The Paris climate accord was announced with much pomp and self-congratulations… but let’s examine the worldview behind it.
This past weekend, representatives from 195 countries approved what the New York Times called a “landmark climate accord” in Paris.
Not surprisingly, President Obama, who has made fighting global warming a cornerstone of his foreign and domestic policies, was delighted. He told reporters the accord “sends a powerful signal that the world is fully committed to a low-carbon future.” And then added that “We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge.”
With all due respect to the president, the Paris agreement shows no such things about our collective global will, and even less about our abilities. What it shows is a commitment to a certain worldview.
By way of evidence, let me quote Secretary of State John Kerry. In his December 9th address at the Paris summit, he told the audience, “The fact is that even if every American citizen biked to work, carpooled to school, used only solar panels to power their homes … if we somehow eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, guess what—that still wouldn’t be enough to offset the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world.
He continued: “If all the industrial nations went down to zero emissions . . . it wouldn’t be enough, not when more than 65 percent of the world’s carbon pollution comes from the developing world.”
Well then why were we in Paris in the first place?
American proponents of the accord, including the administration, argued the U.S. was trying to set an example for the developing world.
But this is, to put it charitably, naïve. Nations like India and China have their own priorities, which include building more than 1,000 coal-fired power plants between them over the next decade. This would swamp any reduction in emissions from the industrialized west.
Another reason is money, at least for lesser-developed countries. The accord calls on industrialized countries to transfer an estimated $100 billion to them by 2020 and each year thereafter. And the UN would administer the funds. Nothing could go wrong with that plan, right?
But the most important reason isn’t a matter of science or even money. It’s a function of worldview. The key lies in the president’s claim that “the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge.”
The Paris summit was nothing less than a chapter in a sort of secular, technocratic salvation history, complete with its own account of creation, fall, and redemption.
In the worldview that produced this salvation history, the world and everything in it—to borrow a phrase from our friends at World Magazine—is what we make of it. There is no problem beyond the reach of human ingenuity. What stands between us and the world we desire is just the right policies arrived at with the aid of science.
In this version of salvation history, “nature” replaces creation, and, at least until the coming of homo sapiens, functioned just as it should. Then came the fall, what environmentalists have taken to calling the Anthropocene, in which human beings messed things up and threatened all of nature.
And what about redemption? Well in this story, it comes from enlightened humanity who take it upon themselves to “save the world” through a combination of science, in the form of computer models, public policies, and regulations.
It doesn’t matter to them that the models have been proven inaccurate or that developing nations, the source of two-thirds of CO2 emissions, choose fighting poverty over curbing emissions every time.
Now there is of course a moral and prudential case to be made for not just spewing stuff into the atmosphere. That isn’t proper stewardship of creation.
But neither is insisting that the steward—us—has salvation-like powers to restore the creation to its intended state. For that, only a real salvation history with a real savior will do.