Paterson Offers Evangelical Perspective on COP26

Dr. Ann Paterson has returned from Glasgow, Scotland, where she and a group of fellow Christians took part in the recent COP 26 climate conference. Paterson, the Nell Mondy Chair of Natural Sciences at Williams Baptist University, attended the international conference as part of the Christian Climate Observer’s Program (CCOP).


“This is a non-partisan, Christian group that cares about bringing people together from all over the world to make Christian voices heard and to bring awareness to the needs of people who are suffering,” Paterson said. “This was not an ‘environmental group,’ but rather a diverse group that included a scientist (me), people involved in finance and economics, a farmer, religious leaders, and many others.”


Paterson said she was honored to be invited to the COP 26 conference, noting she has an interest in the environment both as a scientist and as a person of faith. “As a biologist, I care deeply about the natural world,” she said. “Many people say they feel closest to God in nature, whether through hiking, hunting or other activities. We also rely on the natural world for many things that can be easy to take for granted, such as oysters that filter water and honey bees that pollinate crops. But evangelicals are called to care for those who are suffering, to love their neighbors, and to go forward in hope (not fear) that we can make a difference.”


Paterson said she believes her group’s nonpartisan approach makes them more effective.


“Focusing on partisan issues risks losing the focus on what matters – caring for those in need and advocating for ways to preserve the astounding natural world,” Paterson said. “Our focus was on the latter issues, not on politics. We did advocate for people to act quickly to help alleviate suffering, not for specific partisan positions.”


The WBU biology professor said climate-related suffering comes in a variety of forms.


“This suffering includes hardships due to weather and climate events, but also due to people’s fears about their jobs and livelihoods. There is great suffering in many countries due to weather events, including in the United States,” she noted. “There are high costs and human suffering associated with these events and also with potential societal changes, such as shifts in job availability.”


Paterson said the conference itself brings together people from all over the world who serve as delegates and observers.


“This includes all sorts of perspectives, ranging from conservation organizations to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). It brings together people from diverse countries with very varied interests and voices to be heard. Many people are interested in the environment and protecting natural areas, but others are highly interested in finance and the risks to investors as the value of companies changes. The scope of perspectives and interests is remarkable.”


Biology is the most popular major at WBU. The natural sciences department leads its students to explore environmental issues, including the effects of plastic waste in streams and oceans. A group of Williams students has visited Florida in recent summers to do research in coastal waters, working in conjunction with the Christian environmental group A Rocha. Paterson hopes to help her students and others look beyond the heated rhetoric of environmental issues and to focus on workable solutions.


“It’s easy to hear about solutions that sound scary or that make people worry that they will lose their jobs,” she said. “But there are many possible solutions and many ways to help people at risk – and environmental damage will cost far more in the long run (both in money and in human suffering) than having thoughtful discussions about solutions and ways to help others. I would like people to look at evangelicals and see people loving and caring for their neighbors and for God’s creation so that we all have a hope of a brighter future.”


Williams is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.