the cover art for Robin Veldman's book.

Evangelicals don't oppose climate activism for the reasons you think. Listen to expert Robin Veldman and find out why "embattlement" matters more than eschatology when it comes to rejecting climate science.

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A transcript for this episode is available below

About this episode

It has long been assumed the Evangelical opposition to climate activism was rooted in apathy caused by pre-millennialism. Robin Veldman‘s research says otherwise and locates climate skepticism within the broader trope of “embattlement.” Rooted in religious discourses that began in the 1970s and in America’s Culture Wars, Evangelical discourse has worked long and hard to present Climate Change as an elite, anti-Christian hoax. Facing mounting climate crises around the globe, how can those religious persons concerned about the environment understand and begin to change public opinion on climate change and generate a productive path forward? Listen and find out about The Gospel of Climate Skepticism.

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Understanding Evangelical Opposition to Climate Action [transcript]

Understanding Evangelical Opposition to Climate Action

Podcast with Robin Veldman (April 12, 2021).

Interviewed by David McConeghy

Transcribed by Savannah H. Finver

Audio and transcript available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/understanding-evangelical-opposition-to-climate-action/

David McConeghy (DM)  0:00 

Welcome, my name is David McConeghy. And today, I’m delighted to be joined by Dr. Robin Veldman, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Texas A&M University, Associate Editor for the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, and author of The Gospel of Climate Skepticism: Why Evangelical Christians Oppose Action on Climate Change. Welcome to the Religious Studies Project, Dr. Veldman.

Robin Veldman (RV)  0:27 

Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

DM  0:30 

Now, I think for a lot of us, studying climate change in the current moment of glacial ice melt and rising annual temperatures and more aggressive storms–there’s almost two feet of snow outside my house right now–that this seems obvious to us, in a way, even when it’s not obvious within religious studies. So, how did you come to the project and your focus on climate skepticism?

RV  1:04 

Oh, yeah, good question. So, actually, my undergraduate major was in environmental studies. And I had taken one class in religion and ecology, which strangely enough, happened to be offered. But, you know, I didn’t really think about that a lot. My main focus was on environmental issues. And so, when I eventually decided to go back and study religion, there, by that point, was a program at the University of Florida for the study of religion and nature that allowed me to go back to that interest. I mean, because I was taking environmental studies and environmental science classes, I knew that climate change was a big issue. Maybe a little bit before, or maybe with a little bit more urgency, than you might have in the rest of the American public. And I had worked for an environmental lobbyist, and I had a lot of friends who are in the environmental community. So, I think it was really top on my radar.

RV  2:07

But how I got into studying evangelicals was a little bit more…I kind of stumbled into it backwards, I would say. It wasn’t my intention at all. And, you know, I never would have predicted it, that it would go in that direction. I was really interested in environmental apocalypticism because I knew a lot of environmentalists who were fairly apocalyptic. And a lot of people think that apocalypticism leads to apathy, which you’ll see where my fixation with apathy comes from. But, you know, I knew that it was not. In fact, it was the opposite. It can be really transformative, just from my experience, personally, and knowing people around me. So, my master’s thesis was exploring environmental apocalypticism and thinking through whether its ties to religion–it’s generally been used as a way of opponents of environmentalist tending to say, “oh, you’re just a bunch of doomsday prophets.” And I wanted to push back against that. And in the course of doing that research, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but people started telling me, like, “oh, you know, what you should really be looking at if you’re thinking about apocalypticism is all these evangelicals.”

RV  3:19

And somebody, you know, pointed me to an article talking about, around that time, Bill Moyers had given a speech called “Welcome to Doomsday” where he was highlighting the idea that the Bush administration’s slow walking on climate change was rooted in his evangelical Christian supporters, that they were kind of the fuel behind the fire of climate delay there. And so, yeah, I got into it because I was interested in apocalypticism. And people were like, “that’s who you have to study if you’re interested in apocalypticism.” It wasn’t because I was, you know, someone who had done tons of research on evangelicalism or even, you know, evangelicalism in American history or anything. I came in through a side door.

DM  4:02 

I think, as we’ll see, one of your main findings is that, even if you had studied evangelicalism and had been in the trenches with evangelicals, you might not ever have found your way to environmentalism and climate skepticism as a major concern. When you came to find the groups that were the focus of your research, who were they, and how did you arrive at the choice of those individuals to form your study?

RV  4:35 

Yeah, well, some of it was strategic and some of it was pragmatic. Part of it is related to just where it made sense to be doing my research. And the place where I was working in Georgia was fairly close to Gainesville, Florida, which is where my graduate program is. But it wasn’t just in the region around Gainesville, which, because it’s a major university town, you know, those churches get studied quite a bit. So, it was good in a sense that it was, sort of, a little bit further off afield. And it wasn’t a place I was particularly familiar with. Then, you know, perhaps this is revealing too much about my naivete, but when I went into the field, I was like, “okay, I have this plan. I’m going to study evangelicals.” And then I was like, “wait, how do I find them?” And I went back and was like, “wait, how do people define evangelicals?” And I had this whole–sorry, I can hear you’re laughing. And probably everyone else is like, “who are you?”

DM  5:32 

No, I’m laughing because that’s such a familiar problem to me.

RV  5:36 

Exactly. I had to go through that whole transformation of going back to the social scientific literature and the historical literature and being like, “okay, who exactly are you talking about? Which denominations are you talking about? Which churches do I actually go and visit?” And I, you know, had some conversations with my committee members and stuff about how to identify churches. And then I ended up going with–you know, political scientists, I think, have some of the more sophisticated work on identifying evangelicals, and they have useful tables that lay out different denominations and coding schemes and all that. So, I kind of got pulled into the political science research. I found it very useful for identifying groups.

RV  6:19

But, you know, my work in some ways is similar to Katherine Wilkinson. She wrote a book, Between God & Green. Which, I like to think of her work as like part one and mine is kind of part two. Her book is about the promise of evangelical climate activism, and then my book is about why that promise didn’t materialize. So, you know, both of us did focus groups among an assortment of evangelical churches. And I didn’t do it based on self-identification because not all people that scholars regard as evangelical self-identify as evangelical. But I reached out to some fundamentalists, some that were Church of Christ, one Pentecostal denomination. As I mentioned in the book, I also talked to some Seventh-day Adventists. And I tried to get ones that were–oh, and Church of God. You know, I was looking for denominations that were in a mix of locations. So, not just small towns. Some of them were very, very small town or rural areas, and others were in a bigger city. So, I kind of wanted a mix. You know, it’s a little bit of a fiction, in a way, that’s created in the media when people talk about evangelicals as one group, because it’s a whole assortment of different denominations. And so, in order to kind of replicate, I guess, that fiction, I also wanted to have a mix of groups to make sure it wasn’t just getting a particular denominational perspective.

DM  7:43 

I think, in this post-Trump moment, when we’ve had the last four years of news articles trying to describe why “evangelicals” support Trump, right, and why they continue to support him, I think we are all a lot more sensitive to these boundaries and the power that they hold for us. One of the things that struck me about the sensitivity with which you approach this was the effort that you went through to try to, even in a limited geographical area, to diversify the perspectives. And then what it ended up revealing to the reader was that even in groups that appeared from the outside, perhaps–that kind of political science designation–to be very similar, or that you might cast as a single group of evangelicals, that you could actually distinguish between their views of environmentalism in quite striking ways that would show them on opposite ends of the cool-or-hot scale, as you describe it later in the text.

RV  8:52 

And what stands out to me thinking back about it years later is just how pervasive climate skepticism was at that point. I mean, I went into looking in particular at end time beliefs and wondering whether that was a driver, because, as I mentioned, you know, I brought up Bill Moyers. He had this speech that he gave for Harvard’s Environmental Citizen Award where he talked about fundamentalism, or you know, of course people use different terms. I want to say he used the word “fundamentalism.” But, you know, fundamentalists and evangelicals being these people who didn’t care that the earth was about to go up in flames or, you know, be overtaken by global warming because they think that the end is near anyway. And so, I mean, that was my real motivation. In addition to trying to get this cross section of evangelicalism, I also wanted to get a little bit of variation in terms of end time beliefs in order to see if that was having as big of an influence as people like Bill Moyers. And he’s not the only one, as I eventually ended up describing in the book. There’s so many environmentalists who think that evangelicals are apathetic because they believe Jesus is coming back. It’s really a widespread belief. And, you know, there’s lots of evangelicals who find that to be credible as well. But that was kind of my question going in.

DM  10:10 

It chastened me, I’ll say, because I had previously used one of the major pieces of literature that you repeatedly kind of debunk, or at least cite as being less influential in the pews than we might imagine it to be. And that’s Lynn White’s piece. And so, I had used it in a course about environmental ethics. And we had used it to kind of contrast things that were happening in the 1970s, in this particular course, globally at that moment. You suggest, though, that the perception that has been one of the narratives about evangelicals–that they don’t care about climate change, because their apocalyptic views about the end times mean that they are apathetic towards the climate, because that’s out of their concern–that turned out to be much less central to the climate skepticism of evangelicals than we might have believed. So, how did you get to bust that myth?

RV  11:15 

I use this method of grounded theory where you’re kind of constantly building theory and then testing it against the data that you encounter in the field. So, I mean, that really is how my inquiry progressed. I would say, you know, that I was inspired by trying to understand the role of end time beliefs. But, like you mentioned, probably even the more common perception that people have is just that Christian anthropocentrism is a reason that evangelicals don’t care about the environment. But both of those narratives kind of work together, you know? If it’s not the Christian story of the origins, then it must be the Christian story of the apocalypse. One of those two must be driving apathy. And it’s interesting because that kind of directs your attention towards evangelical religiosity, some feature of their theology or religious practice that is key in undermining environmental concern, and away from, you know, other really powerful things that are happening, which is what I ended up making more sense of or finding to be more influential when I went into the field.

DM  12:17 

Your sense of end times apathy as the theological source for climate skepticism did not pan out. Is that right?

RV  12:26 

I mean, a lot of people have studied apocalypticism as it’s lived in everyday life. And they find that it’s difficult to sustain over time for long periods–like, intense apocalypticism, the kind where you’re selling your possessions, right, and not planning for the future. And so, I knew that there was the possibility, in a sense, that this apocalypticism was not as powerful as people thought it was. On the other hand, I was also reading stuff, anthropological and sociological literature about climate change attitudes, and understanding that these attitudes can be woven into people’s everyday lives rather than simply, I don’t know, they’re reading some IPCC assessment report or something like that.

RV 13:05

So, I think both of those things were in the back of my mind, that I wanted to probe beyond the notion that evangelicals’ attitudes about the environment are just theologically driven. I wanted to see how it looked in practice. And that’s part of a trend within my subfield, the study of religion in ecology and nature, where people have said, “okay, we’ve looked at the theological resources within these traditions, and people have been arguing for decades about what they should teach their believers, essentially.” Scholars have been mining the world’s religions for their ecological insights. But what do they actually teach in practice? So, I was also part of this empirical turn, or that’s how I was trained within my subfield.

RV  13:44

I began my inquiry, timidly and with great fear, calling up pastors and saying, “hey, I have this project. I’d love to talk to you.” And pretty early on, I realized I just shouldn’t mention the environment because it kind of predisposed the conversation to…it’s too tricky and controversial of an issue to bring up when you don’t even know somebody. So, I started saying, “okay, I would love to talk to you about your teachings and your social ethics.” And for those pastors that agreed, I went, and I met with them, and I interviewed them. And you know, I observed their layout. And they became the gatekeepers. And many of them agreed to help me set up focus groups where then I would spend time talking to people more in-depth, again, about views. More generally, we always started the conversation talking about Christian views on social issues, you know, kind of in a more neutral, as I understood it, direction.

RV  14:50

I didn’t explicitly bring up end times till kind of later in the conversation. I sort of let it develop. But I did build in, in a very sort of simplistic way, into my study design this separation between premillennial Christians and amillennial Christians. And as an outsider to the evangelical community and somebody who did not have, you know, seminary training or advanced theological training at all, it took me a long time to understand these teachings and why they mattered. Because they matter in a social way. They kind of correspond to social divisions within evangelicalism, but they also, of course, matter for theological reasons. And for a long time, when I began my research, I thought of amillennialism as this neutral position. I thought of it as like, kind of a holder, a blank kind of nonmillennialism, I guess I would say. At some point in my research, I realized that that was not really an adequate explanation. I had to make sense of the fact that, of course, my informants, the people that I spoke with, didn’t think about things in the same way that theologians do, or, you know, people who are trained in seminary. So, that was one division. But then, also, just the way that people would talk about end times beliefs and amillennialism was not as…I basically had to let go of the theological categories that I walked in with and realize that that’s just not how it works on the ground. And that’s, you know, as much as people who were trying to educate Christians would like it to be, for the purposes of understanding, particularly climate change, it wasn’t the relevant criteria.

RV  16:29

And so that’s where I started noticing, “okay, well, some people, they light up when we start talking about the end times.” They love it. They’re super into it. And it’s something I recognized because I had studied environmentalists and environmental apocalypticism. And I know that feeling myself that you can see a beautiful potential in the apocalypse. And it’s very strange. And now when I think back on it, I’m kind of horrified that I ever had that view. But I do think it’s very possible to think that things are terrible now, but there’s going to be a transition, and they’re going to get much better. So, I noticed, you know that some people were just really quick to jump on that topic. And they were happy to say, or it was it was pretty simple for them to be like, “oh, yeah, climate change is just another one of those signs that the Lord is coming back.” And you know, all of these bad things that we see now are going to be reversed. But they were kind of a minority within the community, and almost everybody else was like, “hold on there. In fact, you know, we don’t know the day and the hour. As Christians we’re called to live in this world and not get caught up in that kind of end times fervor.” So, I saw through my research, and had to come to terms with, the fact that the theological categories didn’t really map on to the social reality that I was encountering. And so, I just, you know, as a good scholar, just decided to create my own terms to kind of better capture what I was seeing, which, you know, ended up being “hot millennialism” and “cool millennialism.”

DM  18:10 

I’m feeling very drawn into the way that you had to negotiate with your research subjects about how to approach the issues that you wanted to get to. But what’s striking about that is that your use of their positions about social ethics, ultimately is reflected, in a way, by your major finding, which is that the sense of embattlement against secular culture was perhaps the largest determinant of a general climate skepticism. Can you say a little bit more about this pervasive sense of embattlement with secular culture that you found?

RV  18:56 

Definitely. So, I guess I’ll just put it in the context of how I think I came to this conclusion. I was doing my focus groups. And I described this in the book as well. But you know, I had about, I think, seven or eight months of focus groups behind me and I was kind of like, “I don’t see any patterns here.” Everybody’s a skeptic. Everybody thinks they’re called to care for creation at the same time, but they’re skeptical about climate change. I just don’t know what I have to say about this. You know, it’s just like, “okay, they’re skeptics. I don’t know why.” In the meantime, I had scheduled a focus group with Seventh-day Adventists, and they are not necessarily considered to be evangelicals. They’re not members of NAE [National Association of Evangelicals], and they don’t see themselves as evangelicals, but they’re big end times believers. So, I was, as I was planning my research, thinking to myself, well, I can’t just ignore some of the groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, who would be the most obvious participants in this study. I have to kind of see what their views are.

RV  19:55

And I, you know, went into this focus group at a Seventh-day Adventist church. It was a unique church compared to my evangelical churches because it was racially mixed in a way that the evangelical churches, except for the Assemblies of God Church, were not. And there were also people who were immigrants. And so it was just a really different demographic setup. But it also was different in terms of  the attitude. And I just noticed immediately right from the beginning that I didn’t have this sense of hostility, because when I started asking my evangelical informants about environmental issues, I mean, I did not present myself as an environmentalist, even though I do identify as an environmentalist, because I knew that that would make it a really uncomfortable situation for them to talk about their attitudes and beliefs. But after I finished doing the evangelical focus groups, I always was just incredibly exhausted with all of the things that they would say about environmentalism, and their views were largely negative, in a way that, a lot of times, I thought was based on misperceptions. But of course, many environmentalists have misperceptions about evangelicals. So, I don’t necessarily blame them for it. I just personally found it really a lot to take in. And the Seventh-day Adventist focus group, it just had a really different tone to it.

RV  21:20

From the beginning, they were like, “yeah, you know, we see this as part of our environmental concern as just working with the Seventh-day Adventist long standing embrace of health and health concerns.” And there just wasn’t that same sense of opposition and apathy. And of course, that’s just one focus group among Seventh-day Adventists. I’m not saying all Seventh-day Adventists are environmentalists, or anything like that. But, you know, as I talked to them more, I realized that there was support at the level of leadership for some levels of environmental concern. And they had even talked about, “how do we frame our theological beliefs about the end times? How do we put those into conversation with the need for environmental sustainability?” So, they were already thinking about, “how do we temper end times theology in relation to the environment?” So, it just struck me that it wasn’t the theology. I mean, the theology was different, but the end times were not what was making the difference. Because this was a group that was, you know, the end times is a big part of their denomination and their teachings.

RV  22:31

And, in fact, what seemed to be the bigger divide between the Seventh-day Adventists and the evangelicals was just the attitude and the tone, and the overwhelming sense of hostility and anger that my evangelical informants had. And so, I went back and I kind of looked. I had started all of the focus groups by asking my informants to talk about, kind of as an icebreaker, what is it that you feel your your church in your tradition gives to society? And then, you know, conversely, what are some challenges that your tradition faces? So, I heard, when I got to the part about challenges, people would say, “oh, well, they’re not allowing us to teach the bible in public schools. And, you know, Christians are under attack.” And all these things that, to me, you know, being an outsider to the evangelical community, I was really unaware of. That was not on my radar at all, that that there was this perception that Christianity was under attack.

RV  23:39

And I started to realize that that same sense of embattlement was really connected to how they thought about climate change. Not for everybody, of course. But I just heard this theme over and over again, when I went back and looked at the transcripts, that there was a sense that climate activists and people who were talking about climate change were, in fact–in saying that human activities were potentially impacting the planet on a global scale–that they were in fact not saying that just because that was what the science said. No, they were saying it because they were cooking this up in order to go against Christian teachings about God’s omnipotence. And so there was this kind of sense that it was part of a larger–I don’t know if “plot” is too strong of a word– but a larger campaign to push Christianity out of the public square. And then soon after that, you know, I went back to my notes. And I read my notes on Christian Smith’s work where he had talked about evangelicalism being fueled by its sense of embattlement with secular culture. It was totally that “aha!” moment. I was like, “oh, okay. This is not something I’m seeing; this is part of evangelical culture in general.” And it is definitely shaping, at least how my informants in Georgia, you know, not necessarily globally, but it’s shaping how they’re looking at climate change.

DM  24:56 

I found that the heart of the next portion of your book explained the mechanism that sustained this embattlement over decades of pretty concerted effort to be the role of mass media in evangelical communities. Can you say a little bit about the role that people like Jerry Falwell and the 700 Club and CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, how these amplified this skepticism and really perpetuated this narrative of– and I think it’s appropriate to call it–anti-intellectualism following Richard Hofstadter, as well as kind of a sincere incredulity about expertise, right? That science is okay, but science on this particular area is entirely suspect, because it does not correlate with what we see as the biblical injunctions for the relationship of God and Earth.

RV  26:06 

I think we’ve all driven around the country and flipped past the Christian radio station, and we all know that they exist. You know, you’ve heard there’s televangelists on TV. And, you know, we’ve all seen those channels. Some of us have watched them. But I didn’t have a sense of how powerful it is. And it wasn’t even on my radar at all that media or radio–I mean, media, yes, I know media is influential. And by the time I was doing my field research I had already seen studies coming out showing that, you know, Fox News was far more likely to have climate skeptics as guests on its programs and suggesting that this was one reason why we seen this growing partisan divide on climate change. So, I knew media was important.

RV  26:47

But the existence of evangelical mass media, which is the term that communication scholars use, or they also call it the electronic church, the fact that that might be important was definitely not on my radar, and I only kind of discovered it by accident. But what I learned was evangelicalism is a very decentralized tradition. You know, we’ve talked about it. Most people kind of know there’s no Pope of evangelicalism. There’s a lot of different players within it. And there’s a lot of different groups that are grouped under the evangelical tradition, at least by scholars: the charismatics and Pentecostals and Neopentecostals and fundamentalists and self-identified evangelicals all are, oftentimes, grouped under this larger heading of evangelicalism. But for evangelicalism to have a coherent culture, it’s–and I’m drawing here on the work of Mark Ward, Sr. He is a communications scholar whose work I have found to be incredibly helpful. He’s someone with longtime work experience, as well, in the media industry.

RV  27:54

Christian media ends up being one of the factors that kind of weaves all these disparate evangelical groups into a coherent subculture. Those radio programs on Christian radio or on Christian television are a means of kind of creating a shared reality and paying attention to news items in particular that are of interest specifically to evangelicals. You know, of course, most religious traditions have some kind of news service, right? Or even, you know, cultural groups oftentimes, right? Because every different group is going to take different things out of the news. If you’re Muslim, you might want to know about examples of anti-Muslim violence happening or something like that. People just have different things they want to take out of the news. So, it makes sense that evangelicals would have their own news and media. And of course, it’s also been used to spread the Good News.

RV  28:49

Originally, the adoption of radio as a means of preaching was, in large part, to reach new potential followers to join the movement. So, it’s not, you know, super surprising that evangelicals would have this, that they would have developed this media. And they’re a large enough tradition in the United States that it ends up being actually pretty powerful. And it has become this, in fact, kind of social institution that unites evangelicalism into a coherent subculture. As you mentioned, I would say the anti-intellectualism has been a kind of mainstay–and I think this is coming to be understood; I think we’ll see more work about this in the future as we’ve kind of seen some of the implications of it–but, a questioning of the mainstream consensus on a lot of issues has been very, very common. Mark Ward, Sr. has also done some work on this showing how it happens not only at the level of media, but at the level of lay churches, because evangelicalism emphasizes, you know, kind of a tradition of the heart and using the individual believers’ inspired understanding of scripture moreso than these kind of, you know, erudite, lofty ivory tower people.

RV  30:03

So, it’s a long-standing element of the tradition. And it’s one that, as many evangelicals have moved to the political right from the 1980s on, I would say, it’s an element that has proven its political utility for particular issues, because we live in a modern world where many decisions require expertise. And so, they rely on experts who are intellectuals. And when you have a tradition, where anti-intellectualism for religious reasons–and I wouldn’t question at all that the sincerity of that is built into the tradition, or even the significance of it–but when you have this tradition that has become much more politically engaged, then you see it start to be used in political circumstances. And that’s really what I sort of accidentally uncovered with what was happening with climate change.

RV 31:04

I was kind of looking for some concluding words, I thought, you know, to kind of put a bookend on my discussion or my findings from the field research. So, I was looking up what leaders in the Christian right had said about climate change, because I knew that they were the ones who were primarily opposed to climate activism. And then I, you know, start getting all these Google hits from their websites of their radio ministries, and realizing, “oh, wait, they talked about it. And they didn’t just do it once. They talked about it a lot.” And when they gave these broadcasts, they were also talking about it in the same terms that my informants were talking about it. A number of major leaders in the Christian right were talking about climate change. And they were linking it specifically to a religious narrative and presenting skepticism as the more biblical position on climate change, just in various ways, shapes, and forms. And they were also transmitting misinformation about climate change as they were doing so. And they would talk about it very derisively and mockingly like, “Hah! I can’t believe that this person would believe that! You know, of course, those climate advocates are trying to blah, blah, blah,” you know. And I know that it sounds like I’m mocking them in saying that, but if you go listen, that is the tone that they use; it is a mocking tone. And that is a tool of outrage media.

RV  32:25

As I started to realize that many leaders in the Christian right had been talking about climate change, I just kept looking for more and more examples and realized that it was something that had the potential to be pretty impactful in terms of how lay evangelicals might think about climate change. Because, of course, not every evangelical listens to Christian radio. But even if you don’t listen to a lot of people around you might, your pastor might. So, it has the ability to transmit values, and especially to transmit normative values–so, to give you the impression that everybody around you thinks this way, and this is the right way to think. And I did hear over and over again in my interviews that people who were concerned about climate change felt that they had to stay in the closet about it. They felt it was socially risky to come out and say anything about it. And I think the media really helped convey that sense that you’re going to take a risk. People might look cross eyed at you if you start taking up this liberal left-wing issue that all of our secularist enemies are embracing.

DM  33:34 

It’s such a powerful mechanism by which to describe both the boundary-making that these evangelicals utilized in order to establish the differences between the insiders and the outsiders that they were talking about. That mechanism is also so pervasive while also being hidden. I think as, you know, someone that, like you, tries to follow and monitor and study this element, I think it’s really easy for other observers inside the US who are different religiously or outside of the US who simply can’t really understand what’s happening with American evangelicalism in this way, to realize that this is an instance of two separate worlds that are not overlapping. If you have a goal in your future research for continuing to kind of work with these issues, what would you say that the next stage of things is going to be for you? What direction is this gonna push you in now?

RV  34:37 

There was one part of my research, one aspect, one little nagging thing, that I could never quite pin down. And that was that the timing of the rise in religious climate skepticism was intriguing to me. It happened between 2011 and 2013. It wasn’t only correlated with what people in the Christian right were saying. I can’t say that Christian radio and Christian television were the only factors. There must have been some other factor contributing to it. And so, this has led me in a new direction of trying to understand larger media narratives that evangelicals or political conservatives also consume. I’m not trying to conflate evangelicals with political conservatives, but approach this similar question about what drives climate skepticism, looking at media consumption, in particular, around the theme of Christian nationalism. And so, I’ve been diving into what Glenn Beck and David Barton have been saying about climate change and what they had been saying about climate change when I was in the field. I am trying to understand the role of misinformation, but also the power of the medium through which that misinformation is transmitted to generate a shared sense of values and collective identity that leads to these really counterproductive outcomes that, in fact, are worse for everybody involved globally, but seem to satisfy certain identity interests.

DM  36:07 

I can’t wait to hear that next level of analysis. The one that you provided here about the kind of origins and the development of the groups and the figures that supported them is so enlightening. I really do recommend to all of our listeners to go and find a copy of The Gospel of Climate Skepticism. Thank you so much, Dr. Veldman, for joining us today. We really appreciate your time and your expertise on this.

RV  36:34 

Thanks for having me. It was really fun.


Citation Info:

Robin Veldman. 2021. “Understanding Evangelical Opposition to Climate Action”, The Religious Studies Project. Podcast Transcript. 12 Apr. 2021. Transcribed by Savannah H. Finver. Version 1.0, 12 Apr. 2021. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/understanding-evangelical-opposition-to-climate-action/

Transcript corrections can be submitted to editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. To support the productions of transcripts, please visit http://patreon.com/projectRS/.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or its sponsors.

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