It’s once again graduation season. And what does graduation season mean? No more school! No more books! No more teachers’ dirty looks … well, scratch that last part. As Alice Cooper sang in his 1972 single, “School’s out for the summer!” There’s just one hurdle to clear: graduation. Yes, what graduation season also means — particularly at the university level — is that it’s time once again for the barrage of graduation speeches.
Every year as May begins heating up colleges and universities all over the country hold commencement ceremonies. As part of the festivities they try and schedule a speaker who will leave the students with a message that will simultaneously challenge, encourage and inspire them. For the most prestigious schools around the country, though, simply getting a generic speaker who will check off all the relevant boxes isn’t enough. Their big names demand equally big personalities to adequately fill the graduation stage. And so, each year there is a laundry list of who’s who in business, politics, science, technology and culture offering their thoughts and encouragements to the current crop of grads.
This year was no different. Students in various places around the country heard from Bill Nye the Science Guy, Anthony Hopkins, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, George W. Bush, Stephanie Courtney (better known as Progressive Insurance’s “Flo”), CNN host, Fareed Zakaria and even Kermit the Frog.
Now, when it comes to the speeches themselves, most are forgettable. Most speakers say roughly the same things differing only in the particular worldview filter they bring to the table. Every year, though, it seems like one or two speakers say something that gets people talking.
Sitting at the top of that list this year is President Obama and his commencement address to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. After some introductory comments, Obama got down to his main point: “And this bring me to the challenge I want to focus on today … and that’s the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change.” From here he recycled most of the talking points of the left on climate change. He declared the science indisputable, even though a growing and vocal minority of scientists dispute it. In fact the global temperature has not risen in over 15 years. He cited the rising sea levels, even though the models projecting catastrophic rises are mostly speculative and the matter is way more complex than a simple line between a warming climate and rising sea levels can come even close to explaining adequately. He cited the wild increase in CO2 emissions, even though warming trends in the past were not influenced by CO2 levels and a fair bit of evidence suggests that increased CO2 might actually be good for plant life which in turn would benefit animal life (including us). He extolled the experts, even though some of the experts he includes in his praise have been responsible for the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change report which has on several occasions been remarkably and embarrassingly wrong in its predictions of global doom resulting from climate change.
Perhaps most egregiously, though, Obama cited climate change as a key contributing factor to the rise of — radical Islam. That’s right. Climate change helped create a cultural context favorably disposed to the appearances and success of the various radical Islamic terrorist groups around the world. “Understand, climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world. Yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.”
Someone could perhaps propose sillier-sounding explanations for what contributed to the rise of radical Islam, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of what those might be. Does the President really believe that drought led some religious fanatics to conclude that murdering and raping women and killing Christians by the wagonload is justifiable? Was climate change behind the violent jihad waged on the Arab world by Muhammed and his early successors? Did it lie behind the aggressions toward and persecution of European Christian Holy Land pilgrims as well as local Christians which finally provoked the Crusades? Did it cause the Muslim encroachment into Spain from Africa that was stopped by Charlemagne? Was it a failing climate that inspired Sayyid Qutb to look back in Islamic history and lay a modern intellectual foundation for Islamic fundamentalism? Or as the most syndicated columnist in the country, Cal Thomas, asked, “Are young girls and women being raped and forced into slavery because religious fanatics can’t grow crops on arid land?”
No in every case. Of all the rational and legitimate explanations for why radical Islam is a growing movement across the world, climate change ranks so far down the list as to not be worthy of anything resembling serious consideration.
If, for the sake of argument, environmental conditions did play a role in the rise of radical Islam — and that’s a super-sized “if” — that says a great deal more about problems inherent in the Islamic theology to which those despairing farmers turned as a means of finding hope in the midst of a hard situation than it does about how we should respond to questionable claims about the ravages of anthropogenic climate change. Indeed, even if we could somehow solve all the world’s climate problems by reducing our carbon footprint in this country (which should be a laughable idea to any clear thinking observer), individuals living in predominately Muslim contexts would still face occasionally hard situations that cause them to turn to their religious foundation as a means of finding hope — that’s called life. And when they do the radical teachings that climate change supposedly caused them to find will still be there. In light of this it should perhaps come as small wonder that Obama’s current strategy to stop ISIS is failing so spectacularly given his spectacularly poor understanding of what is driving the enemy.
Now make no mistake: As Christians we should absolutely be concerned with caring for the environment. After all, when God created the world he left it in our care. But, the climate worship advanced by so many today crosses a dangerous line and is often little more than an excuse to propose and pursue far left social and economic policies that wind up hurting the poor of the world the most — an injustice we should certainly oppose. We should also be concerned to stop the runaway violence of radical Islam across the world. We serve the God of peace, justice and love, all of which are totally absent from the worldview it is advancing. And yet, the line from one of these areas of concern to the other is neither clear nor direct such that trying to trace it winds up being an exercise in both futility and embarrassment. As a professed Christian Obama should have understood this and known better. Coast Guard Academy graduates certainly deserved better than something so patently ideological, especially from their Commander and Chief. Hopefully next year’s class will get it.