An extended review of a 2021 book by Katharine Hayhoe.
Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.
Book by Katharine Hayhoe. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 320 pages. $35 (e-book $18, audiobook $20)
Readers of this book will find many surprises. For starters, its Canadian-born author, a climate scientist based in Texas, has read deeply about how we think and why people stick to their convictions, even in the face of mountains of factual evidence.
The human ability to ignore evidence applies not only to climate but affects our thinking about politics, religion, values and even the pandemic. So this volume, while it is about climate change, also addresses how we think and talk about climate change. While Hayhoe has more data about climate at her fingertips than almost anyone, she also has command of a vast body of research into how we frame questions.
Some readers may find a second surprise, at least initially, given that her book addresses such a divisive issue: she writes in an irenic tone throughout. That tone matches her book’s purpose perfectly because she wants to help her readers find ways to engage in conversations that bridge the divide in the climate conversation.
She offers straightforward advice. Start by finding out who people are and what they care about. Suggest ways that a warming world will likely affect the activities that interest them … and those interests range from farming to snowboarding to putting honey on our toast at breakfast. She warns repeatedly about trying to argue with facts which, in her experience, don’t easily persuade.
As a Christian who writes for a general audience, I regularly struggle to know how explicitly to show how my Christian faith shapes my thinking. So, for me, the third pleasant surprise was how winsomely and openly Hayhoe works and writes as a climatologist whose work is shaped – indeed, driven – by her Christian faith.
Without a whiff of defensiveness, she refers regularly to her faith and to how Scripture demands that we care for our planetary home. Her approach fits with her claim that we need start conversations by finding out who people are and what they care about. She follows her own advice.
For me, the most sobering facts Hayhoe offers in Saving Us are not about carbon or climate change, although the several chapters she offers on those topics should wake us all up. The most sobering fact in the book is that one’s political commitments are the most reliable predictor of one’s view of whether or not the planet is warming or, if it is, whether human activity is the cause.
Those who vote for conservative parties (in several countries) tend overwhelmingly to deny that the climate is changing or, if it is, that burning carbon is the cause. Given that many Evangelicals vote for conservative political parties, and given that the climate is changing, this ironic denial of facts should be an embarrassment (my word, not hers).
But, here again, she writes patiently and with kindness about those who deny or dismiss climate change. As I noted already, she wants to find ways herself and she wants to help her readers find ways to engage in civil conversations about climate.
Following the kind of clear-eyed assessment of the state of the planet on offer in Saving Us, one might be tempted to give up, as Hayhoe notes she has jokingly suggested in climate conference speeches. But the last two of the five sections of her book are full of ideas and hope.
In the six chapters in “We can Fix It” (Section 4), she agrees that we need energy, and she suggests ways for us all to proceed. In my view, her irenic writing tone in this section should strike anyone as invitational (but then I am already persuaded).
Likewise, the three chapters in “You Can Make a Difference” (Section 5) offer both hope and strategies. She comes full circle here, returning to the need for climate conversations rather than yelling, and again suggests ways to begin those conversations.
In Saving Us, Katherine Hayhoe offers a sobering diagnosis of both our planet’s health and our ability to talk about it. Given her scientific credentials, everyone should read this book. And given her warm and earnest Christian faith, every Christian should read it.
Despite having written this volume for the general market, Hayhoe invites those of us who name Christ to take seriously the need to act as stewards of the planet. And she gives us hope that we can make a difference.
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