully targeted conservative Christians. It’s quite sinister, actually.
“They play on our fears of government interference as well as our belief in a sovereign God, while ignoring our Christian call to care for God’s creation and our neighbours,” Hayhoe told me in her recent visit to my hometown. “If they can cast doubt on the science, even if they can’t disprove it, then status quo wins.”
Never mind that of the nearly 14,000 peer-reviewed climate change papers published since 2008, only 27 (that’s 27 without any zeros) contend climate change isn’t happening or isn’t due to human-induced causes.
Okay, SheLovelys, stay with me!
If you read blog posts like I read blog posts, you might be tempted to skim this post so you can get on with more congenial reading (something with more wit, fewer numbers, and lacking the ominous war-drum undertones). But hang in there, because Hayhoe’s courage and message have something to teach all of us who push against the status quo.
Katharine Hayhoe is changing minds about climate change because her message is not only rooted in good science, but in compassion and justice. With humility and a large dose of graciousness, she rightly frames the climate change conversation in moral terms, citing the Christian imperative to resist greed and care for the “least of these.”
The tragedy of climate change, she contends, is that its effects are experienced most dramatically by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. In this regard, she echoes a story told by Margot Starbuck in Today’s Christian Woman.
Starbuck tells the story of Wema, a rural farmer she met last year on a trip to Malawi. Wema grew up in a village where for centuries the rains arrived every October. Seeds were planted in confidence of an abundant harvest of maize and other vegetables—staples that were augmented by fish caught from the always-flowing river running through the village.
But about 20 years ago, things began to change. Rains came later and were unpredictable. Drought became the norm and the river that once teemed with fish became a dry roadway.
Wema’s story is repeated throughout sub-Sarahan Africa by hundreds of thousands without access to grocery stores or bottled water—by those, in other words, who have nothing to buffer them from the climate disruption that has already changed their lands.
And the story is repeated around the world but with different ecological twists. In the Arctic, it looks like Inuit villages literally falling into a rising sea, a sea that once was frozen, but now surges and washes away homes during the more powerful storm season.
Then there is the plight of the people of Bangladesh, who are among the poorest of all people on earth. They are caught in a cruel vise that spells a future with not enough good water on one end and too much bad water on the other end. The good water, which flows down the Ganges and Brahmaputra, is drying up as the Himalayan glaciers that feed them melt (which is already happening at alarming rates). The bad water is already encroaching as seawater from the Bay of Bengal floods into the country’s agricultural land.
These are the kind of stories Katharine Hayhoe is telling, not because they are sensational, but because they are true—and because love compels her. She suggests the poster child for climate change shouldn’t be the polar bear, but an African refugee or a Bangladeshi rice farmer, mourning their loss of livelihood and a secure future.
These are the ones to whom she looks for permission to carry out her mission as a climate change evangelist.
And if that mission offends the self-appointed guardians of the status quo, then let the hate mail come.
(For more on Katharine Hayhoe and her message, watch her recent presentation in Vancouver, BC: http://www.arocha.ca/climate-for-change/)
Image credit: Bert Kaufmann