December 15, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, December 15, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Reactions to Paris climate accord betray dissatisfaction from both left and right
Looking back at the announcement made on Saturday about an historic accord involving 195 nations coming out of that meeting in Paris having to do with climate change–is that announcement good news or bad news or a mixture of both? That depends upon one’s worldview, but it also depends upon how long you’re willing to wait after the headlines break for the more interesting discussion that almost always follows. That’s the case early this week when in the aftermath of the Paris Accord, there are responses coming from at least two very different directions. For example, many environmentalists are now saying the accord will fail because it doesn’t go far enough. Environmentalist Bill McKibben, writing in the New York Times on Monday, says that world leaders made promises–they now have to be held to their word–but even if so, it won’t be enough. He writes,
“So the world emerges, finally, with something like a climate accord, albeit unenforceable. If all parties kept their promises, the planet would warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. And that is way, way too much. We are set to pass the 1 degree Celsius mark this year, and that’s already enough to melt ice caps and push the sea level threateningly higher.”Show Full Transcript
So Bill McKibben writes, representing many in the environmentalist movement, saying this accord is going to fail because it doesn’t go far enough. He says that the accord will only be meaningful if it actually goes far, far beyond what was agreed to there in Paris last week; and furthermore, he criticizes the document because it is unenforceable, and that raises another very interesting issue that shows up on the other side of the political spectrum, in this case from the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. The editors released an editorial on Monday entitled,
“Paris Climate of Conformity.”
And they go on to make the point that one of the reasons many nations are actually celebrating the Paris Accord is that it is unenforceable, and thus it replaces the 1997 Kyoto protocol that was supposedly came with enforcement mechanisms. Now this is really, really interesting. One of the reasons why the Paris Accord did not include enforceable sanctions is because, had it included that kind of enforceability, it would have constituted a treaty that would require ratification by the United States Senate. That’s not going to happen. So President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry insisted, as I pointed out in yesterday’s edition of The Briefing, that words such as ‘shall’ must be replaced with words such as ‘should’–that is aspirational language, not enforceable language. But the Wall Street Journal points out that the Paris Accord, and this wasn’t noticed by many on Saturday or even over the weekend, actually allows nations that had been bound under the Kyoto protocols, which by the way virtually no nation actually met or enforced, would actually be replaced by an unenforceable set of aspirational goals.
This is one of the things we need to keep in mind every time we see those big headlines about multi-national agreements. They often mean not only far less than is claimed, they often mean very little at all. That is not to say that the Paris Accord will not come with political consequences, but as Bjorn Lomborg points out in Forbes magazine, the biggest consequences are likely to be economic, and they are likely to fall disproportionately among those in the developing nations who are even now aspiring to have things like flushing toilets and modern medicine and refrigeration, not to mention air-conditioning. I take anything Bjorn Lomborg writes with great seriousness on this issue because he is a very serious and fair-minded thinker. Lomborg, an expert on the environment and on climate change, points out that if everything the Paris Accord calls for is to take place, even then it would leave in Lomborg’s words,
“99% of the problem in place.”
But he then goes on to write,
“Paris will be extraordinarily costly. It is likely this is the most expensive treaty in the history of the world.”
And this is where Lomborg, who has so much concern for those in the developing world, points to one of the saddest aspects of this treaty. The treaty calls for the richest nations in the world to give $100 billion a year to the poorer nations of the world in order to allow their transition to a supposedly more climate friendly future. But that’s where the issue gets really dark, because what this really means, and Lomborg understands this, is that what that is going to promise is a $100 billion transfer to the governments of those nations, and given the corruption throughout much of the world, that means that the government is likely to be enriched while the people in those countries may receive no practical benefit whatsoever. This allows the elites in Western countries to congratulate themselves on how generous they, are but when it comes down to it, it may make no material difference whatsoever in the way that those in so many of the world actually live.
Support for economic "de-growth" reveals dark, anti-humanist worldview
But next, we need to recognize there are even deeper worldview implications at stake here. That was made very clear by Eduardo Porter on the 2nd of December in an article that deserves our very careful attention. Porter writes the Economic Scene column for the New York Times, and he asked his readers back on the 2nd of December to imagine a world without growth, and that’s because what is actually going on at the deepest level of the worldview conflict over these questions is the question as to whether or not there should be continued economic growth in the world. Porter is very honest; he calls us to consider a world without growth, because that is exactly what many environmentalists are openly calling for. As a matter of fact, his article cites several articles published in leading liberal newspapers and magazines in which major economists and theorists have said we have to reach zero growth or even, in the words of one Canadian economist, negative growth, or what he calls,
Porter points to the fact that, historically, there has only been in the last 200 years a rapid expansion of economic energy and growth in terms of Western economies, and the beneficiaries have been many of those who were poor, who moved into the middle class or even beyond. In no previous time in human history was there any opportunity for the average person to leap out of established social hierarchies and actually improve their economic standing and that of their families as well. Eduardo Porter asked us to imagine a world without growth, and then he asked, could humanity survive? He says yes, but,
“Modern civilization could not. The trade-offs that are the daily stuff of market-based economies simply could not work in a zero-sum world.”
Not to mention a world marked by de-growth. This gets back to that basic worldview divide we’ve talked about and that is over the question of dominion, whether or not human beings are created in the image of God and given that divine assignment of dominion. Those who are advocating for no growth, not to mention de-growth, are actually arguing that human beings are a blight upon the planet, in their own way, and that our economic activity is ruining the environment. But Porter points out that not only would that mean forfeiting refrigeration and cars and airplanes and air-conditioning and even the microchip, it would also mean, potentially, the end of democracy, because he points out with great insight that democracy has only become possible with the rise of this massive economic growth. He also says that,
“Economic development was indispensable to end slavery.”
As he writes,
“Zero growth gave us Genghis Khan and the Middle Ages, conquest and subjugation. It fostered an order in which the only mechanism to get ahead was to plunder one’s neighbor. Economic growth opened up a much better alternative: trade.”
The anti-humanism that is foundational to this worldview is made very clear in the articles cited by Eduardo Porter. They include an article by Daniel Immerwahr published in Dissent magazine in which he very openly acknowledges that this will require a total re-conception of human society, it will mean the end of capitalism and it will also mean that we’re going to have to give up many of the things that we consider important in the modern age, the very things we talked about before, economic mobility. Immerwahr also even cites Thomas Piketty, now one of most influential economists among liberals, as pointing out that a no growth or de-growth agenda would actually lead to an exaggeration of income inequality.
Also cited was an article by Peter A. Victor that was published in the journal, Ecological Economics. In it he presents three different scenarios, some growth, no growth or what he calls de-growth; and he points out, basically affirming the argument made by Bjorn Lomborg just yesterday, that what really makes the difference is de-growth. It turns out, as Victor argues, that no growth or zero growth isn’t enough, it isn’t going to make a big enough difference. The only way to make a big difference is to embrace de-growth, and that would require a total revolution, better stated as a huge step backwards in human history; and that was not something that was either affirmed or acknowledged in Paris.
Academics arguing for one-child policies in America deny humanity its dignity
But next, brace yourselves, we can see where this worldview is headed, and this is really, really important. An article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education on November 27 of this year by Tom Bartlett, a senior writer for the Chronicle, which is a combination of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for America’s academic establishment. It is a very important newspaper that gives us a very rare glimpse into how the academic elites are thinking, what ideas are plausible, what worldviews are revealed. The headline of the article is,
“Why Two Kids Are Too Many.”
And the article lives right up to that headline. It is an argument that the population is simply unsustainable as it is and as it is growing, and that parents should have only one child, they should be effectively limited to one child. Bartlett here cites the work of many academics and researchers who are making these arguments right out in the open. He points out that what Al Gore has called fertility management is something of the third rail when it comes to these environmental and population issues. Many people on the left simply don’t want to discuss them because they know they will get pushback, even from some of their friends and neighbors. Bartlett writes,
“Yet even among liberals, the topic is usually dodged.”
And yet the issue is not being dodged by some modern writers, including Sarah Conly, who back in 2013 published a book entitled Against Autonomy, justifying coercive paternalism. She has just recently published a book entitled One Child, and her agenda and worldview are very much on display. As Bartlett explains in her new book published by Oxford University Press, Conly argues that parents,
“…do not possess the right to unlimited offspring and that government can and should if necessary step in and discourage them from doing what comes naturally.”
“What people once had a right to do can become something that we no longer have a right to when circumstances change and the practice becomes dangerous.”
Let’s keep in mind what she’s identifying here as a dangerous practice is the practice of having children. Give Conly at least the benefit of consistency, back at the end of October, when China announced the end of its notorious one-child only policy, she wrote an article in the Boston Globe saying,
“Here’s why China’s one-child policy was a good thing.”
In the article, she argues that China actually had a very laudable goal in trying to limit its population by limiting couples to have one child. She goes on to argue that China may have used the wrong methods to coerce this one-child policy, but the policy itself, she says, was right. She’s willing to use the word coercive–it appears in the title of her previous book–but she argues that China’s policy was simply overly coercive, leading to forced abortions and infanticide and other practices with which she does not want to be associated. But the bottom line is if government is going to be coercive in deciding how many children a couple can have, it will use whatever coercive mechanisms are at its disposal. China is ample evidence of that, horrifying evidence of that. It isn’t morally responsible to claim that China’s one-child policy was right morally speaking, and then say that it was enforced in an immoral way. The enforcement was central to the policy. But Bartlett’s article back at the Chronicle of Higher Education actually cites many academics who are making the argument that there should be a limit on how many children a couple will be allowed to have. He acknowledges that many of the academics who are arguing for the moral mandate of having only one child in his words,
“…tiptoe around mandates.”
That’s where he gives credit to Conly because she,
“…breaks ranks. She favors laws and punishments. Her position can’t help but bring to mind China’s one-child policy, along with that government’s abhorrent record of forced abortions and sterilizations. Conly naturally finds that record repugnant, but doesn’t think that because one government abuses its power that all governments should surrender theirs. She imagines a humane system of financial penalties on a sliding scale ‘with much greater fines for people with much greater incomes.’”
Now we need to note the very dark irony of the fact that Bartlett used the word humane to describe this policy. It is not a humane policy, it is an anti-human policy. It points to children, and eventually to all people, as the problem. Bartlett’s article actually surveys the academic landscape and brings us ample evidence of this deep anti-humanism that is now becoming more and more apparent, more and more explicit among academics. We need to note how this agenda comes hand-in-hand with the zero growth agenda, and that how both actually represent a step backwards in terms of human flourishing, rather than a step forward. And from a Christian worldview perspective we have to understand how this very deep anti-humanism is something that can only happen in terms of a secularized worldview. The biblical worldview simply doesn’t allow any margin for understanding human beings in terms of human existence as the problem. Instead, the biblical worldview understands that every single human being is an image bearer, and thus God is actually glorified in the multiplication and expansion of those image bearers all across the planet that he has given us as a human habitation.
Furthermore, we need to note that, not only is there a deep anti-humanism that reflects a secular worldview at work here, there is also in every way a profound denial of the obvious–and that is that the big population problem we face is not having too many people, but too few, especially too few babies who will turn into the children who will grow to be workers in an economy that is increasingly populated by the aged and the infirm. Nations like China and Korea and Japan are not panicking about having too many people right now, but too few, and even if China, of all nations, has abandoned its one-child policy, it’s interesting and incredibly revealing for us to understand that there are many Western academics who still think it is a great idea.
College sexual orientation questionnaire inevitable in current moral revolution
Next, evidence of the confusion of our increasingly post-Christian age is made very clear in another article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. This one published on December 4th, the headline,
“I’m Pretty Sure I’m Gay.’ But Please Don’t Ask.”
This article is very important. It’s written by Adam D. Chandler, he is identified as a lawyer in Washington, we’re also told that from 2003 to 2006 he was the undergraduate representative to the Provost advisory committee on undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Duke University–and Duke University is Ground Zero for the story. He writes,
“I was 28 years old when I came out as a gay man. People wonder how I managed to stay in the closet so long, but on a practical level, it wasn’t that hard. Rarely was someone rude enough to ask.”
The point made in his article is that Duke University is joining several other prestigious American universities in now asking applicants for undergraduate admission their sexual orientation. My point in bringing up the article today on The Briefing is this: we are living in a society in which it increasingly makes sense to universities of elite power and formation such as Duke University to ask 17-year-olds what their sexual orientation is. Now Christians should rightly look at something like that with concern, but it should tell us something additional, that here you have the influential back column of the Chronicle of Higher Education–you find a column written by an openly gay man who says this is a really, really bad idea. He argues that many 17-year-olds are not only not ready to come out of the closet; they may not even know that, to use his worldview, they are in the closet. He’s arguing that 17-year-olds are simply ill-equipped to answer this question. But here’s where those operating from a Christian worldview have to understand: inevitably the logic of the sexual revolution points to this question on an undergraduate admission form. It’s simply going to have to be there. It’s going to have to be there because, in the name of diversity, America’s colleges and universities want to be able to brag about how many LGBT students they have, and they’re only going to know if they ask. Furthermore, many of these universities and colleges actually have specialized, designated scholarship funds that are available only to students, or that include preference given to students, who openly identify as LGBT, and thus the logic is going to be that this kind of question is going to show up, not only at Duke University, but everywhere.
Understanding the culture around this means understanding why this question is inevitable, and why even someone like Adam Chandler is concerned that it isn’t fair to ask 17-year-olds to answer a question like this. But what we actually have here is very sad and troubling evidence of how a moral sexual revolution like the one we are experiencing eventually comes down to forcing 17-year-olds to answer this question, no matter how they might answer it. It tells us a very great deal that universities and other cultural institutions want bragging rights about how many LGBT students they have, and the same thing by extension will increasingly be true of other major institutions in our life, including political institutions and economic institutions, including major corporations. How can they possibly brag about how diverse they are if they don’t ask the question, and thus if they do not require applicants for admission or for employment to answer the question? Chandler, by the way, is clearly all for this moral revolution, and yet he fails to understand that the logic of that revolution is producing the mandate of the very question that troubles him. He writes,
“In the rush of progress that the LGBT community has experienced recently, it is too easy to forget that there are still a lot of scared and confused 17-year-olds under enough pressure already.”
Well, on any number of grounds that sentence makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense in a worldview that is increasingly saying that the most important thing about one is a sexual orientation. It doesn’t make sense in which the age of this kind of sexual understanding is being pressed younger and younger in terms of cultural and social expectation in our society. It doesn’t make sense in a world in which schoolchildren, not only teenagers, but even preschoolers, are being presented as transgender or somewhere else on the LGBT spectrum. It doesn’t make sense that in a society that won’t stop talking about sexual orientation, eventually, that talk is going to get to this question. So here’s one lesson about a moral revolution: eventually, once you launch that revolution, you’re not going to be able to control it. And it’s going to show up in unexpected places like a college admissions application. As this article makes clear, Adam Chandler is troubled by this development, and operating out of a biblical worldview, Christians should be even more.