Fewer than half of Americans think climate change will pose a threat to their way of life within their lifetimes.
They should hear about Tangier Island.
The island, located in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Virginia’s mainland, is quite literally sinking into the sea. Since 1850, its land mass has decreased by two-thirds, and scientific estimates suggest that within the next half century, it’ll be completely uninhabitable.
Tangier Mayor James Eskridge insists that the real issue is erosion. Appearing at a CNN town hall with former Vice President Al Gore, Eskridge asked why he hadn’t noticed any signs of rising sea levels — even as his island sinks into the sea.
On Tangier Island, however, Esktridge’s view is far from uncommon.
“Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” correspondent Allana Harkin recently traveled to Tangier Island.
Along the way, she learned a few techniques for having productive conversations with climate change doubters.
Many of Tangier’s residents are evangelical Christians, a group that is made up of some of the statistically least likely Americans to believe in man-made climate change. Some residents interviewed rolled their eyes at Harkin when she stated that she believed in things like climate change and evolution, and others suggested that even if climate change is real, it’s fine because they’ll be raptured away.
Unable to get through to residents using conventional arguments, Harkin turned to Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian, for help.
“Just saying, ‘Oh, God will take care of it’ or ‘It doesn’t matter,’ is actually a profoundly un-Christian perspective,” said Hayhoe — who has a positive track record of getting through to doubtful evangelicals on this subject — in the segment. “In the Bible, it says God will destroy those who destroy the Earth.”
When Harkin asked what steps she could take to convince those who dispute climate science on the basis of religious grounds, Hayhoe highlighted the importance of listening, not just lecturing, and asking for their stories.
“Rather than coming and in and saying, ‘I know,’ ‘I’m gonna tell you,’ ‘You listen to me,’ the place to start is by sharing from the heart: What is it that we have in common?”
With Hayhoe’s advice in mind, Harkin revisited the first group, and, well, it went sorta kinda OK!
This time, instead of challenging their entire worldviews, Harken tried a different tactic. “Let me throw this out there, and we’ll let it land. We won’t even have to discuss it,” Harkin said. “What if climate scientists are actually doing God’s work?” The room was stunned into silence. You could practically see the exact moment the walls of distrust started to come down.
Addressing the question in a way that made sense with their view of the world elicited a stunned, thoughtful silence and some nods from the group. “He works through everybody,” said one man. “Yeah, He can work through them,” said another, nodding.
Though the segment ends without any converts to the side of truth, science, and not standing by as their island disappears forever, Harkin and the Tangier Island residents had an important conversation that could signal the first steps in saving the island from the effects of climate change.
Watch the “What’s Happening to Tangier Island” segment from “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” below.