The Briefing 12-02-14

The Briefing 12-02-14

The Briefing


December 2, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Tuesday, December 2, 2014, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Mixed messages on predicted climate catastrophe reveal intellectual dishonesty of movement

Headlines tell us a great deal about a news story, but often the news story tells us a great deal about the headlines. Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times has a front-page story entitled ‘Optimism Faces Grave Realities at Climate Talks.” The article is by Coral Davenport of the New York Times and let’sjust take those words apart for a moment; ‘optimism’ is the first word, the third word is ‘grave.’ How in the world do you put an optimistic face on a grave reality? Well the headline is only an indication of the deeper confusion that is found within the article. Coral Davenport writes,

“After more than two decades of trying but failing to forge a global pact to halt climate change, United Nations negotiators gathering in South America this week are expressing a new optimism that they may finally achieve the elusive deal.”

The next paragraph is key to why there’s such a mixed issue of themes within the article. she writes,

“Even with a deal to stop the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists warn, the world will become increasingly unpleasant. Without a deal, they say, the world could eventually become uninhabitable for humans.”

Now wait just a minute! We just read that there is optimism in terms of this news story – that’s the first word in the headline – and then in the second line of the second paragraph we are told that the grave part of the headline comes down to the fact that if the United Nations failed to reach a deal the world could “eventually become uninhabitable for humans.”

Now let’s just put reality in a more realistic frame. If indeed we’re talking about any realistic possibility that human beings could become extinct – well, let’s just state the obvious perspective, even from a secular worldview that’s bad news. As matter fact, it’s hard to come up with worse news. How in the world can you put optimism as the first word in a headline in which you seriously propose that your readers are supposed to imagine that if this conference fails to reach its goals the end result could be human extinction.

I have a dual purpose of bringing attention to this front-page article in the New York Times; the first is journalistic. When you look at a story like this it tells you that there is a very deep confusion about what exactly the reporter’s trying to tell us. And in this case was sympathy to this reporter, Coral Davenport, she’s really dealing with a very confused picture in the first place. But the one thing virtually every secular newspaper or secular authority now knows is that this is a really, really important story and the stakes are really, really high. And yet are the stakes really as high as possible human extinction? Even this news article doesn’t seem to make fit any context in which will make sense.

Davenport continues,

“For the next two weeks, thousands of diplomats from around the globe will gather in [the desert metropolis of] Lima, Peru, for a United Nations summit meeting to draft an agreement intended to stop the global rise of planet-warming greenhouse gases.”

But very quickly in the article she writes,

“But while scientists and climate-policy experts welcome the new momentum ahead of the Lima talks, they warn that it now may be impossible to prevent the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere from rising by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a large body of scientific research, that is the tipping point at which the world will be locked into a near-term future of drought, food and water shortages, melting ice sheets, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels and widespread flooding — events that could harm the world’s population and economy.”

Now again, at this first point we’re simply looking at the journalism involved. How in the world can you write a paragraph in which you warn that if the world indeed now can’t be stopped from rising to a temperature of 3.6° higher than norm, that the events would be – let me just give her list again –  drought, food and water shortages, melting ice sheets, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, and widespread flooding, how can you then end that sentence and paragraph by saying that these are events that “could harm the world’s population and economy”? If these things take place in the word harm there is something of an underestimate.

Before leaving the early paragraphs in her article, Coral Davenport tells us that there is optimism, new optimism about these meetings being held by the United Nations because there is the expectation that at long last an agreement may be reached. But a look back in the New York Times archives will reveal that every time this group meets, it’s preceded by article saying that there’s optimism that a final arrangement may indeed be worked out. And yet that is been optimistic ever since the meetings began, and when did they begin? 1992.

But my second point in raising this article isn’t journalistic. It’s rather a look at the issue of the climate change argument as it is now represented in this article and at this conference held in Peru by the United Nations. Coral Davenport reports,

“While a breach of the 3.6 degree threshold appears inevitable”  – that is to say, she’s arguing here the scientists now believe that there is so much greenhouse emission now currently in the atmosphere that even if it were to be cut back drastically now, there will be enough to lead to this kind of threshold tipping point climate change –  she writes,

“While a breach of the 3.6 degree threshold appears inevitable, scientists say that United Nations negotiators should not give up on their efforts to cut emissions. At stake now, they say, is the difference between a newly unpleasant world and an uninhabitable one.”

But again, shifting from the journalistic aspect to the supposedly scientific aspect, how in the world can use the word ‘optimistic’ or even the word ‘hopeful’ when your choice according to the scientists is between a world that is “newly unpleasant” and the other world that is “uninhabitable”?

I raise the issue in this way because I actually don’t believe these scientist believe what they’re saying. If they did they could be speaking in terms that they’re using in this article or in the United Nations conference being held in Peru. If they really did believe the kind of things that are reflected in this article, then they’d have to be taking actions more drastic than those that are being contemplated by the United Nations. Even far more drastic than those that are being supposedly celebrated in terms of the enthusiasm that is supposedly preceding this meeting of the United Nations panel. The scientific confusion is reflected later in the article when Davenport writes,

“The idea is for each country to cut emissions at a level that it can realistically achieve, but in keeping with domestic political and economic constraints.”

Now, let’s just end there to say that if you put all that together there is no way that any major changes going to take place. And that’s exactly what even many people, especially scientists, in the climate change world a been arguing for a long time. Davenport continues,

“World leaders would sign a deal in Paris next year committing all those nations to their cuts, including a provision that the nations regularly reconvene to further reduce their emissions.”

And yet you’re waiting for the next paragraph. Here it comes;

“The problem is that climate experts say it almost certainly will not happen fast enough. A November report by the United Nations Environment Program concluded that in order to avoid the 3.6 degree increase, global emissions must peak within the next 10 years, going down to half of current levels by midcentury.

“But the deal being drafted in Lima [remember that’s the one that hasn’t been passed, but there’s new optimism that might be passed.] will not even be enacted until 2020. And the structure of the emerging deal — allowing each country to commit to what it can realistically achieve, given each nation’s domestic politics — means that the initial cuts by countries will not be as stringent as what scientists say is required.”

And to that we simply have to say, if you bind to this worldview that can only be described as an irresponsible understatement. Davenport does her best to end her article on what might be described as a politically encouraging or optimistic note , but it’s important also to note that in the print edition of the paper yesterday this article continues on page A12, below the fold. And below the fold on page A12 is a scare quote. That’s the kind of quote that is popped out in large print in a newspaper, that reads this, “Without a deal scientist say eventual human extinction is possible.”

Now let me just to state the obvious once again. If anyone involved in the publication of this newspaper actually believed that to be true, would they possibly bury it below the fold on page A12 of yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times? I don’t think so. Nor, I’m guessing do you.

And while staying on this issue for a moment, an even more important article appeared in this week’s edition of the New York Review of Books, one most influential intellectual periodicals in America. Tthe article takes the form of a book review by Elizabeth Kolbert,  who is one of the most veteran environmental writers for this most left-wing of American literary journals. And she’s reviewing a book by Naomi Klein entitled This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. The short form of Klein’s argument comes down to the fact that the climate change catastrophe, this emergency that she predicts, it’s going to present an opportunity to “cure capitalism.” And by that she means, come up with a completely new economic system. She says there’s good news embedded in the climate disaster and that is that the disaster may provide the political pretext for a complete reevaluation of capitalism itself. But by the time you finish her book, as Elizabeth Kolbert makes very clear, she hasn’t actually transformed capitalism and all. It’s still capitalism, and for fairly good reason.

But even more importantly Kolbert gets to the heart of the argument she writes,

“Klein’s analysis—of the direness of the situation, of the structural nature of the problem, of the generalized direct and indirect complicity—makes it sound as if This Changes Everything is a downbeat book. But it isn’t, or at least it isn’t intended to be. It’s deeply optimistic, indeed some may say maddeningly so.”

The reviewer goes on to write,

“Klein contends not just that emission trends can be turned around in time, but that pretty much everything else that’s wrong with society today—inequality, unemployment, the lack of access in large parts of the world to electricity or clean water or health care—can be righted in the process. Climate change, she writes, “if treated as a true planetary emergency,” could “become a galvanizing force for humanity, leaving us all not just safer from extreme weather, but with societies that are safer and fairer in all kinds of other ways as well.””

Now the important thing about Elizabeth Kolbert’s review is that she’s writing from a secular worldview in a very prestigious secular journal –  one that is closely associated with the political and ideological left in the United States, and she responds to the book by Naomi Klein saying this isn’t even honest. Elizabeth Kolbert points out that if you’re actually going to make the kinds of cuts in greenhouse gases that would be necessary, then everyone on the planet is going to have to be reduced to what she calls the 2000 watt society, cutting personal energy used to 2000 W. She writes,

“if you’re American, you currently live in a 12,000-watt society; if you’re Dutch, you live in an 8,000-watt society; if you’re Swiss, you live in a 5,000-watt society; and if you’re Bangladeshi you live in a 300-watt society. Thus, for Americans, living on 2,000 watts would mean cutting consumption by more than four fifths…To investigate what a 2,000-watt lifestyle might look like, the authors of the plan came up with a set of six fictional Swiss families. Even those who lived in super energy-efficient houses, had sold their cars, and flew very rarely turned out to be consuming more than 2,000 watts per person. Only “Alice,” a resident of a retirement home who had no TV or personal computer and occasionally took the train to visit her children, met the target.”

Kolbert’s point is very clear; if you’re actually going to cut greenhouse emissions as the scientists supposedly say we must, then you’re going to have to return to something like a premodern lifestyle, and that’s not what those who are pushing this agenda are acknowledging. And so I want to give a tip of the hat to Elizabeth Kolbert and to the New York Review of Books are being honest about the situation. And to offer the honest analysis that the only way to read Naomi Klein’s book is to look to her category of “managed to de-growth” by which Klein means to say that the only way around this problem is to remove the idea of growth from our economic picture and go to a managed de-growth.

But let’s be honest about what that means. That means massive unemployment, that means a complete blackout in terms of energy for much of the world. It means that the emerging world stays emerging, the developing world doesn’t get to develop, and it means a massive economic retraction which in every single historic case means disaster for human flourishing. Just think of the rather minor economic dislocation after the recession of 2007-2008.

If you’re talking about de-growth in terms of Naomi Klein’s analysis, you’re talking about a reversion to a premodern lifestyle. Say goodbye not only to the personal computer, say goodbye to the modern hospital and air-conditioning.

Elizabeth Kolbert concludes her article paraphrasing former VP Al Gore. She writes,

“here’s my inconvenient truth: when you tell people what it would actually take to radically reduce carbon emissions, they turn away. They don’t want to give up air travel or air conditioning or HDTV or trips to the mall or the family car or the myriad other things that go along with consuming 5,000 or 8,000 or 12,000 watts. All the major environmental groups know this, which is why they maintain, contrary to the requirements of a 2,000-watt society, that climate change can be tackled with minimal disruption to “the American way of life.” And Klein, you have to assume, knows it too.”

In other words, she accuses those pushing this agenda with a massive intellectual dishonesty, a public dishonesty, because they’re not leveling with the American people. And that’s reflected in the confusion in yesterday’s front page article in the New York Times. If you really are talking about possible human extinction, even from a secular worldview you wouldn’t actually bury that below the fold on page A12.

Seriously committed Christians committed to a biblical worldview understand there’s a proper biblical environmentalism. But we can’t possibly look at human beings as the blight upon the planet. That gets back to yesterday’s discussion of Joseph Bottum’s cover story in this week’s Weekly Standard. But it also points to the point that bottoms made and that is thiswhat you have here is a doctrinal issue. The Christian understanding of the apocalypse replaced with a secular apocalypse. And in order to make that secular apocalyptic vision scary enough they have to talk about something like possible human extinction. And yet talking about it below the fold on page A12 indicates they don’t really believe it’s a likely possibility. Which takes us back to in the final analysis the most difficult issue at stake here, and that’s grasping in accurate and truthful terms, what we’re actually facing in terms of climate change.

2) Chaos of Colorado marijuana regulation shows sin will not be regulated

Next, another look at journalism. This case; kudos to USA Today for a very important article that appeared in Saturday’s edition or the weekend edition of that newspaper. The article is by Trevor Hughes, the title is “Regulators Can’t Answer Basic Pot Questions”. That’s one of those headlines that demands an explanation and that explanation comes in the very first paragraph of the article.

He writes,

“Despite a much-heralded system designed to track every marijuana plant grown and sold, and to independently test samples, Colorado’s recreational pot marketplace very much remains “buyer beware,” in large part because state regulators can’t answer basic questions about the industry they oversee.”

This is a blockbuster piece of investigative journalism – not something for which USA Today is usually known – but in this case the newspaper deserves high credit for an excellent piece of journalism. Hughes writes,

“State regulators, whose salaries are paid through the fees levied on marijuana growers, processors and retailers, say they’ve focused more on keeping the industry from running afoul of federal prosecutors. They admit they aren’t looking at large amounts of their own data, and acknowledge much of it would be useful to lawmakers and public health experts, as well as the general public.”

“There is no playbook to go off of,” said Lewis Koski, the state’s top marijuana regulator in the state of Colorado.

This is where the USA Today article gets really interesting. What is it that the state regulators don’t know about the very industry they’re supposedly regulating in Colorado? Well, according to this article as the newspaper documents they don’t know much of anything. USA Today entered into an investigative report with KUSA TV and they found,

“State regulators cannot even say how much marijuana has been grown and sold in the state since Jan. 1, despite creating a high-tech system designed to track the growth and sale of every single pot plant.”

They have the system, they just don’t know any of the numbers. Second the marijuana and edible products being sold the recreational consumers aren’t yet being tested for mold pesticides or other contaminants because state regulators of repeatedly rollback testing deadlines. USA Today and KUSA went together in this investigative report and because the state regulators wouldn’t allow any of their registered labs in the state of Colorado to offer test results to the news media, they had to go outside and get their own independent labs. Here’s what they found,

“Even though some marijuana being sold at Colorado’s stores is often twice and sometimes even three times as strong as consumers might expect, regulators don’t limit the potency.”

Next, the strength of popular marijuana infused foods known as edibles can vary widely. There is absolutely no quality control whatsoever, and that’s admitted by the state regulators whose job that presumably is.

“State regulators cannot — or will not — answer basic questions about the tests they require all marijuana growers and producers to conduct at special state-certified labs.”

Later in the article you find out they can’t even assure that the tests are actually being done.

“Colorado’s marijuana regulators don’t conduct an widespread independent testing to confirm results from the seven state-certified labs, and don’t require the testing of random samples.”

The USA Today/KUSA results indicated of much higher toxicity and potency of the marijuana than had previously been assumed. Trevor Hughes writes,

“One example: marijuana potency has been steadily rising for decades, according to federal scientists. In 1975, for instance, the average THC level was 0.75%. By 1990, it had risen to 3.82% and then 9.97% in 2000. Last year it rose to 12.55%. “

But the lab results cited by USA Today and KUSA indicated that at least one plant contained 32% THC. Hughes writes,

“Our testing results revealed wide variation in the strength of the marijuana, even when it was sold under the same name. For instance, three samples of what was sold as “Blue Dream,” a popular strain known to give a euphoric high tested at 13.54%, 13.63% and 18.73% THC.”

But about the names by which the marijuana sold, it turns out not those are registered trademarks and so they can be named anything. Anyone selling marijuana in Colorado can sell that marijuana under any name the individual chooses, whether it’s deliberately misleading or just made up out of thin air.

One important paragraph in the article reads,“Experts we consulted said wide variation is normal, but that the industry appears to be getting better at hitting the mark consistently.” But the next sentence gives it all away; “State regulators said they couldn’t access data that could illustrate that trend.”

The USA Today story is really important because it affirms what the Gov. of Colorado said himself, and that is that other state to better not follow the example of his state. In an unguarded political moment, the Gov. of Colorado said that his voters had acted in his words recklessly in legalizing marijuana. And it turns out the government acted recklessly in setting up the agency that was supposedly going to guarantee the safety of the marijuana sold within the state. But it should also tell us something that this article appeared in USA Today, a mainstream American media source. Indicating, that in the view of the editors of USA Today this is a very dangerous precedent set by Colorado, and one that should serve as a warning to other states as well.

But government accountability issues aside, intelligent Christians operating out of a biblical worldview should pay particular attention to the potency of the hallucinogenic effects that are indicated in this article by independent lab studies, as reported by USA Today. From the perspective of the biblical worldview the biggest problem with marijuana is the intentional consumption of marijuana in order to achieve an intoxicating effect. And here we have documentation from USA Today that that intoxicating effect is actually coming from marijuana with a potency that exceeds anything found even in recent years. And not by accident.And that tells us something, even if the state of Colorado doesn’t want to know what or says it can’t find its data.

One final thought on this new story, from time to time Christians need to contemplate the fact that when government claims its ability to somehow organize sin more responsibly, we need to understand the government is always incompetent to fulfill that promise. Governments try to assure citizens that they can control sinful behaviors and impulses, including something like gambling from which the state, of course, also hopes to reap a benefit. And that’s exactly what is taking place with marijuana as well. But as previous news stories have indicated, virtually all of the tax income from the sale and consumption of marijuana in Colorado has gone to efforts to try to prevent the abuse of marijuana. Efforts almost surely futile as the state also admits it’s incompetent to keep marijuana out of the hands of teenagers. But from the biblical worldview the point is this; you can’t gain control of her send by trying to regulate it. It simply doesn’t work. It has to be addressed as what it is. And especially, government put itself in a very compromised position when it says trust us, we can regulate it even as we will try to profit by it.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Mixed messages on predicted climate catastrophe reveal intellectual dishonesty of movement

Optimism Faces Grave Realities at Climate Talks, New York Times (Coral Davenport)

Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism?, New York Review of Books (Elizabeth Kolbert)

2) Chaos of Colorado marijuana regulation shows sin will not be regulated

Colo. regulators can’t answer basic pot questions, USA Today (Trevor Hughes)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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