Of Christmas, Climate Change, and Communication

My title is not mere alliteration. Christmas, climate change, and communication have more in common than just the letter “c.” What else unites this holiday, hot topic, and humanistic discipline?

For starters, climate change referentials are hidden throughout the holiday hymns. We sing “Joy to the world” and “Let earth receive her King!” (#201, emphasis added). We add that “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains” will “repeat the sounding joy” and prophesy: “nor thorns infest the ground” (#201). These references aren’t hard to find; they’re “like stars that glitter in the sky” (#201).

And that’s just one hymn! How about these introductory lines of hymn #203 (emphases added):

Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plains,

And the mountains in reply

Echoing their joyous strains.

Or this stanza from “With Wondering Awe” (hymn #210 emphases added):

The heav’nly star its rays afar

On ev’ry land is throwing,

And shall not cease till holy peace

In all the earth is growing.

There’s plenty in “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” about “the weary world” and “its sad and lowly plains” (#207). I could cite more, but I hope these few instances are already enough to make your ears perk up the next time you hear these familiar carols. May we hear in them this Christmas season an appeal of bell-ringing frequency to the importance of this spinning orb that we inhabit—an ecosystem that was also a planetary setting for atoning significance.

But this post isn’t just about global warming making “a cold winter’s night” a less frequent occurrence (hymn #213). Another moral of the nativity and its story is the importance of communication.

Just think how much celestial communication was needed to bring about the first Christmas.

Just think how much celestial communication was needed to bring about the first Christmas. An angel communicated with Mary, and another with Joseph. Gabriel brought a message to Zachariah, which rendered him incapable of communication until he wrote yet another message in another medium: “His name is John” (Luke 1:63). And “all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea” (Luke 1:65).

Communication synonyms ring throughout the Christmas story: decrees (Luke 2:1), glad tidings (Luke 1:19), salutations of all manner (Luke 1:29), prophecies (Luke 1:67), annunciations, and more. Christmas was about communication from the beginning—a message “which shall be to all people”—that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

The shepherds “made known abroad the saying” (Luke 2:17) and, in a striking moment of mute or lacking communication, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Of course, the most oft-repeated refrain from the scriptures that reappears in the hymns is one that points our thoughts again to climate change: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, emphasis added).

Peace, on earth.

These connections got started for me after watching Katharine Hayhoe’s incredible forum address from last Tuesday, which you can—should—MUST watch HERE. The reasons for this recommendation are many, culminating in perhaps a most important one.

Among the reasons you should watch Dr. Hayhoe’s forum include her professional accolades: she is one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, one of the Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers, and one of FORTUNE Magazine’s world’s greatest leaders. Her seemingly endless other honors can be read about online, but I find it notable that her TedTalk also has more than 4 million views to date.

In the Marriott Center last Tuesday, I was particularly impressed by her intro, by her audience-aware rhetorical vulnerability when she said:

“I’m a climate scientist, because I’m a Christian.”

That statement has stuck with me. I keep hearing it in my mind.

“I’m a climate scientist, because I’m a Christian.”

I thought this blog post might be a rhetorical analysis of Hayhoe’s remarks. There would be much to celebrate: her articulate eloquence, her sharp use of visuals, her debunking of myths, her skillful paradigmatic reversals, her ability to dumb down the most complex of climate science into enlightening analogies and meaningful metaphors, easily comprehended by any and all. Hers is a case study in communication and climate change that is quite literally award winning; she’s received the American Geophysical Union’s Climate Communication Prize and the Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication.

But the biggest reason I’m highlighting Hayhoe’s communications about climate change is because of the main takeaway from her forum remarks, the main call to action she raised, the key challenge. “What is the biggest difference we can make?” she asks. “Talk about it.”


It is fascinating to me that it all comes down to talk, to communication. By the way, the title of her TedTalk is, “The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk About It.” Remember that she’s a climate scientist because she’s a Christian and you’ve got my title as well: Of Christmas, Climate Change, and Communication.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Don’t fault me for talking the talk only. I know very little about climate change. I’m still learning. But, in the process of grading research papers and opinion editorials about climate change, reading the writing of climate change experts, and then listening to Hayhoe’s devotional, there is one thing I have learned for sure: I’ve been the victim of a lot of misinformation and poor communication about climate change. I’m realizing how much I haven’t known, don’t know, and have yet to learn. Perhaps I’m preaching to a Christmas choir, but before we can sing “peace on earth” I think we ought to at least be willing to follow one invitation from a fellow Christian regarding climate change. I can talk about it. I can receive and spread the type of communication that may help us keep the earliest commandment to “replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). You can too.

I am excited by the recent official statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding “The Importance of Water Conservation.” I likewise enjoyed Bishop Gérald Caussé’s October General Conference address, “Our Earthly Stewardship.” I was also surprised and proud to hear about BYU’s “Talk About Climate Change Initiative” and the 34,200 student-initiated conversations about climate change that have occurred on BYU campus this very semester. You can read more about them at https://sustainability.byu.edu/.

And that’s why I’ve written this blog post—to add my communication to the conversation. I’ll be off to log my report on the BYU initiative website soon but let me leave you with one final image and a few more words that start with “c.”

Jesus created the earth. He visited the earth. But when He was born in Bethlehem, He came down to live on the earth, just like you and me. One day, “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (Articles of Faith 1:10). Until then, may we diligently and lovingly communicate the messages—of Christmas, climate change, and the importance of communication—and care for God’s creations the tender way a mother cares for her newborn child.

This post was written by Isaac James Richards, Humanities Center Intern.


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