Naom Chomsky: “The Task Ahead Is Enormous, and There Is Not Much Time”

Now in his 90th year, Noam Chomsky is still blessing us with his insights. Here he is on climate change, US empire, antisemitism, Venezuela, and much more.

Noam Chomsky speaks during a program titled “Why Iraq?” attended by an overflow crowd at Harvard University November 4, 2002 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. William B. Plowman / Getty

Harrison Samphir recently spoke with the renowned dissident and philosopher about climate change, Venezuela, Iran, antisemitism, US empire, and more. Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) suggest that, if emissions remain unchanged, by 2100 sea levels could rise by more than eight feet. This would irreversibly affect many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Do you think there’s a chance we may avoid this?

If anything like that happens, the calamity will be on a scale that is almost imponderable, most severe as you say for the poorest and most vulnerable, but awful enough for the rest of society as well. And it is not the most threatening current projection. We are approaching ominously close to the level of global warming 125,000 years ago when sea levels were 6–9 meters higher than today, and the rapid melting of Antarctic sea ice threatens to narrow the gap, possibly by nonlinear acceleration, some recent studies suggest.

Is there a chance to avoid such catastrophes? No doubt. There are well-worked out and sound proposals; economist Robert Pollin’s work on a Green New Deal is the best I know. But the task ahead is enormous, and there is not much time. The challenge would be great even if states were committed to overcoming it. Some are. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that the most powerful state in human history is under the leadership of what can only be accurately described as a gang of arch-criminals who are dedicated to racing to the cliff with abandon.

…I don’t think we can count on market forces. The time scale is all wrong. Much more drastic action is needed. Those most responsible for destroying the environment can be curbed by regulatory mechanisms that are in principle available, and should be under democratic control. It’s not just a matter of curbing major polluters. Major structural changes are necessary to deal with what is in fact an existential crisis: efficient mass transportation to mention only one example. Far more substantial efforts in decarbonization, to mention another. Here the market is sending all the wrong signals, lethally in this case. Venture capital can make more profit with new apps for iPhones than in long-term investment for decarbonization, which is starved for funds.

It is well to recall the warning of Joseph Stiglitz thirty years ago in a World Bank Research Publication, before he became chief economist of the World Bank (and a Nobel laureate): we should beware of “the religion” that markets know best. “Religion” is not a bad term for the obsession with market solutions in the neoliberal age. And like other fanatic religious beliefs, it has led to not a few disasters.

It is hard even to find words to capture the scale of the crimes they are contemplating. A small but telling example is a 500-page environmental assessment produced by Trump’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calling for cancelling new automotive emissions standards. They have a sound argument. The study projects that by the end of the century temperatures will have risen 4 degrees Centigrade. Auto emissions don’t add that much, and since the game is pretty much over, why not have fun while we can — fiddling while the planet burns.

It’s hard to find the words to comment — and in fact it passed with little notice.

The attitudes of the leadership influence opinion in the Republican Party, whose members typically do not see global warming as a particularly serious problem. In fact it is ranked very low among crucial issues by the population in general (and the growing threat of nuclear war, the second existential issue, is not even listed in attitude surveys). MORE

 

Instead of squabbling over scarce jobs and incomes, we should jointly strive for a fair economic system

NYC ShutItDown People’s Monday march for Berta Cáceres in 2017. Photo: Alec Perkins/Wikimedia Commons

There’s an African proverb that is becoming uncomfortably apt to apply to many workers and citizens: “As the waterhole becomes smaller, the animals get meaner.”

In other words, as basic needs dwindle, so does the willingness to share what’s left. The merits of community and co-operation are superseded by a selfish survival-of-the-fittest mentality.

A big difference, however, exists between what happens at a shrinking waterhole in Africa and what happens in Canada when good-paying jobs are reduced, incomes fall or stagnate, and government services are cut back. The African waterhole gets smaller because of a drought. It’s a natural and unavoidable phenomenon. In Canadian society, however, the necessities of life for the most vulnerable among us are being deliberately restricted.

Our welfare “waterhole” is being siphoned away, its contents inequitably transferred from the pockets of the poor into the bulging bank accounts and stock portfolios of the rich and powerful.

There is no shortage of money in Canada. Our per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — the country’s entire financial output — has more than doubled over the past 50 years. But its dispersal has been ruthlessly skewed to favour the most opulent among us. Corporate executives, bankers, major investors and financiers wallow in wealth, much of it derived from taxpayer-funded billion-dollar bailouts of big corporations.

Maldistribution of income

That a barbaric maldistribution of income leaves millions of citizens, including hundreds of thousands of children, destitute and undernourished doesn’t bother the elite in the least. Their cherished capitalist system inevitably creates many more losers than winners, and always will. That’s its chief purpose. So the diversion of income from the needy to the wealthy is welcomed, and the wealthy can count on their right-wing political minions to block or minimize significant poverty reductions.

As long as progressive activists continue to accept the calamities of runaway capitalism as unpreventable, then their many protests, though admirable on their own, will be ineffectual.

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Why It Is Too Late for the Green New Deal (As Presently Envisioned)

“We live in a strange world. Where we think we can buy or build our way out of a crisis that has been created by buying and building things.” Greta Thunberg

 

Image result for doomsday clockWe all owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who have articulated the Green New Deal (GND), especially Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement. We needed something that focused attention on how serious climate change has become and the need for government action. The GND has shattered the neoliberal insistence upon incremental, market-oriented climate mitigation.

But, considering the emerging climate science and our diminished carbon budget after at least three decades of denial, and with carbon concentration in the atmosphere higher than it has been in 3 million years, it is too late to speed up the slow transition from fossil fuels to renewables with government facilitated renewable building; too late to build renewables under a Keynesian plan that employs all the workers in transition; too late for a transition that makes money and lets us keep living our present lifestyles.

The GND challenged neoliberalism with a “Big Government Plan” for climate mitigation, but as presently envisioned, these policy actions remain completely within a market transition where renewables will only replace fossil fuels by out-competing coal, oil and natural gas.

The GND could greatly speed up this slow transition, but it’s still a plan to let fossil fuels compete for far too long; it still doesn’t regulate production and distribution; it still envisions supplying 100 percent of today’s energy, plus projected growth. The GND is ultimately predicated upon a growing GDP in a business-as-usual scenario where there is enough created wealth to redistribute to marginalized populations.

If it had been implemented in the ‘90s, this carbon-price aided decarbonization, with renewables out-competing fossil fuels, could have worked and largely solved our problem. But now, there is no time and no carbon budget left for such a slow transition; no time for a tapering period or for a carbon price to work its market magic. As Sunrise Movement founder Varsini Prakash told the Guardian, “If there was a free market solution to the climate crisis, we would’ve seen it in the last 40 years.”

It is already possible that we are on the wrong side of a threshold to that cascade of tipping points leading to Hothouse Earth and the destruction of all we love and care about, including the extinction of most species. Fossil fuels are now a potentially lethal toxin already at too high a level in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels must now be kept in the ground. Governments must regulate a scheduled, rapid managed decline of all fossil fuel production based upon the best science and risk management expertise.

Instead of a climate mitigation plan that is shoehorned into the economic and political status quo, there is no time to taper-in mitigation to protect the economy: emissions must peak immediately and substantial emission reduction from the present high of more than 37 billion tons annually must happen immediately.

We don’t have until 2050 for a slow transition. We must cut emissions by half globally by 2030 — by 65 to 70 percent in wealthy countries like the U.S. and Canada. As climate activist Alex Steffen writes, our emission reduction curve has to bend so steeply that winning slowly becomes the same as losing. Thus, GND decarbonization is a plan to fail.

5 Ways Doug Ford’s Government Costs Us More

Neoliberal economic philosophy wants minimum government, regulation and services, minimum taxation, and the removal of all impediments to business’ efforts to maximize profits. Doug Ford is proclaiming Ontario is ‘open for business’. His government is an example of extreme neoliberalism. The other side of the coin, social democracy, proposes government is for people. It champions the plight of folks struggling with housing, those stuck in bad jobs with poor pay, families depending on public education to help their kids get ahead, and the sick. 

If there’s one thing top of mind for most folks, it’s the cost of living. Recent polling commissioned by the Broadbent Institute showed that whether it’s housing, healthcare, or simply paying for daily basics like food, Ontarians and the rest of Canada are worried that their largely stagnated incomes just can’t keep up. And they expect their government to start doing much more to make life affordable.

When Doug Ford rolled into office last June on a simple and effective slogan: “For the People”, many expected that under his rule their affordability concerns would be answered. Within the first few months however a pattern started to form of choices and policies that benefit special interest groups, while making life for the rest of us less affordable. This budget is yet more proof that Premier Ford will end up costing most folks more.

More healthcare costs on the way

It started on his second day in office when it was quietly announced that pharmacare for those under 25 was cancelled, closing the door on the promise of pharmacare for the rest of us. It’s a good deal for drug companies and insurers who make more money off of a fractured system of largely private coverage, where little is being done to control drug costs and premiums. It’s a crappy deal for the rest of us who continue to see our out-of-pocket costs for medications rise.

Yesterday’s budget plans to “save” another $200 million through the PC Government’s controversial plan to merge Health Units, but details are non existent and it’s always dangerous to cut a critical service like healthcare before identifying where the money will come from. Many public officers of health are saying it will likely mean less locally responsively service for people. MORE

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Because ‘The House Is on Fire,’ Naomi Klein Takes Centrism-Obsessed Media to Task for Failed Climate Coverage

Neoliberal mainstream media is being ignored by more and more people as they search out investigative journalism on social media. Check out stories on The National Observer , The Narwhal, Ricochet, or Rabble and ask yourself why these stories are either downplayed or ignored on traditional media.

“You can’t leave it all to the markets.”

Naomi Klein speaks to the audience at an April 30 CJR/The Nation town hall. Naomi Klein speaks to the audience at an April 30 CJR/The Nation town hall. (Photo: screenshot, YouTube)

News coverage of the climate crisis can no longer rely on the false pretense of objectivity, writer and activist Naomi Klein said Tuesday.

“There is a confirmation bias among the largest chunk of journalists out there who really pride themselves on being centrists,” Klein said Tuesday during a town hall at the Columbia Journalism School in New York. “There’s an absolute fetish for centrism, for seriousness defined by splitting the difference—and not getting too excited about anything”

The mainstream media is “profoundly distrustful of people who are saying ‘actually, the house is on fire,'” Klein said, citing the impulse among many journalists to remain objective and hear both sides.

“But guess what,” said Klein. “The house is on fire.”

MORE

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‘The Big Stall’ details how neoliberal think tanks blocked action on climate change

Neoliberalism is a philosophy that says growth and investor returns not hindered by government taxes and regulations will lead to economic prosperity. It results in the welfare of ordinary citizens and protection of the environment being ignored. It has been suggested that economic prosperity will trickle down to all eventually. On the contrary,experience has shown that neoliberalism results inevitably in a growing income gap in society.

The Bill Stall: How Big Oil and Think Tanks are Blocking Action on Climate Change in Canada By Donald Gutstein, James Lorimer & Company Ltd. 2018 $24.95

The world’s biggest oil companies knew for years that climate change was real, but they did all they could to derail government action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Donald Gutstein’s latest book, The Big Stall: How Big Oil and Think Tanks are Blocking Action on Climate Change in Canada is a deep dive into the strategies that Canadian oil companies and their friends have implemented to prevent political action to slow and reverse catastrophic climate change.

The author, a former communications professor and co-director of the media-monitoring project NewsWatch Canada at Simon Fraser University, follows the individuals and organizations that have shaped Canada’s energy and environmental policy over the last four decades.

Gutstein doesn’t neglect the politicians (he devotes a chapter to Alberta NDP leader and just-defeated Premier Rachel Notley), but he spends more time on the players who fly slightly under the public radar or whose impact is felt long after they’ve fallen from view. People like Maurice Strong, appointed the first head of Petro-Canada by Pierre Trudeau and the secretary-general of the UN Conference on the Human Environment, who said in his opening speech that “There is no fundamental conflict between development and the environment.”

That this position, articulated in 1972, could sum up current official Canadian climate change policy, wasn’t inevitable, argues Gutstein. Justin Trudeau’s “clean growth economy” — a mix of investing in ‘green’ technologies and “getting our oil to new markets,” — can be traced to the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s. But we can’t only blame the ideological context Trudeau inherited. There has been a concerted campaign to stall and prevent significant action on climate change by fossil-fuel industry lobbyists and policy think-tanks. MORE

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Green New Deal is a way out of neoliberalism wreckage

Image result for ricochet: At a time when the federal NDP is struggling to assert an identity and progressive Canadians are struggling to find a party, the Green New Deal could be a godsend

At a time when the federal NDP is struggling to assert an identity and progressive Canadians are struggling to find a party, the Green New Deal could be a godsend

If you want to be alarmed at the way climate change is thought about in the Canadian political mainstream, have a look at what National Post columnist Andrew Coyne wrote a few weeks back. In surveying the climate policies of the major federal parties, he concludes,

“The choice before Canadians … is between policies that do nothing [those of the Conservatives and the upstart People’s Party], or that do too little at too high a cost [those of the Liberals], or that do too much at much too high a cost [the emissions reduction targets of the NDP and the Greens]: between the inadequate and the insane. It’s not terribly inspiring, but that’s democracy.”

What Coyne considers “insane” are precisely the targets that climate science is telling us have to be met. And of course he isn’t alone or on the fringe — just the opposite. In neoliberal times, his views are very typical. A couple generations of policymakers, technocrats, and public intellectuals have soaked in our reigning ideology to the point where it doesn’t even feel like ideology to them; it’s basic logic or common sense or the limits of the possible or, simply, economics. Avoiding climate breakdown is not a moral or existential imperative but an option that can be rejected should it come at “too high a cost.”

The result is a nice symbiosis, as we see in Canada. There is a special urgency to loosen the vise-like grip in which neoliberalism has for too long enclosed the political imagination. That’s why it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the Green New Deal breaking into the mainstream ever since Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrats’ rising democratic socialist star, presented it as a congressional resolution last month. MORE