Monday, September 23, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, September 23rd, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Young People Across the World Participate in Climate Strike: The Christian Responsibility of Stewardship of Creation
Friday was declared to be a day protesting climate change, a global strike primarily amongst young people. As the New York Times reported about those young people, "They are in open revolt." The article continued, "Anxious about their future on a hotter planet, angry at world leaders for failing to arrest the crisis, thousands of young people began pouring into the streets on Friday for a day of global climate protest."
The article in the New York Times tells us that the main demonstration in New York City was scheduled for mid-day, but participants, primarily young participants began assembling early in the morning. The expectation was that the turnout would be large. The Times also explained that demonstrations in North and South America would be the culmination of a day described as a day of global strikes that began almost 24 hours earlier as morning had broken in the Asia Pacific region.
International media reported that in Melbourne, Australia, more than 100,000 protested. We are told that the rally itself shutdown key transportation corridors for a matter of hours. In Sydney, only thousands gathered but they gathered with a very vocal protest. One girl, Jemima Grimmer, age 13, was cited as saying, "Adults are like, 'Respect your elders.' You know, it's a two-way street respect, and I'm angry that I have to be here." The Times then summarizes, "Rarely if ever has the modern world witnessed a youth movement so large and wide spanning across societies, rich and poor, tied together by a common if inchoate sense of rage."
Berlin also reported about 100,000 demonstrators and many of the young people held signs reading, "Stop the Global Pyromania,” “Short-Haul Flights Only for Insects,” and “Make the World Greta Again.” We'll turn later to Greta Thunberg, in many ways, the 16-year-old symbol for this movement, but the big point in the New York Times article and the big point in the news story itself is the fact that you are looking at a massive generational protest around the world.
Now, if you're thinking of the number of young people the same age as the protesters, this is a tiny, tiny, tiny manifestation of youth rage, but it's a very concentrated expression of youth protests. We should also note it is a very orchestrated form of youth protest. This isn't happening out of the blue. It isn't even happening merely by social media. As we shall see, there are big movements behind it. There's even big money behind it.
On the very same day that the climate strike was held, major media around the world, but most importantly in the United States, reported on massive new scientific research indicating that over the course of the last 50 years, North America has lost about 2.9 billion birds.
That's a loss of almost three billion birds in 50 years. Now even as climate change is an obvious issue to which people are pointing here, the reality is that the biggest single explanation is the loss of habitat for these birds, and the biggest single explanation for that loss of habitat is urbanization. Urbanization over the course of the last 50 years has transformed much of North America. It has also affected regions that are not yet urbanized simply because of the total change in the topography and the landscape.
Urbanization not only eliminates much of the habitat that had been experienced by birds, especially on the two coasts where by no coincidence there are these great urban concentrations now in these big cities, but the reality is that it also changes the topography in the environment even with the existence of artificial light. You don't have to be a climate scientist and you don't even have to have a political position on the climate change issue to understand that a loss of birds on this scale is a big warning sign.
It's one of those warning signs that has been tracked for some time, but never with this kind of detail looking specifically at over 570 different species of birds over the last half century. It also turns out that bird populations are relatively easy to count as compared to other animals. It also turns out that one of the big problems here is going to be human agriculture, and the larger environment, especially trees and many species of plants that depend upon birds to carry their seeds from one place to another.
Another perhaps unanticipated consequence of all of this will be an imbalance between the ecosystem of birds and insects. Birds are the largest consumers of insects. Fewer birds means, in all likelihood, a good many more insects. Once again, a major change in the environment that we experience.
Christians looking at these kinds of reports understand that human beings bear a very important ecological responsibility, not because we are merely the inhabitants of a planet that needs our care and concern, but because we start with a biblical worldview that starts with the biblical doctrine of creation and also understands human beings to be assigned the kind of important responsibility for the environment, for the world, for its use, and for its stewardship.
We understand that that's where our worldview begins. We also come to understand that the biblical worldview makes very clear that human beings are not a blight upon creation. Whatever problems that we face in that climate and in the environment, the problem is not the human beings exist. The problem is not even that greater numbers of human beings exist. The problem is that we have often not been very thoughtful in understanding the kind of cause and consequence argument that is now being played out in much of the environment.
This is easy to understand in a local scale. It's easy to understand in your own lawn or in your own neighborhood. Decisions made about whether or not to plant vegetation, decisions about cutting down shrubbery, decisions about pavement rather than grass, decisions about what kinds of trees will be existing in the neighborhood, decisions about what kind of lights will be on at night. All of this has an effect upon the environment. That's just one neighborhood. The human beings in that environment also have a stewardship responsibility.
You would hope that that stewardship responsibility would mean that all the neighbors together, just in that one little neighborhood, perhaps in one little square or street, would be careful about the disposal of waste, would be careful about creating too much waste, would be careful about any number of issues. Notice this, we wouldn't be talking about the square and we wouldn't be talking about the street if human beings had not exercised the dominion that is assigned to human beings in Genesis 1.
We can only get to the argument of the climate strikers that we have a responsibility in light of the climate change issue if we begin with the fact that we do have a responsibility, and it is a God-given responsibility that actually extends far more comprehensively than anything the climate strikers understand or affirm.
‘No Future, No Children’? Youth Pledge to Not Have Children if There Is No Environmental Future
But we have to look at several dimensions of this story that actually have far larger consequence. For example, Newsweek reported a headline, "No Future, No Children: Hundreds of young people are pledging not to have children for the environment."
Rosie McCall reports for Newsweek, "As leaders across the world are getting ready to gather together to discuss climate change and what to do about it, at the UN Climate Change Summit in New York,” that would be this very week, “hundreds of young people across the world are going on birth strike to press your policymakers into action."
Let's just put a pause here for a moment. We are told in several headlines that those primarily who are signing up for this movement are teenagers. As teenagers, they are pledging not to have babies, but it's not a moral issue related to having babies or even how the babies might be conceived. It's a moral issue about the fact that it is wrong, they argue, to bring babies into this world because of the imminent disaster that is certain to come because of climate change.
Then this also turns out to be much like the ancient Greek work in which you had the women who declared that they were going to go on a romance or sex strike against men until they ended war. In the case of ancient Greece, it was political pressure that was symbolized in this kind of relational threat. What you see here, we just have to note is really political pressure.
These pledges are being made by teenagers who might actually come to a very different mind when they are at the normal childbearing age, but then again they might not, because here's where Christians need to recognize that we are looking at a fundamental redefinition of what it means to be human in the minds of so many people in this civilization, including now young people, but we have to look at the worldview that's being demonstrated here, a worldview that says, “Human beings are the problem. The more human beings, the bigger the problem. Therefore, we will not have babies until some government comes to terms with this crisis and all the governments of the world come to a concerted effort to prevent the imminent disasters that are coming by climate change.”
Yet, you have the same divided mind we have seen so recently here on the environmental left. It's a divide between those who say, "We have to act now or disaster will happen," or those who say, "Disaster is imminent. There's now nothing we can do about it."
Now, let's think about the difference between those two arguments. Let's assume they're being made sincerely. The point is this: If you are making the second argument that the disaster is now unpreventable, then frankly, there is no political momentum that you are building. If it's going to happen, then politics won't change anything. Those who have a political motivation have to operate out of that first argument. It is the argument that we must act now according to what they say we must do or the disaster will come.
In the case of these young people who are declaring a baby strike, no future, no children, the reality is that they are seeking to bring pressure, not so much on government leaders who after all probably aren't thinking about these issues in such personal terms when it comes to babies, they are attempting to bring pressure, at least in part, on their own parents who after all understandably have hopes of becoming grandparents.
According to one media report, the spearhead behind this movement is Emma Lim, identified as an 18-year-old freshmen at McGill University in Montreal in Canada. She has started the movement, “No Future, No Children.” As it's reported, "Her campaign urges fellow teens to forego having kids in an effort to motivate the government to take serious action against global warming." In this case, the government would be the Canadian government in Ottawa.
This story becomes more clear as the article continues. Lim said, "I have always, always wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember, but I will not bring a child into a world where they will not be safe." According to the report her go was this, "I would like to see the government develop a comprehensive plan to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming."
Now, let's just again take a look at what we're facing here. An 18-year-old is threatening the Canadian parliament that if that government does not act in order to keep the climate change below 1.5 degrees Celsius specifically, she is not going to have a baby. Media reports citing Emma Lim have indicated the mixed response of many in the culture, but she says that she is not discouraged because in her words, "She aims to look to the future with hope instead of fear.”
But that gets to a very interesting point that Christian should immediately recognize. In a biblical worldview, hope is not expressed by not having children, but by having them. It's not by not planting a crop, but by planting it. That was made very clear in the Old Testament through the prophet Jeremiah. A very interesting aspect of this article is made by Gracy Olmstead in an opinion piece that ran this week at the New York Times. The headline of her article argues, "Don't let climate change stop you from becoming a parent."
She makes a very interesting statement. She says, "The act of creation is opposed to the act of consumption." She says, "The latter suggest that everything exists to serve our needs and appetites, but the other reminds us of the value and goodness inherent in things themselves and how creation encourages stewardship and responsibility." That's of great worldview significance for this reason: You're either going to look at a baby primarily as a symbol of consumption or of creation.
Let's just be clear. The baby is both, but the biblical worldview puts the primary emphasis by far upon that baby being a sign of creation, not merely of consumption. The basic point of Gracy Olmstead's article is to argue that if human beings bear some responsibility for the climate change problem, it's going to take human beings, generations of human beings, to address the problem helpfully.
A Look at Greta Thunberg, the 16-Year-Old Leader of the Climate Crusade: What Explains Her Emergence on The Scene?
Next as we continue today looking at several pressing dimensions of this issue so much in the press, we'll go back to that original New York Times article reporting on the climate strike in that city in which we were told that at least some protestors were holding signs that said, "Make the world Greta again."
What's that all about? It's a reference to 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who is in so many ways the symbol of the youth protest movement on climate change. We need to take a closer look at Greta and what she represents, and we need to take a closer worldview look at what it means for a young celebrity to be at the center of this kind of social movement and moral cause.
As she is known to the international media, Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old activist from Sweden. She is also, by her own words, someone who is identified with Asperger syndrome, but she has become this symbolic figure at the center of this adolescent and youth movement concerning climate change. She's become a media celebrity, and as we're going to see, that celebrity is something that has become a central preoccupation of many in the climate change movement, especially many young people. But most people who see Greta Thunberg as this kind of symbol don't know the story that produced how she became that symbol.
Standpoint Magazine, that's a major intellectual journal published in Great Britain, it tells the story. The reporter is Dominic Green. He writes, "Greta Thunberg is just an ordinary 16-year-old Swedish school girl whose fiery visions have convinced the parliaments of Britain and Ireland to declare a climate emergency." He goes on to tell us, "Greta's parents, actor Svante Thunberg and opera singer Malena Ernman, are just an ordinary pair of parent managers who want to save the planet."
"Query their motives,” says Dominic Green, “and you risk being accused of climate denial or of bullying a vulnerable child with Asperger’s," but he says, "The Greta phenomenon has also involved green lobbyists, PR hustlers, eco-academics, and a think-tank founded by a wealthy ex-minister,” that means government minister,” in Sweden's Social Democratic Government with links to the country's energy companies. These companies,” he tells us, “are preparing for the biggest bonanza of government contracts in history, the greening of the Western economies. Greta,” says Dominic Green, “whether she and her parents know it or not is the face of their political strategy.”
This is one of those really interesting investigative reports that the mainstream media really do not want to draw attention to. Dominic Green goes on to tell us that even as the world media reported that Greta Thunberg just started this one-girl school strike and that she addressed her concern to the Swedish parliament starting on August the 20th, 2018, the reality is that there is a figure behind this. That figure is Ingmar Rentzhog, who's the founder of the social media platform "We Have No Time."
The mainstream media story is that he simply passed Greta Thunberg on the first day of her strike, and it caught his attention. It turns out that's not really the story. As Dominic green tells us, “In emails, media entrepreneur Rentzhog told me that he met Greta for the first time at the parliament, and that he did not know Greta or Greta's parents before then. But in the same emails,” we are told, “Rentzhog admitted to meeting Greta's mother three to four months before everything started. That would be in May of 2018 when he and Melena had actually shared the stage at a conference called The Climate Parliament.”
Dominic Green goes on to say, "Nor did Rentzhog stumble on Greta's protest by accident, he now admits to having been informed the week before by a mailing list from a climate activist named Bo Thoren, leader of the Fossil Free Dalsland Group." This is really a pretty massive investigative report. It's not really important that we look at all of the details, but it does raise an issue that intelligent Christians ought to think about. How is it that all of a sudden a single 16-year-old girl in Sweden could become a worldwide celebrity and a symbol of what we are told at least has become a worldwide moral cause?
How is it that this 16-year-old girl is now one of the most cited authorities in the worldwide media on climate change? We're looking at something like a 16-year-old Joan of Arc in the 21st century who has arrived on the scene and taken the world by storm. As you might've suspected, this wasn't an accident. As you might also have expected, this isn't the story the world is being told. This is not to argue that 16 year olds should not be concerned about such causes and should not be even publicly engaged with the right kinds of moral causes.
It is to say it's beyond the imagination that a 16-year-old could accidentally be catapulted into this kind of fame and influence from Sweden. As it turns out, the story itself tells us a great deal about how moral arguments are made in the world and how they are argued out and how moral causes are reported by the world media, what's told and what's not told, who will actually benefit massively financially and who has an interest in this that isn't being acknowledged.
The figure in social media who is behind this, that is Mr. Rentzhog, he set up the site “We Don't Have Time” in 2017 to, "hold leaders and companies accountable for climate change” and to do so by leveraging the “power of social media." He had received training through a program that was organized by the former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, an initiative known as The Climate Reality Project, a project that is called for just this kind of activism through global social media.
As it turns out, when Greta met Rentzhog, he was actually at that time the salaried chairman of a private think-tank on these issues that was funded by big corporate and financial interests in the new green economy. What's going on here? Well, just think about the fact that beneath the surface of so much of this controversy is which particular industries will benefit, especially by government initiative and the massive trillions of dollars that will be flowing through the global economy.
There are huge financial interests here that's been made clear and controversially clear even in the course of the last several years of American politics. The report in Standpoint makes very clear that Greta's parents have not only been observers of Greta's activism. They were already involved in the same kind of activism and very publicly so. There's a story behind this. People in Sweden are not surprised by this revelation. It's not a revelation there.
But then that takes us to Greta's now very famous travel to the United States in order to participate in this climate summit. You'll recall all the media attention to the fact that she came by a wind-powered sea vessel rather than to fly. Headline said such things as, “Rather than to pollute the environment, Greta Thunberg will cross the Atlantic on a wind vessel, a sailing ship.” Here's where, again, we have to look beneath and beyond the activism. What is really happening here? Well, is climate change affected by air travel? There can be no question that when you look at global air travel, you are looking at injecting many millions of tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere through the very use of carbon fuels in jet aircraft. No question about that, but that also has to be balanced by asking the question, "What would be the alternative?"
Well, of course, traveling by sea would be an alternative, but traveling by a sea vessel that is also fueled by carbon fuels would hardly seem to be accomplishing anything. That means the travel has to be by sail, and there are sailing vessels that are capable of traversing the North Atlantic even as they did centuries ago. It turns out that even as those ships in those transits might be fairly low impact when it comes to ecology, the entire process of building those ships and having the personnel and workers for those ships, and getting those workers, those sailors where they have to be in the beginning and the end, and even developing the carbon fibers that are involved in making such ships, it turns out that's all very, well, you've already guessed it, carbon intensive. Indeed, it could be more carbon intensive than actually flying in the airplanes from one place to another.
This gets to the fact that in this kind of moral controversy, symbolism and signaling become central. Again, we are not denying, no intelligent person can deny there will be an ecological effect from putting all those thousands of airplanes with millions of flights into the air. No one should deny that. You'll also note that the people who are making these arguments are getting on those airplanes and going across the world in order to go to the latest meeting in order to make those arguments.
Then of course, you also have the fact that many of the people who are trying to be activists and to present the public face of this movement not only get on commercial airplanes, but they get on private jet craft. That was made very, very clear now infamously so when Prince Harry and his family went on a private jet for just such a meeting. Then on the other side of that controversy, even as there's another social media movement shaming people for getting on airplanes, the reality is that in response, the friend to the royal family, Elton John, indicated that he would make amends for this flight which had been on his private jet by planting trees somewhere in the world or by a carbon credit.
Now, here's where you need to note what's going on. When you have people who are activists, especially celebrity activists, the fact is it is almost impossible for them to live consistently with their own arguments. In the case of so many, it appears they're not even trying to. Then you have the reality that you have absolutely unrealistic arguments being made. For example, if you are looking at mass travel in the United States, and our economy depends upon mass travel, if you're looking at it, there isn't a rail alternative. By the way, those trains also are consuming carbon fuels.
In order to create a rail alternative in the United States, it would take a massive, unprecedented amount of government money, money our government, no government actually has, and there will be massive ecological issues even with just claiming the land, not to mention the legal and financial issues that will be necessary for the right of way. It's not going to happen. It's also easy to understand why in North America it made more sense to get on airplanes and go over massive mountains than to simply try to find a way through them on a train.
Here's also another part of the agenda that becomes clear even in the so-called flight shaming movement. That is just don't travel. Just don't do business. Let stop economic growth, which by the way will lead to mass starvation. Let's just, you got it, not have babies. Let's just not.
Even as Greta Thunberg got on that boat and went across the North Atlantic and was greeted by so many as the savior of the environment, when she arrived in New York City, all the carbon saved by Greta's travel on that boat was vastly overcome by a multiple by the cost and energy of flying the crew of that boat back where they had started.
Are we saying that Greta Thunberg is a hypocrite? There is no reason to think that she is intentionally a hypocrite. There's no reason to believe that she doesn't believe what she's saying, but there's every reason to look beneath the activism at the larger reality, where it comes from and what it means. There's every reason to understand that symbolic acts grabbed the attention of the media, but often, if understood rightly, make the point opposite to the one the media is reporting. It's even more important that Christians understand the vast worldview issues underneath these controversies.
That's our job as Christians, and day by day is just getting more interesting.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
Today, I'm in London, England, and I got here by plane. I didn't swim. I'll meet you tomorrow for The Briefing.