The US Chose Endless War Over Pandemic Preparedness. Now We See The Effects

The United States of War – A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State. ISBN: 9780520300873

The United States has the longest record of war-fighting in modern history. Why that is the case is not a question that has an easy answer; suffice to say, however, that militarism and violence run like a red thread throughout U.S. political history, with enormous costs both for the domestic economy and the world at large, as a recently published book by David Vine makes plainly clear. In fact, the militarist mentality is strongly reinforced by the Trump administration in spite of the fact that the current president claims to have an aversion to “endless wars.” In this exclusive Truthout interview, Vine, a professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C., addresses critical questions about U.S. war culture and Trump’s own contribution to the violence that has always been foundational to U.S. culture.

C.J. Polychroniou: Your latest book, The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State, is a detailed survey of the U.S.’s obsession with militarism and war. Have you come to a definite conclusion or explanation as to why the United States has been at war for about 225 of the 243 years since its independence?

David Vine: There is, of course, no simple answer to this incredibly important question. According to my research, the U.S. military has been at war or engaged in other combat in all but 11 years of U.S. history — 95 percent of the years the United States has existed. My book shows how the huge collection of U.S. military bases abroad provides a key — or a kind of lens — to help understand why the United States has been fighting almost without pause since 1776. Bases abroad, bases beyond U.S. borders show how U.S. political, economic and mili­tary leaders — shaped by the forces of history, capitalism, racism, patriarchy, nationalism and religion — have used taxpayer money to build a self-perpetuating system of permanent, imperialist war revolving around an often-expanding collection of extraterritorial military bases. These bases have expanded the boundaries of the United States, while keeping the country locked in a state of nearly continuous war that has largely served the economic and political interests of elites and left tens of mil­lions dead, wounded and displaced.

To be clear, my argument is not that U.S. bases abroad are the singular cause of this near-endless fighting. Indeed, my book shows how the answer to why the U.S. government has fought so constantly lies in the capitalist profit-making desires of businesses and elites, in the electoral interests of politicians, and in the forces of racism, militarized masculinity, nationalism and missionary Christianity, among other dynamics.

U.S. bases abroad, however, have played a key and long overlooked role in the pattern of near-constant U.S. fighting: that is, since independence, bases that U.S. leaders have built beyond the borders of the United States not only have enabled wars but also have made offensive imperialist wars more likely. While U.S. leaders often portray bases abroad as defensive in nature, the opposite is generally the case: bases built on the territory of other peoples have tended to be offensive in nature, providing a launchpad for yet more wars. This has tended to create a pattern in which bases abroad have led to wars that have led to the construction of new bases abroad that have led to new wars that have led to new bases and so on.

Can you offer us a quick assessment of the overall costs of the “global war on terror?”

It’s impossible to capture the immensity of the catastrophe that the so-called “global war on terror” has inflicted. Around 15,000 U.S. military personnel and contractors have died in wars the U.S. government has waged since invading Afghanistan in October 2001. Hundreds of thousands of troops have returned with amputations, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries, and other physical and mental damage. As of 2018, 1.7 million veterans had reported a wartime disability.

Across the countries where the U.S. military has fought, the death toll is at least 50 times higher than the U.S. death toll: In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen alone, an estimated 755,000 to 786,000 civilians and combatants have died as a result of combat. Total deaths may reach 3.1-4 million or more, including those who have died as a result of disease, hunger and mal­nutrition caused by the wars. Entire neighborhoods, cities and societies have been shat­tered by these wars. The number injured and traumatized surely extends into the tens of millions. At least 37 million people have been displaced from their homes during U.S. fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. For perspective, 37 million is about as many people as live in California and in Texas and Virginia combined. Thirty seven million displaced is more than those displaced by any war anywhere in the world since at least 1900, with the exception of World War II.

The U.S. government and the United States as a country are not single-handedly responsible for all the death, displacement and destruction of these wars. Other governments and combatants also bear significant responsibility. However, the U.S. government bears disproportionate responsibility, especially for the wars it has launched (Afghanistan, the overlapping war in Pakistan, and Iraq), the wars it has escalated (Libya and Syria), and the wars in which U.S. forces have been significant combatants (Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines). Alongside U.S. funding for and involvement in combat in a total of at least 24 countries since 2001, the rhetoric of the “war on terror” alone has also fueled wars and violence worldwide.

Alongside the human damage, the financial costs of the so-called war on terror are so large, they’re nearly incomprehensible. As of October 2020, the U.S. government has spent or obligated a mini­mum of $6.4 trillion on the post-2001 wars, including the costs of future veterans’ benefits and interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the wars. The actual costs are likely to run hundreds of billions or trillions more, depending on when we force our politicians to bring these seemingly endless wars to an end.

While it’s incredibly hard to fathom $6.4 trillion in taxpayer funds vanished, the catastrophe is compounded when we consider how else the U.S. government could have spent such incredible sums of money. What could these trillions have done to provide universal health care, to rebuild public schools, to build affordable housing, to end homelessness and hunger, to rebuild crumbling civilian infrastructure, to prepare for pandemics? In addition to the 3-4 million who have likely died in the wars the U.S. government has fought since 2001, how many more have died because of the investments the U.S. government did not make? These are questions that, I have to say, should make us weep.

In trying to wrap our minds around the unbelievable human and financial costs of the so-called “war on terror,” we also have to remember that this war has also been a catastrophic failure on its own terms: the main result of the “war on terror” has been to spread terror and dramatically expand the number of groups and people who would engage in terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens and others civilians worldwide as a political tool. In Afghanistan, for example, there are at least 10 times as many mili­tant groups today as there were in 2001. Meanwhile, research has consistently shown that military action is rarely effective in shutting down militant “terrorist” groups. Responding to the attacks of 9/11 with what has now been an endless global war has been one of the most catastrophic and deadly mistakes in world history.

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Noam Chomsky: Trump Is Willing To Dismantle Democracy To Hold On To Power

Noam Chomsky

While it’s still too early to predict the likely outcome of the November 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump continues to fall behind in national polls while pulling dirty electoral tricks in the hope of defeating Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Much of Trump’s hope for victory rests with his “law and order” campaign, which promotes lies about mail-in-voting fraud in order to preemptively discredit the election results if they are in Biden’s favor. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Noam Chomsky discusses the national and international significance of Trump’s refusal to commit to a “peaceful transition to power” and his reliance on conspiracy theories.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, with slightly more than two weeks away from the most important national elections in recent U.S. history, Trump’s campaign continues to harp on the message of “law and order” — a political tactic that authoritarian leaders have always relied on in order to control people and to strengthen their grip on a country — but refuses to accept a “peaceful transition to power” if he loses to Biden. Your thoughts on these matters?

Noam Chomsky: The “law and order” appeal is normal, virtually reflexive. Trump’s threat to refuse to accept the result of the election is not. It is something new in stable parliamentary democracies.
The fact that this contingency is even being discussed reveals how effective the Trump wrecking ball has been in undermining formal democracy. We may recall that Richard Nixon, not exactly revered for his integrity, had some reason to suppose that victory in the 1960 election had been stolen from him by Democratic Party machinations. He did not challenge the results, placing the welfare of the country above personal ambition. Al Gore did the same in 2020. The idea of Trump placing anything above his personal ambition — even caring about the welfare of the country — is too ludicrous to discuss.

James Madison once said that liberty is not protected by “parchment barriers” — words on paper. Rather, constitutional orders presuppose good faith and some commitment, however limited, to the common good. When that is gone, we’ve moved to a different sociopolitical world.

Trump’s threats are taken quite seriously, not only in extensive commentary in mainstream media and journals, but even within the military — which might be compelled to intervene, as in the tinpot dictatorships that are Trump’s model. A striking example is an open letter to the country’s highest ranking military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, from two highly regarded retired military commanders, Lt. Colonels John Nagl and Paul Yingling. They warn Milley: “The president of the United States is actively subverting our electoral system, threatening to remain in office in defiance of our Constitution. In a few months’ time, you may have to choose between defying a lawless president or betraying your Constitutional oath” to defend the Constitution against all enemies, “foreign and domestic.”

The enemy today is domestic: a “lawless president,” Nagl and Yingling continue, who “is assembling a private army capable of thwarting not only the will of the electorate but also the capacities of ordinary law enforcement. When these forces collide on January 20, 2021, the U.S. military will be the only institution capable of upholding our Constitutional order.”

With Senate Republicans “reduced to supplicant status,” having abandoned any lingering shreds of integrity, General Milley should be prepared to send a brigade of the 82nd Airborne to disperse Trump’s “little green men,” Nagl and Yingling advise. “Should you remain silent, you will be complicit in a coup d’état.”

Hard to believe, but the very fact that such thoughts are voiced by sober and respected voices, and echoed throughout the mainstream, is reason enough to be deeply concerned about the prospects for U.S. society. I rarely quote New York Times senior correspondent Thomas Friedman, but when he asks whether this might be our last democratic election, he is not joining us “wild men in the wings” — to quote McGeorge Bundy’s term for those who don’t automatically conform to approved doctrine.

Meanwhile, we should not overlook how leading elements of Trump’s “private army” are showing their mettle in their usual terrain of deployment: the cruel Arizona desert to which the U.S., since Clinton, has driven miserable people fleeing from our destruction of their countries so that we may evade our responsibility — both legal and moral — to offer them an opportunity for asylum.

When Trump decided to terrorize Portland, Oregon, he didn’t send the military, probably expecting that it would refuse to follow his orders, as had just happened in Washington, D.C. He sent paramilitaries, the most fierce of them the tactical unit BORTAC of the Border Patrol, which is given virtually free rein with the “damned of the earth” as its targets.

Immediately on returning from carrying out Trump’s orders in Portland, BORTAC returned to its regular pastimes, smashing up a flimsy medical aid center in the desert where volunteers seek to provide some medical aid, even water, to desperate people who managed somehow to survive.

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A Global Green New Deal Project

The position of the Academies of Science from more than 80 countries and scores of scientific organizations is that global warming is human-caused through the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) to generate power. In fact, scientists have known for decades how carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, with nuclear weapons physicist Edward Teller actually warning the oil industry all the way back in 1959 how its own activities will end up having a catastrophic impact on human civilization.

Naturally, the petroleum industry went on to bury under the rug Teller’s scientific explanation of the impact of carbon dioxide on climate change, along with many other scientific reports on the same topic that came to its attention in the years thereafter. Of course, over the years, there has been an explosion of scientific studies about climate-change impacts on all aspects of civilized life. Most of them are produced by leading university and research centers around the world, but also from NASA, the US Department of Defense, the Federal Reserve, and the Bank of England. The evidence for global warming is indeed compelling.

Nonetheless, we live in an age where the discovery of truth through reason and science has come under attack by far too many in the present-day world, including elected officials, especially in a country like the United States where religiosity is prevalent and only 40% of its citizens place much confidence in the scientific community.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, climate change denialism is still quite prevalent in some parts of the world, especially in the United States among conservatives, which undoubtedly explains why at the Republican National Convention (August 24-27, 2020) the climate change threat was never even mentioned. For Donald Trump (and many of his followers), climate change is a “hoax” and, as the president said during his visit to California in mid-September, “science doesn’t know” what’s causing wildfires. But he does: they are caused by “exploding trees” and poor forest management.

The climate crisis is real, and the only question is how to deal with this truly existential threat. Stopping fossil fuel emissions and moving to clean, renewable sources of energy is the obvious and most widely accepted solution, and the game-changer is the idea of a Green New Deal. “Some form of a Green New Deal is essential to ‘save the planet,’” says Noam Chomsky in the newly published book Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (Verso, 2020). But which form, as there are several different schemes of the Green New Deal?

Robert Pollin, co-author of the aforementioned book, outlines a detailed (Global) Green New Deal project which the world’s most revered public intellectual (Noam Chomsky) endorses wholeheartedly. Pollin’s Global Green New Deal project to tackle the existential threat of climate crisis is all-encompassing as it addresses virtually every question associated with the transition to a “green economy.” Unlike other Green New Deal proposals, it is short on generalizations and extensive on specifics, supported with ample of economic data and cost accounting assessments. In fact, Pollin has designed several state-level Green New Deal proposals, including for Puerto Rico. And his take on the transition to a “green economy” is quite different from some of the other Green New Deals that have been proposed by various other progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Naomi Klein.

Here, I wish to highlight some very specific items and ideas that are included in Robert Pollin’s detailed Global Green New Deal project, which are rarely covered by the various Green New Deal proposals in circulation.

1. Applying the insurance option to climate change: To skeptics about the complete accuracy of the scientific predictions to climate-change impacts, Pollin suggests that “we should think of a global Green New Deal as exactly the equivalent of an insurance policy to protect ourselves and the planet against the serious prospect – thought not the certainty –that we are facing an ecologic catastrophe.” The only question is how much climate insurance we should purchase. Indeed, most homeowners are willing to buy homeowners insurance even if there is only 1% or less risk of a loss caused by “perils” (fire, lightning strikes, etc.). Isn’t it therefore irrational to suggest that we should not take measures to safeguard the planet from the potential impacts of global warming?

2. Irrational and unrealistic to expect capitalists on their own to get us out of the climate crisis: To those who wish to rely on capitalism and market-oriented solutions to climate change, Pollin argues convincingly that just because capitalism got us into the climate change mess, it is absurdly naïve to believe that capitalist entrepreneurship is the way out of a potential climate change catastrophe. “Forceful forms of government intervention,” as in the case of the Great Depression, where the Roosevelt administration assumed direct role in the management of the economy, such as by embarking on massive public investment projects and ownership of critical industries, are absolutely essential for stopping fossil fuel emissions and making a transition to a clean and renewable sources of energy, argues Pollin. In this context, market-driven plans for combatting global warming, such as the carbon tax plan advocated by many mainstream economists who are still clinging tightly onto the straightjacket of neoliberal discourse, are highly inadequate, if enforced without other provisions and regulations, to make an impact on the containment of the climate crisis.

3. Public ownership of the energy industry is also not the way out. 90 percent of the world’s fossil fuel assets are already publicly owned, thus it’s obvious that public ownership of energy companies is not the solution. While it is true that publicly owned fossil fuel enterprises do not operate under exactly the same profit incentives as capitalist firms, their incentive structures are approximately equivalent – with careers, promotions, salaries, prestige all wrapped up in selling fossil fuels and generating maximum revenues. Also, fossil fuel revenues are the big source of government revenues to fund everything. The more general point on this matter, according to Pollin, is that we need to think about a variety of public and private ownership forms being given the opportunity to flourish—including small-scale cooperative ownership and similar innovations.

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Why Trump’s Racist And Neo-Fascist Campaign Strategy Resonates In 21st Century America

CJ Polychroniou

With the November election just around the corner, Donald Trump is raising the level of his racist and fascist rhetoric to new heights, fully aware that his hate speech and authoritarian overtures resonate with a large segment of white Americans in 21st century who, as surreal and obscene as this may sound, would have preferred that time stood still, stuck either in the era of the plantation system or at least at a time when whites in this country felt so superior to minorities that they could discriminate and oppress the “Other” without fear of getting into trouble with the law, let alone become witness to public outcries over police brutality, systemic racism, and demands for gender and racial equality.

Indeed, it is the awareness of the existence of a very large segment of white Americans in 21 st century who wish to roll back the clock on account of their growing insecurities and fears about the[ir] future that prompts Trump to sound ever more racist and project ever more the image of a strong man as time moves closer to election time. In doing so, his hope is that even moderate white voters might be stirred into feeling the need to join in on what he obviously hopes they may come to recognize and appreciate, just like his traditional base of white supremacists does, as an urgent “patriotic” campaign on the part of the “Great White Leader” to save [white] America’s soul. As for his rich supporters, he doesn’t care one way or another about the impact of his rhetoric on them because he knows they will continue supporting him as long as he maintains a steadfast course of lavishing them with gifts, such as huge tax cuts, deregulation policies, etc.

Trump’s attempt to outdo himself was most evident at his Minnesota rally a few days ago– perhaps the most extreme example so far of how far the “Great White Leader” is ready and willing to go in order to spread fear and promote hate as tactical means of securing another electoral victory in a country sharply divided into different political tribes.
And make no mistake about it: reliance on fear, hate, and violence have always been the political tools of fascists of all stripes.

Trump declared to Minnesotans that Biden would turn their state into a “refugee camp.” He warned them of “sleepy Joe Biden’s extreme plan to flood” Minnesota with refugees from Somalia, while denigrating at the same time the election of Rep. Ilhan Omar, who came to the United States as a child refugee from Somalia, calling her an “extremist”. To this insidious racist rhetoric, his fanatical base from below responded by screaming “send her back.”

Trump’s racist rhetoric hit a crescendo when he let his crowd know that they are supporting him because of their “good genes.”And to further upgrade his neo-fascist profile with his adoring crowd, he said it was “a beautiful thing” when journalist Ali Velshi got struck by a rubber bullet while covering a peaceful protest.

All in all, Trump’s performance at the Minnesota rally on September 18 was an act stolen from the electoral campaign of Hitler and his Nazi party. The only thing he fell short from saying was that anyone who did not support him should be deprived of civic rights and sent to prison or concentration camps.

No rational human being can fail to see that Trump is a racist with strong fascist impulses, but even critics of Trump fail to see or properly acknowledge that the “Great White Leader” employs the rhetoric of racism and fascism because there is a huge market for it in 21 st century America!

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The Political Economy Of Saving The Planet. An Interview With Noam Chomsky & Robert Pollin

Noam Chomsky ~ Photo:

What needs to be done to advance a successful political mobilization on behalf of a global Green New Deal—a program that includes emissions reductions, expands renewable energy sources, addresses the needs of vulnerable workers, and promotes sustainable and egalitarian economic growth? Political scientist C. J. Polychroniou spoke with Noam Chomsky and economist Robert Pollin, who has been at the forefront of the fight for an egalitarian green economy for more than a decade, to discuss prospects for change, the connections between climate and the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether eco-socialism is a viable option for mobilizing people in the struggle to create a green future.

This conversation was adapted from Chomsky and Pollin’s new book Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

C. J. Polychroniou: How does the coronavirus pandemic, and the response to it, shed light on how we should think about climate change and the prospects for a global Green New Deal?

Noam Chomsky: At the time of writing, concern for the COVID-19 crisis is virtually all-consuming. That’s understandable. It is severe and is severely disrupting lives. But it will pass, though at horrendous cost, and there will be recovery. There will not be recovery from the melting of the arctic ice sheets and the other consequences of global warming.

Not everyone is ignoring the advancing existential crisis. The sociopaths dedicated to accelerating the disaster continue to pursue their efforts, relentlessly. As before, Trump and his courtiers take pride in leading the race to destruction. As the United States was becoming the epicenter of the pandemic, thanks in no small measure to their folly, the White House cabal released its budget proposals. As expected, the proposals call for even deeper cuts in healthcare support and environmental protection, instead favoring the bloated military and the building of Trump’s Great Wall. And to add an extra touch of sadism, the budget promotes a fossil fuel ‘energy boom’ in the United States, including an increase in the production of natural gas and crude oil.”

Robert Pollin

Meanwhile, to drive another nail in the coffin that Trump and associates are preparing for the nation and the world, their corporate-run EPA weakened auto emission standards, thus enhancing environmental destruction and killing more people from pollution. As expected, fossil fuel companies are lining up in the forefront of the appeals of the corporate sector to the nanny state, pleading once again for the generous public to rescue them from the consequences of their misdeeds.

In brief, the criminal classes are relentless in their pursuit of power and profit, whatever the human consequences. And those consequences will be disastrous if their efforts are not countered, indeed overwhelmed, by those concerned for “the survival of humanity.” It is no time to mince words out of misplaced politeness. “The survival of humanity” is at risk on our present course, to quote a leaked internal memo from JPMorgan Chase, America’s largest bank, referring specifically to the bank’s genocidal policy of funding fossil fuel production.

One heartening feature of the present crisis is the rise in community organizations starting mutual aid efforts. These could become centers for confronting the challenges that are already eroding the foundations of the social order. The courage of doctors and nurses, laboring under miserable conditions imposed by decades of socioeconomic lunacy, is a tribute to the resources of the human spirit. There are ways forward. The opportunities cannot be allowed to lapse.

Robert Pollin: In addition to the fundamental considerations that Noam has emphasized, there are several other ways in which the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic intersect. One underlying cause of the COVID-19 outbreak—as well as other recent epidemics such as Ebola, West Nile, and HIV—has been the destruction of animal habitats through deforestation and human encroachment, as well as the disruption of the remaining habitat through the increasing frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, and floods. As the science journalist Sonia Shah wrote in February 2020, habitat destruction increases the likelihood that wild species “will come into repeated intimate contact with the human settlements expanding into their newly fragmented habitats. It’s this kind of repeated, intimate contact that allows the microbes that live in their bodies to cross over into ours, transforming benign animal microbes into deadly human pathogens.”

It is also likely that people who are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution will face more severe health consequences than those breathing cleaner air. Aaron Bernstein of Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment states that “air pollution is strongly associated with people’s risk of getting pneumonia and other respiratory infections and with getting sicker when they do get pneumonia. A study done on SARS, a virus closely related to COVID-19, found that people who breathed dirtier air were about twice as likely to die from the infection.”

A separate point that was raised over the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic was that the responses in the countries that immediately handled the crisis more effectively, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, demonstrated that governments are capable of taking decisive and effective action in the face of crisis. The death tolls from COVID-19 in these countries were negligible, and normal life returned relatively soon after governments imposed initial lockdowns. Similarly decisive interventions could successfully deal with the climate crisis where the political will is strong and the public sectors are competent.

There are important elements of truth in such views, but we should also be careful to not push this point too far. Some commentators have argued that one silver lining outcome of the pandemic was that, because of the economic lockdown, fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions plunged alongside overall economic activity during the recession. While this is true, I do not see any positive lessons here with respect to advancing a viable emissions program that can get us to net zero emissions by 2050. Rather, the experience demonstrates why a degrowth approach to emissions reduction is unworkable. Emissions did indeed fall sharply because of the pandemic and the recession. But that is only because incomes collapsed and unemployment spiked over this same period. This only reinforces the conclusion that the only effective climate stabilization path is the Green New Deal, as it is the only one that does not require a drastic contraction (or “degrowth”) of jobs and incomes to drive down emissions.

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Climate Change Intensifies Inequality: An Interview With Gregor Semieniuk

Gregor Semieniuk

This is part of PERI’s economist interview series, hosted by C.J. Polychroniou.

Read Gregor’s bio here.

C.J. Polychroniou: You studied International Relations in Germany, at the Technische Universität Dresden, but ended up pursuing graduate studies in economics in the USA. What drew you into the “dismal science?”

Gregor Semieniuk: In Dresden, the program’s content spanned economics, public law and political science. What intrigued me about economics was that on the one hand it seemed necessary to grapple with the most intractable global issues of the time: for instance, why it was so difficult to increase most countries’ material affluence, how renewable energy could quickly replace the existing energy supply, and of course how the 2007-08 financial crisis and ensuing economic turmoil could be explained. On the other, my economics classes tended to provide straightforward answers to questions that were obviously more multi-faceted, like that a minimum wage was (categorically) to be discouraged because it diminished welfare. From my political science classes I knew that it was good practice to seek out contending theories to analyze the same problem through different lenses so as to gain a deeper understanding. I wanted to learn about contending theories also in economics, but there seemed to be only one theory, so-called neoclassical economics, and its strengths and weaknesses weren’t explicitly discussed. My search for a program that satisfied my curiosity led me to look to the USA, and ultimately to the New School for Social Research, with its famous teaching of a plurality of theoretical approaches. So I went there for my graduate studies. Of course, one thing I learned soon enough was that neoclassical economics and its offshoots can be more nuanced in their assumptions and conclusions. Yet, this does not replace the more variegated approaches and points of analytical departure that the full gamut of ideas in economics (in history and present) has to offer.

CJP: Your primary research areas are in environmental and ecological economics and in economic growth. Can you briefly spell out the connection between climate change and the economy? And, more specifically, in what ways does climate change threaten economic stability and growth?

GS: Climate change is driven by greenhouse gas emissions, that are mainly caused by combusting fossil fuels and from changes in land use (think intensive agriculture or deforestation). Fossil fuels in particular have been historically tightly interlinked with economic growth. Their qualities and quantities are arguably a key factor behind the industrial revolutions in today’s rich countries. Luckily, however, while energy is a fundamental input into any economic activity, there are increasingly good alternatives to fossil fuels to supply that energy without or with much lower emissions, such as modern solar and wind energy, and a growing variety of devices compatible with the electricity they supply, such as electric vehicles and heat pumps.

At an abstract level, the interaction of economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions can be thought of as economic growth causing greenhouse gas emissions to rise. The resulting climate change “dampens” or eventually reverses economic growth through negative impacts on productivity, profitability, capital stock and human lives. More concretely, climate change poses difficult problems and threatens human wellbeing and livelihood in many ways. There are direct impacts, such as lower agricultural productivity or sea level rises. More indirect impacts intensify social problems and conflicts. To give you one example, up to two thirds of Bangladesh’s population are at risk of being impacted by sea level rise by the mid-21st century. This does not mean permanent inundation but increased exposure to flooding and salinity that make it harder to earn a living on agriculture, or risks destroying coastal non-agricultural production sites and homes. The resulting increased migration from coastal to inland communities can exacerbate social conflicts and urban poverty there, ultimately threatening social and economic stability. In the USA, up to 40 million people could be exposed to such hazards by 2100.[1] Of course, here there are much more resources available that could be used to protect communities from these impacts, so the context in which climate change impacts occur matters.

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