Climate scientist talks local implications
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In addition to her presence at chapel last Monday, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe gave a lecture in Winter Hall this week going into more detail on her role as one of the leading climate scientists and as one of the most outspoken evangelical Christians in her field. She is an eminent expert in her field and works on an intergovernmental panel on climate change with over 120 peer-reviewed published works.
Dr. Hayhoe is currently an associate professor at Texas Tech University at the Climate Science center where she teaches a class exploring how weather and climate risks affect human beings. Speaking to an audience of Westmont students and faculty, she dove into the risks that Californians are most familiar with: droughts, fires, and occasional (but severe) floods. Dr. Hayhoe started studying California ten years ago with her signature “Christian stewardship” approach to look at the effects of record-breaking dry conditions, water reserve levels, and flood-induced landslides.
She made a name for herself in 2004 with a study (the first of its kind) illustrating how human choices can impact global temperature outcomes. Dr. Hayhoe was able to generate two different projections of global temperatures: one to account for a worst-case scenario (if C02 levels were to rise exponentially) and a best-case scenario (if C02 output decreased over time). Hayhoe argued that depending on the choices we as a planet make, the actual outcome of climate change will vary. This unique method of data calculation is marked by her Christian worldview; her style of data analysis emphasizes hope.
Dr. Hayhoe is not just involved in the theoretical and research aspects of her field. She is also heavily involved in applying what she knows about the environment to help cities and various federal agencies design infrastructure to build resistance to pre-existing natural risks and account for natural disasters that might worsen in the years to come. In short, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe told the audience that climate change is happening and people, especially Christians, need to adjust accordingly.
It goes without saying, though, that the discussion of climate change has been a contentious one for decades. Political intonations have been attached to all sides of the argument: whether climate change is real, whether it is man-made, whether human beings can really stop the change if it is actually happening, and on and on. In fact, in a PEW research study that came out in April 2016, the best predictor (by far) of one’s views on climate change was political party affiliation.
Dr. Hayhoe blames this polarization on the notion that we’ve confused our faith with our politics. In her own words, Dr. Hayhoe believes that the race to clean energy is the 21st century version of the moon race, the goal being to uncouple economic growth from CO2 emissions. But in all fairness to Dr. Hayhoe’s testimony, the debate on how to solve the problem of disagreement on global warming is far from over.
In addition to the 2010 “hide the decline” controversy, stories published last week in The Daily Mail have sparked more contention by alleging that high-ranking members at NOAA tampered with data to greatly exaggerate increases in global temperatures. The validity of both the 2010 case and The Daily Mail are questioned by many, but the point still stands that doubts on how severe an impact CO2 emissions have on the environment are still being circulated. Additionally, Dr. Hayhoe’s proposed solutions to the planet’s carbon woes are far from definitive.
There are a shortage of reasonable steps that the average citizen can take to reduce their “carbon footprint.” Buying a prius, as the speaker recommended, may even cause more harm than good to the environment. Specifically the process to extract the lithium and cobalt found in “environmentally friendly” hybrid and Tesla batteries often requires the demolition of entire mountain ranges. These precious metals are mostly found in countries like China, Argentina, and the Congo where the use of child labor is not only acceptable, but the norm to keep prices low. Mining in the Congo is particularly bad: miners work unsupervised in sprawling mines using hand tools for days at a time to extract rock laced with the valuable metals. All this only to sell their goods for low market prices to middleman refineries who turn a huge profit selling the purified cobalt and lithium to tech and automobile companies.
Yes, Christians need to care about the environment, but we need more and better solutions to our carbon footprint woes. As Dr. Hayhoe stated, “Science is solving problems every day.” There is a great need for scientists to follow Dr. Hayhoe’s method of emphasizing hope in an often disheartening field of study.