The study, “A Social Identity Approach to Engaging Christians in the Issue of Climate Change,” tested various religious, moral, and social messaging to find the most effective ways to involve Christian people in environmental justice efforts. The results showed that many Christians view the issue of climate change through a religious, rather than scientific or environmental lens. So, a good way to get them on board is simply speaking their language.
“One of the key goals at our center is to build public will to take action on climate change,” said Matthew Goldberg, a postdoctoral associate at the Yale Program on Climate Change and first author of the paper. “Since about 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian and because Christians normally have a huge impact on politics in this country, we saw them as an untapped audience to target with religious and moral messages.”
For the study, Goldberg and his team crafted climate-change messaging specifically oriented towards Christians in order to emphasize the normative value of caring about the environment among people of the Christian faith. The researchers found that messages about climate change that emphasized religion––such as “God made humans responsible for taking care of His creation”––made a much stronger impact on Christians than motivational messages without a religious bent. Plus, messages that highlight religion impacted many Christians’ thoughts on factors such as who should be voted into office and what issues the president should focus on. Notably, the study also found that results did not vary by political ideology, and the religious messaging was equally effective on both liberal and conservative Christians.
In the U.S., about 30 percent of people do not believe in climate change, and 42 percent do not believe that it is human-caused, according to Goldberg’s study—despite scientific consensus that it is, in fact, both real and largely our doing.
Historically, many Christians, particularly Evangelicals, have been reluctant to accept global warming or other environmental changes, citing a list of religious and social reasons. In 2017, many Christians noted their indifference towards Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, stating that God would be able to handle any environmental catastrophe. Many Christians further note their discomfort becoming involved in environmental activism, as the movement is often considered very liberal terrain. However, these ideologies seem to be changing. And for some, Christianity and climate-change activism don’t oppose each other—they align.
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“My faith motivates everything I do, and at the core of this motivation is Catholic social doctrine,” says Dan Misleh, a devout Christian and the Founding Executive Director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, a D.C.-based organization that works to educate and organize the U.S. Catholic Community on climate change and climate action. “The work of the Covenant must be focused on helping affected communities with their immediate needs. But we are also charged with shaping people of faith in ways that recognize this crisis as both social and environmental.”
Goldberg noted that simply having conversations about climate change has proven to be one of the most effective ways that people come to accept climate science. And as many influential Christian figures––such as Pope Francis and environmental activist Katherine Hayhoe––have publicly voiced their backing of the issue, these conversations are coming to the fore.
That’s the effect that Goldberg wants. “As scholars, we hope the study inspires additional research about how to engage people of different demographics through these types of messages,” he said. “We also hope the results will encourage people to speak more on the issue of climate change with their friends and family.”