Yesterday, I attended a course on how to talk to people of faith about climate change. I was impressed by the evidence-based approach taken by the team from the charity Climate Outreach in putting together a communications strategy. It provided a great example of how science and faith can be brought together to inspire action.
I don’t want to reproduce the whole of the course content here, but in brief, the communications strategy recommended was based on focus group research, interviews and surveys conducted with individuals from a range of world faiths. They found that language drawing on religious themes, such as purity, duty and gratitude, was far more effective in getting people to talk about climate change and take it seriously than was talking about risk and threat or even the facts and figures about climate change. This is not really a surprise (although it was useful to have it set out so clearly). People are far more likely to respond to things that tap into their values and beliefs than they are to something that seems abstract, distant and impersonal.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t need the science. When we talk to people about climate change, we might start by talking about what they – and we – already value and believe, but if they don’t understand what climate change is, they won’t understand how it relates to those values and beliefs. The research done by Climate Outreach suggests that people often confuse climate change with ozone depletion (presumably because both are to do with the atmosphere). People also commonly confuse climate with weather, thereby failing to understand how global warming can be happening when they’re standing in several inches of snow. For people to understand how the issue of climate change relates to their faith, they need to know what climate change is, and why we should trust the science.
Faith needs science to help people understand what’s happening in the physical world around us. We can’t know how to live out our faith in relation to challenges like climate change if we don’t know and understand the science. But science also needs faith. The majority of the world’s population are religious believers, and it is from their faith that they get the values and beliefs that motivate their actions. The science tells us that we need to change our behaviours in order to limit the effects of climate change. Faith gives us the resources and the reasons to make those changes. Climate change is a serious issue, and one about which we should all care. And it is one area where science and faith can come together to make a real difference.