Thursday, August 12, 2021
It's Thursday, August 12th, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Looking Beyond the Sensational Headlines: How Should Christians Think About the New Climate Report?
Huge headlines these days having to do with big events at the national and the international level, and both of them turn out to be related. Not surprisingly here, you're talking about climate change and the news report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change and the infrastructure bill that has now passed the United States Senate, and it also represents a major headline with vast worldview significance. Let's talk about both of these. First, let's look at that report that came out Monday. It came at the United Nations and from the intergovernmental panel on climate change.
Headline in the Washington Post, "Humans Have Pushed the Climate Into Unprecedented Territory, Landmark UN Report Finds." Now, as Christians, there are several things we need to think about here. First of all, if this is a big story that is based upon a really big issue having to do with the matter of human stewardship when it comes to the planet that God has made and given us stewardship of, then yes, we should pay close attention to this. There's more to it than that. But one of the things we do need to recognize is that when you see a headline like that, that headline is actually something that's significant in itself.
Now, what do I want us to think about here? Well, I want us to think about the fact that if you were to do a study, and I've done this, I've done it more than once, if you were to just go and look at headlines just about every time one of these studies goes out, if you were to look at that, even when you put together issues such as the environmental crisis, what was then claimed to be the crisis of overpopulation, you put all of these reports together, the headlines are almost always basically the same. They just come back again and again and again. If you were to see this headline and it came out of the blue, unprecedented territory when it comes to the climate, well, for one thing, that is simply the kind of language you would expect for reasons we will explain.
Now, the intergovernmental panel on climate change did indeed release this report. The report's striking for its language. For example, the 42 page summary of the report uses one phrase, the phrase is, "Virtually certain," we're told, nearly a dozen times. Overwhelming was one of the words that was used when it refers to the human impact of climate change, and then it also refers to the fact that climate change itself, human affected or human initiated, human traceable climate change is described in the report, as summarized by the Washington Post, "What began as a scientific hypothesis has become--" and this is put in quotes from the report--"'established fact.'"
Now, those phrases in the report do tell us a great deal. You're talking about something here that is described as a scientific report and indeed we are told that the report was produced by 234 authors relying on more than 14,000 scientific studies from around the world. So you're looking at a lot of volume here. You're looking at a lot of people involved. You're looking at the imprimatur and the authority of the United Nations. More on that in just a moment, but you're looking at language that is intended to catch attention and it is language that is intended to convince, intended to persuade. Language such as "virtually certain", "established fact," "overwhelming".
Well, all of that is also political language because in the context of this report, it is about political leverage. It is about getting the United Nations as a body to take particular actions. It is about the United Nations and other international bodies putting an enormous amount of pressure on governments to take action. It's also about the fact that as you are looking at the larger political context, the biggest contributor over time, as you look to the future, when it comes to climate change is likely to be China and China isn't likely to play ball with whatever other nations come up with, and that would include, most importantly, Europe and the United States.
Several European nations have been involved in coordinating their own plans, but those plans, though very ambitious, fall short of what's called for in this report. Furthermore, it is likely that the nations themselves will fall far shorter of their own plans when it comes to the kind of technologies and changes that are called for. In the United States right now, this is a hot political issue. It has been so for a long time, but it is particularly hot right now and this connects us to the next issue in our consideration, that is the infrastructure bill, because President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are basically taking what has been known as the Green New Deal and are reformulating it as a matter of what they call infrastructure.
We'll get to that in just a moment, but the point is, this is big politics. It's big politics because it is massive money. It's going to require vast changes when it comes to the lifestyle of people in Western nations. That's not likely to come easily. As a matter of fact, I think we can say it's not actually likely to come. What is likely to come is that there is going to be a lot of state involvement in areas of the economy. As in just about any initiative like this, there will be winners and there will be losers, but the agenda of climate change gives the government in this case, especially the left wing, the opportunity to use this as leverage for their own favored sectors of the economy at the expense of other sectors of the economy. John F Kerry, former United States Senator, former U.S. Secretary of State, current Biden demonstration Special Envoy for Climate, he said, "What the world requires now is real action. We can get to the low carbon economy we urgently need, but time is not on our side."
Now, one of the things we need to note is that there is an intense divergence between behavior and language when it comes to much of the discussion over climate change and what ought to done in response to climate change. For example, Senator Kerry, as Secretary of State, and also now as the Biden administration Special Envoy for Climate, has been and is now on the front lines of calling for radical change, a radical cut in emissions of carbon, a radical change in the way we undergo transportation, the way we think about our economy, the way we drive our cars, the way we fly our private jets. Wait just a minute, most of us don't have that problem.
John Kerry, married to Theresa Kerry, one of the most wealthy power couples in the United States does have a private jet. They do use that private jet like so many celebrities and political figures, business figures, indeed, who want to make clear just how serious they are about climate change by going to all the right meetings and saying all the right things while getting to those meetings on private jets, which per capita, expend and expel far more carbon into the atmosphere than flying on a commercial airliner.
The Washington Post offers a helpful summary of the report. Its conclusions include these: "Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen to levels not seen in two million years," the authors state. "The oceans are turning acidic. Sea levels continue to rise. Arctic ice is disintegrating. Weather related disasters are growing more extreme and affecting every region of the world. If the planet warms much more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a scenario all but certain at the current pace of emissions, such change could trigger the inexorable collapse of the Greenland ice sheet and more than six feet of sea level rise that could swamp coastal communities. Coral reefs would virtually disappear."
Well, if you look at this kind of warning, how are Christians to think about this? This report does indeed present a very dire picture. Well, by now, the evidence is actually quite clear that climate change is real, but just how real it is and how it is to be modeled and understood is still extremely controversial. Why is that? Well, notice that this report says that we're looking at levels of carbon and the time reference here was, "Not seen in two million years." Now, just to point to the obvious, there's no one to go back and talk to two million years ago. If you're following, of course, the worldview and even the chronology, let's just consider that, of those who are producing this report, even they, if you're committed to a very old earth and to the doctrine of evolution, you can't come up with a two million year old expert to talk about climate. There are no weather records.
Instead, there are geographical records, there are records and evidence that can be found in things such as coral reefs and in sediment layers. There are all kinds of forms of evidence. But the one thing we know is that no one was sticking at the monitor out the window two million years ago in ways that there can be a consistent record. No one was measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere even 2000 years ago, even 200 years ago. Here's what does make sense. It does make sense that human beings have an impact on the planet. That makes sense. It also makes sense, as Christians would understand, that there are rational means of trying to understand the world. It is Christianity that produced modern science, understanding that the world is rational and that God made us rational and God gave us not only the capacity, but the moral mandate to understand the world around us.
There are things we can't understand. Furthermore, we look at the industrial revolution, the rise of technologies such as the internal combustion engine, you look at the use of fuels, including oil and coal and others, and the reality is it does make sense that there would be an effect of putting all of those millions and millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. That does make sense. What doesn't make sense is claiming that you can somehow use modeling that should be unquestioned going back to before records were kept, and frankly, trying to put also prognostications forward based upon the same kind of modeling. The obvious fact to consider here is that if you come up with that formula, you go a long way into determining the outcome. There is very little reason for anyone looking at this kind of modeling who has a heavy investment, either intellectually or politically or financially in the crisis of climate change.
There's very little reason for them to say, "Maybe it's not as bad as it looks. Maybe there are adjustments we could make." No. Instead, this becomes a rationale for a complete transformation of society.
Human Existence Is Not the Problem: A Deadly Confusion Marks the Secular Worldview
That's where Christians need to have an alert go off. Yes, we understand that there's a biblical mandate from our Creator that we are to be stewards of creation. We don't own the earth. We are called to tend it. It is a garden, we are called to till. We are to use it and that gets to another understanding, which is that we are indeed given a responsibility because human beings are the one creature made in God's image, given the creation mandate. That's something that is simply missing from this report.
So much of the mentality behind this report and the kind of crisis language that has come before it for nearly 60 years now, so much of this language has been coming with the assumption that human beings are an imposition on the planet, that there are too many human beings and that we're being too human, doing human things that bring about effects in the world around us, not only in terms of building buildings, but also in terms of even perhaps changing the atmosphere.
This means that Christians committed to a biblical theology understand that there are at least two big dimensions of this issue for us to think about and for us to affirm. One is the fact that we are given a creation mandate. We are given a stewardship responsibility. We are also given the biblical responsibility to exercise dominion. Now, that does not mean at the expense of the garden we have been given responsibility to till. It does mean that it is a garden. It is not meant to be left to itself in terms of the fact that human beings shouldn't apologize for being human, should not apologize for tilling the ground and producing your crop, should not apologize for building cities and building habitation, should not apologize for coming up with technologies that lead to extensions of human life for increases to human good, and the quality of that life.
To put it bluntly, there is no way that politicians in the United States or Europe are going to be able to convince citizens of these countries to give up on transportation, to give up on air conditioning, to give up on refrigeration, to give up on any number of things. Furthermore, there is no way to undo all of those technologies nor would there be any public will to do so. One of the most amazing aspects, by the way, of the Green New Deal and other proposals is that even senior officials in the Biden administration admit there are no current technologies that would allow us to meet the goals that the politicians are trying to force upon us. They're simply saying we should trust that those technologies will come. Well, how has that worked out for us in the past?
There is a basic anti-humanism at the heart of so much of this. Again, Christians should not dismiss the challenge that we face. We have that stewardship responsibility. If you go down to Miami Beach, all you have to do is look with your own eyes. The tides are getting higher. They're having to raise the roads. They're having to look at changing the building codes. You are looking at an imminent threat. The mayor of Miami Beach, by the way, has said, "Look, we have a pretty significant tax base. We can actually deal with this," but in many other less developed, less prosperous areas of the world, there is no such tax base to respond to this with the kind of technologies, for example, that might help. We are looking at the fact that we have a responsibility. We aught to do what is sane and reasonable and responsible in response to that.
This is similar to the challenge that Christians understood in the 1970s and the 1980s, but going back to the 1960s and '70s, let's just look at the '70s in particular. You had Christian figures such as Francis Schaeffer, the great Christian apologist, who helped evangelical Christians, conservative, evangelical Christians to understand that there was a grave danger in pollution. That it wasn't just something that was bad for the earth, it was something that was a slander against the goodness of the earth that God had given. As Schaeffer made clear, the argument must not be that we should not use the earth, but that we should use the earth well. Likewise, no doubt, there are changes that can be made, that should be made, but one of the other things we need to note is that there is not really political will to do some of the things that would make the most immediate effect.
For example, the use of nuclear energy. There is no doubt that the use of nuclear energy on a broader scale would actually be the fastest way to reduce the use of so much carbon fuel in generating electricity. There is no doubt that some of these options are already there, but the very people who, especially on the left, are pushing the climate change agenda are the very people who do not want to use, will not use some of the very technologies that would actually enable us to solve some of these problems more quickly. One of the explanations is that if you look, for example, just at the two parties, you will see that there are different parts of the economy that are in the support base, and in the support base of so much of the Democratic Party right now are those who are trying to push things such as so-called green energy. This has not come without a price, and it is coming with a lot of political promises.
Looking at this report, massive report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have a couple of things immediately to think about. First of all, you have to look at the headlines and wonder had the people who are running these headlines read the report. I used the Washington Post article here because it's clear this team of reporters really did read the report. I think they are representing it fairly, but I say that intentionally using the Washington Post in this case, because that's a paper that is very much pushing the climate change agenda, but I want you to look at how many politicians will use this report in order to further their own political interests. I can promise you in advance, because we've heard it already, frankly, that much of the use of this report will be irresponsible and will not actually be consistent with what is in the report itself.
On a later addition to The Briefing, I'm going to go back at some of the previous reports and just trace some of the language that has been used over the course of the last 50 years, just to show it's a pretty continuous argument and human beings are one way or another presented as the heart of the problem, simply for existing or too many of us. This is why so many people are arguing we need a smaller population, we need people to have fewer babies, and this is why you have the media talking about people not having children precisely because of climate change as a problem. This is where Christians understand that if supposedly the answer is having fewer human beings, then the problem has been grotesquely misunderstood.
One other observation is that whenever you have the international agreements that governments come together and announce, we almost never meet those agreements. The nations that make the agreements actually know in advance they're not going to live up to it. For example, Kyoto in 1997. The Kyoto agreement was still unfulfilled when nations came together and adopted the Paris Accords in 2015, nearly 20 years later. And guess what? We're not meeting those goals either. But it does bring about political leverage and it does bring about political energy and that's not all there is to the story, but it's a big part of the story.
One last thing, one of the innovations, we are told, that has come in this latest IPCC report is an increased reliability of attribution research. What is that? Well, attribution means attributing to certain phenomena the degree to which climate change, or what they would say is human-induced climate change, has contributed to it. Now you see this in just about every media treatment of every disaster; hurricane fire, thunderstorm, you name it. The question is to what degree does this reflect climate change? If you actually look at the report and look at the details when it comes to this attribution research, it is by no means a certain thing. But again, listen to the media. That is not going to be acknowledged. Instead, you're going to have people come out and say, "Look again, here is evidence of climate change." Again, as Christians, we need to understand that, in some cases, would not be irrational as a thought, and perhaps there is even a way to understand the degree to which it might be. But that's not the public conversation and that's not the political conversation, and it's even worse than that. It's not the media conversation.
The Underlying Moral Issue of the Infrastructure Bill: The Government Intends to Spend Money It Does Not Have, Borrowed From Those It Cannot Repay — That is Always Wrong
But the next big story has to do with the fact that the Senate has now passed, by a vote of 69 to 30, a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Now, these stories are related because at least some of the rationale for the current infrastructure bill is getting at least some progress on technologies that might address climate change. But the big thing is that when you're looking at the adoption of this bill in the Senate, you're looking at a redefinition of infrastructure. It's going to pale against what's coming. But this redefinition of infrastructure means we're not just talking about bridges and roads and nuts and bolts and asphalt and concrete. We're talking here about half the bill. Perhaps, by some estimations, a good deal more than half the bill being what has never been described as infrastructure before.
Now, this should help Christians to think through this for a moment because we do care about infrastructure, and one of the legitimate functions of government is, for example, to make sure the roads and the bridges are safe. I think most Americans would be intellectually, morally and politically satisfied to think the government at least has a role in that. One of the reasons this bill passed and it's defined as by partisan because it required a good number of Republicans to vote for it. One of the reasons that it is called an infrastructure bill is because a lot of the money, billions and billions of dollars, is actually addressed to that kind of traditional infrastructure, having to do with bridges, roads, airports, ports, well, you just go down all the rest. But even much of that is laden with political agendas.
Now, that could be true in just about any big spending bill, but in this case, it has to do with how many jobs have to go according to this kind of racial preference, how many jobs have to go to this kind of labor contract, how many jobs have to go to these kinds of areas. There is a lot of politics, even in the less than half of this bill that is actually traditional infrastructure. The other half, well, they're calling it infrastructure but the thing to keep in mind, as we have to bring this to a close today, is this; this pales against what's coming in the $3.5 trillion initiative that President Biden and the Democrats in the house and the Senate are pushing for. That initiative, which the Democrats are going to try to get through the Senate on what's called budget reconciliation, that means they could use all 50 democratic votes and they could use the vice president as a tie breaker in a 50/50 Senate to get that through as a budget bill, it would be a massive transformation of the entire American economy.
It would be basically the Green New Deal put into an infrastructure language package. It would be things such as childcare, student loans, free community college, all kinds of things, including what can only be described as a grab bag of all the goals of the left for the last 40 years put together in what would be a massive unprecedented expansion of the federal government into everyday life. A part of that goal is to get as many Americans as possible on the receiving end of the money, because then politically it will be very difficult to bring those programs to a close. The bottom line, we are not going to pay for the $1 trillion bill that the Senate has just passed. They will say that a lot of this is going to be covered by forms of revenue. You can count on the fact that's not true, and even authorities in the Senate will recognize it isn't true.
But nonetheless, it's going to be claimed as true. There is no chance of doing that with the $3.5 trillion the Democrats are going to try to bring in that reconciliation bill, but there's a political calculus here that is going to be fascinating to watch. I'm talking about this; yes, it was a bipartisan bill, genuinely bipartisan. You're looking at a significant number of Republicans in the Senate who voted for the $1 trillion bill. It is extremely unlikely that even one Republican in the United States Senate will vote for the budget reconciliation bill. It is unlikely that you'll have a Republican in the House who will vote for the bill. This is going to be an entirely Democratic party bill, and it is going to be the wildest dream of the Democratic Party for decades.
But the political dynamic is this. It may well be that some of the Republicans voted for this Senate infrastructure bill because it will make it easier for some Democrats, especially in the Senate who are in swing states, think states such as West Virginia and Arizona, it will be easier for them not to vote for the $3.5 trillion proposal, which, by the way, some are actually calculating it being more like $5.2 trillion. It's a high wire act in American politics we're watching right now, but understand it's big money and a part of the morality that Christians must keep in mind is that with either of these bills, much less both of these bills, we not only are looking at political effects with moral meaning, we're looking at the fact that we are going to be spending money that isn't ours.
It is the money of our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, because this money is being borrowed by the government in ways that will never be paid back, if ever paid back, during our lifetimes. We are saddling future generations with our debt rather than leaving future generations an inheritance. That is morally wrong any way you look at it.
One more thing to watch in the budget process is the fact that you have leaders in the House such as Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, who said that she won't deal with the bipartisan infrastructure bill if there is not, at the same time, the Senate passing on the budget reconciliation bill. She won't deal with the 1 trillion, unless she also gets the 3.5 trillion and the left wing of her party is absolutely insistent. Similarly, we see the same political will on the part of the Senate majority leader, the democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York. But that leads to a fascinating dimension. It's, again, a political game of chicken, in essence. You have the left wing of the Democratic Party and now the leadership of the Democratic Party in the White House, in the House, in the Senate, say if they cannot have both, they will not have the first.
This means that President Biden could end up not with two infrastructure bills, but none. When it comes to that part of the dynamic, he would not have been undone by members of the Republican party in Congress, but by members of his own party. This is going to be political theater that matters and is certainly worth watching.
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.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.