The Heat Is Online

Climate Impacts Brings Scientists, Evangelicals Together in Alaska

Scientists and Evangelicals Initiative


A group of scientists from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, along with a group of the country's leading Evangelical leaders, visited Alaska this summer to  witness first-hand the effects of climate change on local populations and on the land, ocean, plants and wildlife of our northernmost state.


The trip was filmed by a PBS crew for the program "NOW" and was aired October 26, 2007. Visit the NOW website on PBS for more information on the show, useful background information on the trip, as well as lessons learned on the journey by Eric Chivian and the Rev. Richard Cizik.


"The goal of our trip is to witness together what human-caused climate change is doing to our world," said co-leader of the trip Eric Chivian, who shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize and is Director of the HMS Center. "While this collaboration may come as a surprise to some, it makes perfect sense. Both scientists and Evangelicals see life on earth as sacred and share the same deep sense of responsibility about protecting it."

"The idea is for all of us to experience what human activity is doing to God's Creation so that we can understand the urgent importance of caring for it," added expedition co-leader Rev. Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the NAE. "We dare to imagine a world in which science and religion cooperate, minimizing our differences about how Creation got started, to work together to reverse its degradation."

Led by a naturalist from Homer, Carmen Field, the group began its journey with a two-day stop in Shishmaref, a traditional Inupiaq Eskimo village in the Bering Strait with a population of about 500 people. The Inupiats have inhabited this village, located on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea, for over 400 years. Because of melting sea ice and permafrost, however, the village is at high risk from storm surge erosion, and already 14 houses have fallen into the sea in recent years, raising concern that the village will soon need to be relocated to the mainland.

"People in the Arctic are among the most vulnerable on Earth due to the impacts of climate change," said James McCarthy, Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University, an expert on climate change and the Arctic, and President-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the worlds largest scientific society. "They depend on intact sea ice and permafrost, both of which are rapidly disappearing, for their hunting and fishing, indeed for their very lives."

The group also visited Portage and Exit glaciers to witness the rapid, unprecedented melting of glacial ice, and at the Kenai Peninsula, where more than three million acres of spruce forests have been killed by exploding populations of Spruce Bark Beetles, brought on by warming temperatures.

During the week-long expedition the group met with scientists, physicians, local church leaders, and evangelical pastors in Shishmaref, Anchorage, and Homer to learn directly from Alaskans about how they are coping with the effects of climate change. Leith Anderson, Senior Pastor of Wooddale Church and President of the NAE said, "It is very important to involve Alaskan pastors in our work, for they are central in helping to spread the message about the importance of Creation Care."

The Scientists-Evangelical Alaska Expedition grew out of a collaboration that began at a two-day private retreat in December 2006 attended by 30 leaders from the scientific and evangelical communities.


Trip Participants:

Leith Anderson D.Min, M.Div.,
President, National Association of Evangelicals; Senior Pastor, Wooddale Church
Eric Chivian M.D., Director, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School; Shared 1985 Nobel Peace Prize
Richard Cizik M.Div, M.A., Vice President for Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals
Deborah Fikes M.A., Advisor, Ministerial Alliance of Midland, Texas;Special Advisor to Governor Kim Moon-soo, Republic of Korea; Advisory Committee, Senator Sam Brownback; President; D.H. Fikes International Inc.
Peter Heltzel Ph.D., M.Div., Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, New York Theological Seminary
Bishop Harry Jackson D.Div, M.B.A., Bishop and Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
James McCarthy Ph.D., Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University
Camille Parmesan Ph.D., Associate Professor, Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas
Peter Raven Ph.D., President, Missouri Botanical Garden; George Engelmann Professor of Botany, Washington University
Carl Safina Ph.D., President, Blue Ocean Institute; Adjunct Professor, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University