Noam Chomsky And Robert Pollin: If We Want A Future, Green New Deal Is Key


Noam Chomsky

Climate change is by far the most serious crisis facing the world today. At stake is the future of civilization as we know it. Yet, both public awareness and government action lag way behind what’s needed to avert a climate change catastrophe. In the interview below, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin discuss the challenges ahead and what needs to be done.

Noam Chomsky is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. Robert Pollin is Distinguished University Professor of Economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Chomsky, Pollin and Polychroniou are co-authors of a book on climate change and the Green New Deal, forthcoming with Verso in Spring 2020.

Robert Pollin – Photo: UMass Amherst

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, let me start with you and ask you to share your thoughts about the uniqueness of the climate change crisis.

Noam Chomsky: History is all too rich in records of horrendous wars, indescribable torture, massacres and every imaginable abuse of fundamental rights. But the threat of destruction of organized human life in any recognizable or tolerable form — that is entirely new. The environmental crisis under way is indeed unique in human history, and is a true existential crisis. Those alive today will decide the fate of humanity — and the fate of the other species that we are now destroying at a rate not seen for 65 million years, when a huge asteroid hit the earth, ending the age of the dinosaurs and opening the way for some small mammals to evolve to pose a similar threat to life on earth as that earlier asteroid, though differing from it in that we can make a choice.

Meanwhile the world watches as we proceed toward a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. We are approaching perilously close to the global temperatures of 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were 6-9 meters higher than today. Glaciers are sliding into the sea five times faster than in the 1990s, with more than 100 meters of ice thickness lost in some areas due to ocean warming, and current losses doubling every decade. Complete loss of the ice sheets would raise sea levels by about five meters, drowning coastal cities, and with utterly devastating effects elsewhere — the low-lying plains of Bangladesh for example. This is only one of the many concerns of those who are paying attention to what is happening before our eyes.

Climate scientists are certainly paying close attention, and issuing dire warnings. Israeli climatologist Baruch Rinkevich captures the general mood succinctly: After us, the deluge, as the saying goes. People don’t fully understand what we’re talking about here…. They don’t understand that everything is expected to change: the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the landscapes we see, the oceans, the seasons, the daily routine, the quality of life. Our children will have to adapt or become extinct…. That’s not for me. I’m happy I won’t be here.

Yet, just at the time when all must act together, with dedication, to confront humanity’s “ultimate challenge,” the leaders of the most powerful state in human history, in full awareness of what they are doing, are dedicating themselves with passion to destroying the prospects for organized human life. Read more

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To Confront Climate Change, We Need An Ecological Democracy


Dr Marit Hammond

Climate change represents the biggest existential crisis that has ever faced the human race. However, we have yet to come to terms with the moral, political and economic dimensions of the climate crisis. As we confront climate change, we must ask: What would real climate justice look like? And what is the connection between the pursuit of true democracy and the battle to stave off a climatic change catastrophe? Marit Hammond, a lecturer in environmental politics at Keele University in the U.K., advocates for the necessity of an “ecological democracy” in order to meet the climate emergency urgently and sustainably. In this interview, Hammond offers insights on what this new form of democracy would look like and how we can get there.

C.J. Polychroniou: The challenge of climate change has been confronted so far on both political and economic grounds. Yet fewer people are engaging in conversations about the moral element of climate change. Isn’t global warming, first and foremost, a moral issue?

Marit Hammond: It is. However, it is important to stress that this moral dimension is not separate from, but rather stretches into the political and economic dimensions — for it is not just about private individuals’ moral behavior.
Climate change is a moral issue insofar as it is knowingly caused by human actions, and in turn causes significant, existential harm — avoidable harm — to humans, other species, precious cultures and ecosystems. As is widely known, threats such as crop failures, weather extremes and sea level rise threaten the quality of life, if not life itself, particularly of those who already have the least resources to draw on to manage their lives. It is those who cannot afford to protect themselves against heat waves that die or suffer severe health problems; those already living in precarious, [severe] weather-prone regions are forced to migrate elsewhere and make themselves economically vulnerable in the process. Although climate change is a complex phenomenon at the planetary level, it is causing suffering in the lives of concrete individuals — as well as the irreversible loss of countless species and unique ecosystems.

If there were a more direct cause-effect relationship, it would go without saying that causing such harm would be immoral. The only difference with climate change is that the actions that cause it are only indirectly related to the suffering it causes, and distributed amongst the global population — everyone who lives in an industrial society contributes to climate change. Thus, it is more difficult to determine intentionality and agency. Moral blame applies where harm is caused intentionally or through negligence — where there is agency to either cause or avoid [dealing with] it. In the case of climate change, this is the clear case, where people intentionally and knowingly lead high-emission lifestyles, such as driving, flying, or otherwise consuming more, or in more highly emitting ways, than they need.

Yet to a significant extent, individuals in industrialized societies actually have very little agency over their lives in these regards. Even those who want to be morally responsible, who have every intention to stop climate change and avert the suffering it causes, are forced to live the kinds of life the socio-economic system around them expects and demands; they inevitably rely on the agricultural, industrial and energy systems that are much more to blame. To make a living, they mostly have no choice but to contribute to a growth-oriented economy, whose ideology of exploitation (of people and nature alike) is the real underlying cause of climate change.

Thus it is important to remind ourselves of the moral dimension of climate change so that people don’t just see it as a managerial challenge to embrace — like another phase of modernization, which the growth economy has to adapt to but can ultimately benefit from — but as a prompt to get very angry about this wider system we are forced to live in. As concern about climate change is now growing amongst Western populations, it has become fashionable to consume ‘greener’ products and to object to the use of plastics, for example. These responses fit into a picture of embracing the need for societies to overhaul themselves, to become better by becoming greener — the spirit of ecological modernization. They do not, however, challenge consumerism per se, accept the need for general restraint and degrowth, or push for radical change at the level of the socio-economic system and its exploitative ideology. If it is at that level that climate change is caused, this is where the moral outrage people feel needs to be directed at. Now that we know about climate change, we have a moral responsibility not just to drive less and carry a reusable coffee mug, but to condemn the political and economic structures that are the real driver of the problem. Read more

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Noam Chomsky: To Make The US A Democracy, The Constitution Itself Must Change


Noam Chomsky

Why do so many people in the U.S. today find Trump’s racist rants and authoritarian mindset appealing? What are the political checks and balances — or lack thereof — that can ward off the impact of the Republican leadership’s disastrous policies? Is a constitutional crisis on its way? And how do we face the consequences of an administration that is essentially competing for the title of most dangerous organization in human history? In this exclusive Truthout interview, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona Noam Chomsky, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of all time (ranking among the top 10 cited sources of all time, along with Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Hegel and Freud), dissects Trump’s racist attacks, Trumpism and the current condition of the country in the second decade of the 21st century.

C.J. Polychroniou: According to popular conception, the United States is a “nation of immigrants,” although this formulation significantly excludes Native people — who were already here, and were subjected to colonization, displacement and genocide at the hands of European immigrants — and also excludes African Americans, whose ancestors were kidnapped and enslaved. When it is described as a “nation of immigrants,” the U.S. is often portrayed as a varied nation where people have the freedom to pursue their dreams of a better life while maintaining their own cultural, ethnic and religious distinctiveness or uniqueness. Yet, the truth of the matter is that inequality and oppression of the “Other” have been ongoing political and social realities since the origins of the republic. In fact, today we have a president in the White House who makes no bones about wishing to see non-white people, even elected representatives of the U.S. Congress, leave the country because they challenge the status quo and seek a United States with a more humane and democratic polity. Meanwhile, the very rich are enjoying political privileges like never before. Noam, what are some of the tangible and intangible factors that seem to be pushing the country — socially, politically and economically — backward rather than forward?

Noam Chomsky: Trump’s diatribes successfully inflame his audience, many of whom apparently feel deeply threatened by diversity, cultural change, or simply the recognition that the White Christian nation of their collective imagination is changing before their eyes. White supremacy is nothing new in the U.S. The late George Frederickson’s comparative studies of white supremacy found the U.S. to be almost off the chart, more extreme even than Apartheid South Africa. As late as the 1960s the U.S. had anti-miscegenation laws so extreme that the Nazis refused to adopt them as a model for their racist Nuremberg laws. And the power of Southern Democrats was so great that until ‘60s activism shattered the framework of legal racism — if not its practice by other means — even New Deal federal housing programs enforced segregation, barring Black people from new housing programs.

It goes back to the country’s origins. While progressive in many ways by the standards of the day, the U.S. was founded on two brutal racist principles: the most hideous system of slavery in human history, the source of much of its wealth (and England’s too), and the need to rid the national territory of Native Americans, whom the Declaration of Independence explicitly describes as “the merciless Indian savages,” and whom the framers saw as barring the expansion of the “superior” race.

Immigrants … were supposed to be white immigrants — in fact, basically “Anglo-Saxon,” in accord with weird racist myths of the founding fathers that persisted through the 19th century. That includes the leading Enlightenment figures. Benjamin Franklin urged that Germans and Swedes be barred because they were too “swarthy.” Thomas Jefferson was greatly interested in Anglo-Saxon language and law, part of his immersion in the “Saxon myth” that English democracy and law trace back to a pre-Norman Saxon period. The first Naturalization Act, 1790, restricted the option to whites, extended to ex-slaves after the Civil war. Read more

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Noam Chomsky: “Worship of Markets” Is Threatening Human Civilization


We live in dangerous times — no doubt about it. How did we get to such a state of affairs where democracy itself is in a very fragile condition and the future of human civilization itself at stake? In this interview, renowned thinker, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona Noam Chomsky, sheds light on the state of the world and the condition of the only superpower left in the global arena.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, looking at the current state of the world, I think it is not an exaggeration at all to say that we live in ominously dangerous times — and not simply in a period of great global complexity, confusion and uncertainty, which, after all, has been the “normal” state of the global political condition in the modem era. I believe, in fact, that we are in the midst of a whirlpool of events and developments that are eroding our capacity to manage human affairs in a way that is conducive to the attainment of a political and economic order based on stability, justice and sustainability. Indeed, the contemporary world is fraught, in my own mind at least, with perils and challenges that will test severely humanity’s ability to maintain a steady course toward anything resembling a civilized life.

How did we get to such a state of affairs, with tremendous economic inequalities and the resurgence of the irrational in political affairs on the one hand, and an uncanny capacity, on the other, to look away from the existential crises such as global warming and nuclear weapons which will surely destroy civilized life as we know it if we continue with “business as usual”?

Noam Chomsky: How indeed.
The question of how we got to this state of affairs is truly vast in scope, requiring not just inquiry into the origin and nature of social and cultural institutions but also into depths of human psychology that are barely understood. We can, however, take a much more modest stab at the questions, asking about certain highly consequential decisions that could have been made differently, and about specific cases where we can identify some of the roots of looking away.

The history of nuclear weapons provides some striking cases. One critical decision was in 1944, when Germany was out of the war and it was clear that the only target was Japan. One cannot really say that a decision was made to proceed nevertheless to create devices that could devastate Japan even more thoroughly, and in the longer term threaten to destroy us as well. It seems that the question never seriously arose, apart from such isolated figures as Joseph Rotblat — who was later barred reentry to the U.S.

Another critical decision that was not made was in the early 1950s. At the time, there were still no long-range delivery systems for nuclear weapons (ICBMs). It might have been possible to reach an agreement with Russia to bar their development. That was a plausible surmise at the time, and release of Russian archives makes it seem an even more likely prospect. Remarkably, there is no trace of any consideration of pursuing steps to bar the only weapons systems that would pose a lethal threat to the U.S., so we learn from McGeorge Bundy’s standard work on the history of nuclear weapons, with access to the highest-level sources. Perhaps still more remarkably, there has, to my knowledge, been no voiced interest in this astonishing fact. Read more

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We Need A Green New Deal To Defeat Fascism And Reverse Inequality


Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

In the debate about what strategy to adopt to combat climate change, the Green New Deal has quickly become the new buzzword on the left. Is it an insufficient social-democratic response to the present crisis, or is it, in fact, the only realistic project we have to save the planet? Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is a leading proponent of a green future and he shared his vision of the Green New Deal in the interview below, which appeared originally in Swedish in the left paper Flamman.

Jonas Elvander: You are one of the most well-known scientific spokespersons for a so-called “Green New Deal.” Can you explain what that means?

Robert Pollin: In my view, the core features of the Green New Deal are quite simple. They consist of a worldwide program to invest between 2-3 percent of global GDP every year to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards and equally dramatically expand lean renewable energy supplies.

Here is why this is the core of the Green New Deal. Last October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a new report emphasizing the imperative of limiting the rise in the global mean temperature as of 2100 by 1.50C [1.5 degrees Celsius] only, as opposed to 2.00C. The IPCC now concludes that limiting the global mean temperature increase to 1.50C will require global net CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions to fall by about 45 percent as of 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. These new figures from the IPCC provide a clear and urgent framework for considering alternative approaches for fighting climate change.

To make real progress on climate stabilization, the single most critical project at hand is straightforward: to cut the consumption of oil, coal and natural gas dramatically and without delay, and to eliminate the use of fossil fuels altogether by 2050. The reason this is the single most critical issue at hand is because producing and consuming energy from fossil fuels is responsible for generating about 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning coal, oil and natural gas alone produce about 66 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while another 2 percent is caused mainly by methane leakages during extraction. Read more

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Noam Chomsky: Trump Is Consolidating Far-Right Power Globally


It is no easy task to make sense of U.S. foreign policy in the current era. Trump is wildly unpredictable and lacks any semblance of a coherent view of world affairs, appearing to believe that all it takes is “the art of the deal” to turn “enemies” into friends. Meanwhile, since Trump’s rise to power, the end of U.S. hegemony has come into sight.

In the exclusive Truthout interview below, renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky — one of the world’s most astute critics of U.S. foreign policy in the postwar era — sheds considerable light on the current state of U.S. foreign policy, including Trump’s relations with the leaders of North Korea, Russia and China, as well as his so-called “Middle East Peace Plan.”

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, in 2016 Trump called U.S foreign policy “a complete and total disaster,” claiming that previous administrations in the post-Cold War era were guided by unrealistic expectations that damaged America’s national interests. Since taking office, he has withdrawn the country from a series of international agreements, demanding that countries pay for U.S. protection, and seeking to advance U.S economic interests through tariffs and protectionism. These moves have led many analysts to speak of a new era in U.S. relations with the world. What’s your own take on Trump’s foreign policy?

Noam Chomsky: One of the most appropriate comments I’ve seen on Trump’s foreign policy appeared in an article in The New Republic written by David Roth, the editor of a sports blog: “The spectacle of expert analysts and thought leaders parsing the actions of a man with no expertise or capacity for analysis is the purest acid satire — but less because of how badly that expert analysis has failed than because of how sincerely misplaced it is … there is nothing here to parse, no hidden meanings or tactical elisions or slow-rolled strategic campaign.”

That seems generally accurate. This is a man, after all, who dismisses the information and analyses of his massive intelligence system in favor of what was said this morning on “Fox and Friends,” where everyone tells him how much they love him. With all due skepticism about the quality of intelligence, this is sheer madness considering the stakes.
And it continues, in ways that are almost surreal. At the recent G20 conference, Trump was asked about Putin’s statement that Western liberalism is obsolete. Trump assumed he must be talking about California: Western liberalism. Putin “may feel that way,” Trump responded: “He sees what’s going on. And I guess, if you look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad to look; and what’s happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people.” Read more

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