What does climate change have to do with socialism?

For many climate skeptics, climate change has little to do with science. One of the most vocal strains of opposition to mainstream climate science appears to be rooted in fears of socialism


Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney (left) shakes hands with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler after Mr. Wheeler signed the Affordalble Clean Energy Rule,  June 19, 2019, in Washington.

As public concern over global warming grows, more Republicans have begun to break ranks. After years of denying or deflecting mainstream climate science, GOP lawmakers are pivoting toward a belated acceptance of man-made warming and calling for bipartisan action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and boost investment in clean energy.

But one faction in the conservative movement continues to push against such calls with warnings that the agenda for climate action is part of a socialist plot to undermine the American way of life.

“It’s a climate delusion. It’s a climate collusion,” James Taylor, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, told an audience of around 250 gathered at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for the institute’s 13th International Conference on Climate Change in late July.

Other speakers argued that any warming of the Earth is part of a natural cycle and not the result of human activity, as record heat swept through Europe, toppling records in France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Chicago-based Heartland is part of a nesting group of right-wing organizations that for decades have sought to undermine public confidence in mainstream climate science. It publishes “climate realist” books and articles that find their way into Republican platforms and into the media, and has tried to push materials into schools.

That it calls itself a free-market think tank is telling: Climate denial in the U.S. is deeply rooted in an anti-government ideology that sees virtually all regulations, including curbs on carbon emissions, as leftist attacks on free enterprise. MORE

Is Canada a socialist country?

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