Chomsky And Pollin: COP26 Pledges Will Fail Unless Pushed By Mass Organizing

Noam Chomsky

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which takes place in Glasgow from October 31-November 12, will bring together more than 120 world leaders for 12 days of talks aimed at forming an agreement on how to tackle the climate emergency. The expectation is that countries will produce 2030 emissions reductions targets that will secure global net zero by 2050. For that to happen, the phase-out of coal must be accelerated, deforestation must be curtailed and investment in green energy must rise significantly.

The urgency for action at COP26 cannot be overstated. We are running out of chances to save the planet from a climate catastrophe. But in order for the stated goals of COP26 to be attained, it is imperative that narrow views of national interest be put aside and great powers steer clear of geopolitical confrontations. Indeed, without international cooperation, the continued use of fossil fuels is set to drive societies across the globe into climate chaos and collapse.

So, what can we expect from COP26? Definite action or, as Greta Thunberg recently put it, more “blah, blah, blah?” In this expansive and eye-opening interview, leading scholars Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin share their thoughts and insights about the upcoming global climate summit and what must ultimately be done to save humanity and the planet from a global climate catastrophe. Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and currently Laureate Professor of Linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. Chomsky, one of the most cited scholars in history and long considered one of the U.S.’s voices of conscience, is joined by one of the world’s leading economists of the left, Robert Pollin, Distinguished Professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Chomsky and Pollin are co-authors of the recently published book Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy to Save the Planet.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, COP26 is believed to be our “last best hope” for meaningful action to tackle the climate crisis. Why is COP26 so important? And wasn’t pretty much the same thing said about COP21?

Noam Chomsky: It was indeed, and correctly. The concept of “last best hope” keeps narrowing. What’s the last best hope at one point is gone later, and the remaining last best hope becomes far more difficult to realize.

That’s been true since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, ratified by 192 nations, but not the U.S. The Senate would not accept it. George W. Bush pulled out completely; later Canada, did as well. Kyoto was the last best hope in 1997. If the U.S. had joined, the task of escaping devastating climate change would have been far easier.

By 2015 (the Paris Agreement, COP21), the “best hope” was much more remote and difficult to realize. Again, the U.S. Senate blocked it. More precisely, the plan was for a verifiable treaty, but Republicans would not accept that, so it was reduced to toothless voluntary agreements. And shortly after, Trump pulled out completely. Biden has formally rejoined, but what that means remains to be seen.

Right now, the Republican commitment to destroying the planet in the interest of short-term profit for their prime constituency of extreme wealth seems unassailable. But it was not always so. As we’ve discussed before, in 2008, there were signs of a deviation towards minimal concern for the fate of humanity, but it didn’t last long. A juggernaut by the huge Koch Brothers energy conglomerate quickly returned the Party to obedience, since unchanged.

In defense of the stand of what was once a genuine political party, we should take note of the fact that the U.S. very rarely accepts international conventions, and when it does so, it is with reservations that render them inapplicable to the U.S. That’s even true of the Genocide Convention.

One may plausibly argue, however, that these fine distinctions are all irrelevant. Even when the U.S. fully accepts international treaties, it violates them at will, hence also violating the U.S. Constitution, which declares them to be the Supreme Law of the Land, binding on the political leadership. The clearest case is the UN Charter, the basis for modern international law. It bans “the threat or use of force” in international affairs, with reservations irrelevant to the constant violation of the Treaty (and the Constitution) by U.S. presidents.

So normal that it virtually never elicits a comment.

Discourse on international affairs has found a way around these inconvenient facts by devising the concept of a “rule-based international order,” as contrasted with the old-fashioned “UN-based international order.” The former is preferred, since the U.S. can set the rules and determine how and when they can be enforced — an interesting topic, but not for now.

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Revolutionary Activism May Be Our Last Best Hope To Avert A Climate Catastrophe

CJ Polychroniou

The challenge ahead is to turn every city and every town in virtually every major country in the world into a stronghold of the global climate movement.

With the United Nations climate-change summit (COP26) in Glasgow less than a few days away, the prospects of forging a global consensus on transformative mitigation strategies to the climate emergency don’t look any more promising than they did in previously held rounds of international climate diplomacy.

From the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to COP25 held in Madrid in 2019, the project of advancing global action to tackle the climate crisis has failed rather miserably. In fact, much of the progress in the fight against global warming is driven by cities and local governments, thanks to grassroots activism. And it is actually the young activists that have captured the world’s attention in the fight against climate crisis, which seems to suggest that our “last best hope” may be indeed with revolutionary activism. Most national governments have yet to make the fight against global warming a top priority. They are full of big talk, but very little action.

Take for instance the pledges—known as “nationally determined contributions”—at COP21 to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Most countries are falling way short of the goal of holding warming to 1.5 Celsius.  Temperatures have already risen 1.2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and there is in fact very little chance that we can limit the Earth’s warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, which is a key aim of the international agreement.

Moreover, global oil demand is again on the increase, carbon dioxide emissions soared in 2021, and China continues to rely on coal in spite of recent pledges to stop building new coal-fired power plants abroad. As for the world’s biggest economy, the United States is way behind Europe in the transition to a green economy. In fact, the US is the country that has done the most so far in blocking effective action to combat the climate crisis.

And let’s not forget the destruction of the world’s largest Amazon rainforest, a process which has greatly intensified under Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro in the name, he claims, of development.

Indeed, shouldn’t the international community have an obligation to intervene in a foreign country in order to prevent irreversible environmental damage?

The failure of advancing global action against the most serious social, political, economic and environmental problem facing the human race and the planet stems from two interrelated facts: (a) the presence of an international economic system (capitalism) which places profits over people and planet, and (b) the absence of effective mechanisms of international cooperation.

Let’s face it. Capitalist “logic” is what’s destroying the planet. While eliminating capitalism is hardly possible at the current historical juncture, taming the beast is hardly difficult and an absolute must in order to avert a compete climate breakdown. This can be done by bringing back the social state, doing away with the predatory and parasitic practices of financial capital, and charting a course of sustainable development through a global regulatory regime for the protection of the environment.

We can start with the following measures:

1. Eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies, which according to a recent IMF study amounts to $5.9 trillion in 2020

2. Ban banks from funding new fossil fuel projects. Amazingly enough, there has been zero mention so far in international climate talks of a “moratorium” on new investments in the coal, oil, and gas industries. In fact, the words “fossil fuel” “coal” and “oil” were not even mentioned in the COP21 agreement, so it should come as no surprise that banks have poured close to $4 trillion in the fossil fuel industries between 2016-2020.

3. Make ecocide an international crime similar to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. As we move towards a green economy, we must take all measures to ensure that we hold all entities—individuals, states, and corporations—accountable for causing “widespread, severe or long-lasting damage to the environment.”

4. Demand the cancellation of debt for lower income countries, which now spend several times more on servicing debt than dealing with the challenges of global warming.

Of course, none of the above measures will materialize without international cooperation. However, the extent to which states will come to realize that advancing  their national interests in the age of global warming may be detrimental to the greater good of the global society appears to depend not on the wisdom and goodwill of heads of states and elected politicians, but rather on the willingness of average citizens to challenge the existing political establishments and the interests that they serve.

In this context, revolutionary activism on behalf of the planet may be indeed our “last best hope.” Thus, the challenge ahead is to turn every city and every town in virtually every major country in the world into a stronghold of the global climate movement. Then, and only then, can we realistically expect credible action to come from global climate summits.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely. 


C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change” and “Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors).

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Chomsky, Pollin And Lapavitsas: Are We Witnessing The Demise Of Neoliberalism?

Noam Chomsky

After 40 years of neoliberal rule, in which the state actively sought to eradicate the boundary between market, civil society and governance by making economic rationality the cornerstone of every human activity, advanced capitalism appears to be at a crossroads on account of the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. So-called “big government” has staged a dramatic comeback, and even conservative leaders have broken with some of the basic orthodoxies of neoliberalism.

Are we in the midst of fundamental and permanent changes with regard to the relation between the state and markets? Are we witnessing the demise of neoliberalism? Has the pandemic led to the emergence of a new variant of capitalism?

In this interview, world-renowned scholar and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, along with two preeminent economists of the left — Costas Lapavitsas from the University of London and Robert Pollin from the University of Massachusetts Amherst — share their thoughts and insights about economics and capitalism in the age of the pandemic and beyond.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the neoliberal era of the last 40 years has been defined to a large extent by growing inequalities, slow growth and environmental degradation. Indeed, even the International Monetary Fund admitted some years ago that neoliberalism had failed. Yet, it took the outbreak of a pandemic for a consensus to emerge regarding the failures of neoliberalism. Why did neoliberalism triumph and endure in the first place, and is it actually dead?

Noam Chomsky: My feeling is that a version of neoliberalism has triumphed because it has been highly successful — for the designers, whose power has been considerably enhanced by such predictable consequences as radical inequality, restricting democracy, destruction of unions and atomization of the population so that there is limited defense against the version of neoliberalism that has been pursued with impressive dedication in this latest phase of class war. I say a “version” because the state-corporate managers of the system insist upon a very powerful state that can protect their interests internationally and provide them with massive bailouts and subsidies when their programs collapse, as they do regularly.

For similar reasons, I don’t think that this version is dead, though it is being re-adjusted in response to growing popular anger and resentment, much fueled by the successes of the neoliberal assault on the population.

Bob, the pandemic has shown us that neoliberal capitalism is more than inadequate in addressing large-scale economic and public health crises. Are the resources mobilized by national states during the pandemic crisis a simple case of emergency Keynesianism, or do they represent a fundamental shift in the traditional role of government, which is to maximize society’s welfare? Moreover, are the policies we have seen implemented so far at all levels of government sufficient to provide the basis for a progressive economic agenda in the post-pandemic era?

Robert Pollin

Robert Pollin: Neoliberalism is a variant of capitalism in which economic policies are weighted heavily in favor of supporting the privileges of big corporations, Wall Street and the rich. Neoliberalism became dominant globally around 1980, beginning with the elections of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the U.S. The top priorities under neoliberalism, as practiced throughout the world, have included: cutting both taxes on the rich along with public spending on the non-rich; weakening protections for both working people and the environment and any semblance of a commitment to full and decent employment; and enabling financial speculation to run rampant while bailing out the speculators when the markets proceed, inevitably, into crises.

Neoliberalism represented a counterrevolution against social democratic/New Deal/developmental state variants capitalism, which emerged primarily as a result of successful political struggles by progressive political parties, labor unions and allied social movements, out of the 1930s Depression and continuing through the early 1970s. Of course, social democratic/New Deal/developmental state capitalism was still capitalism. Disparities of income, wealth and opportunity remained intolerably high, along with the malignancies of racism, sexism and imperialism. Nevertheless, the broadly social democratic models produced dramatically more egalitarian versions of capitalism than the neoliberal regime that supplanted these models. The neoliberal model, in turn, has been highly successful in achieving its most basic aim, which is to shower ever-greater advantages on the already over-privileged. For example, under neoliberalism in the United States between 1978 and 2019, the average pay for big corporate CEOs has risen tenfold relative to the average non-supervisory worker.

With the onset of the COVID pandemic in March 2020, government policies in the high-income countries did pursue measures to prevent a total, 1930s-level economic collapse. Depending on the country, these measures included direct cash support for lower- and middle-income people, significant increases in unemployment insurance and large payroll subsidy programs to prevent layoffs. But by far, the most aggressive policy interventions were the bailouts provided for big corporations and Wall Street.

In the U.S., for example, nearly 50 percent of the entire labor force filed for unemployment benefits between March 2020 and February 2021. However, over this same period, Wall Street stock prices rose by 46 percent, one of the sharpest one-year increases on record. The same pattern prevailed globally. The International Labour Organization reported that, “There were unprecedented global employment losses in 2020 of 114 million jobs relative to 2019.” At the same time, global stock markets rose sharply — by 45 percent throughout Europe, 56 percent in China, 58 percent in the U.K., and 80 percent in Japan, and with Standard & Poor’s Global 1200 index rising by 67 percent.

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Chomsky: It’s Life And Death – Intellectuals Can’t Keep Serving The Status Quo

Noam Chomsky

The overwhelming majority of intellectuals have historically been servants of the status quo.

That was the case more than half a century ago, when Noam Chomsky pointed out as much in his classic essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” and it continues to be the case today, when oppositional public intellectuals continue to be a small minority.

Indeed, if anything, the number of critical/oppositional public intellectuals — in other words, thinkers who are versed to speak on a wide range of issues from an anti-establishment standpoint — has been in decline in recent decades, even as the public sphere has grown bigger and louder due to the dramatic expansion of the internet and social media. One factor in this trend may be universities’ overwhelming emphasis on narrow, specialized and even arcane knowledge, and a resistance within academic culture to prioritizing making an impact on the public arena by addressing issues that affect directly people’s lives and challenge the status quo. Another factor may be the rising tide of anti-intellectualism in the U.S. and beyond.

Yet, in a highly fragile world facing existential threats, we need the voice of critical intellectuals more than any other time in history. In the interview that follows, Noam Chomsky — the scholar, public thinker and activist who has been described as a “world treasure’” and “arguably the most important intellectual alive” — discusses the urgent need for more intellectuals not to “speak truth to power” but to speak with the powerless.

C.J. Polychroniou: Long ago, in your celebrated essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” you argued that intellectuals must insist on truth and expose lies, but must also analyze events in their historical perspective. Now, while you never implied that this is the only responsibility that intellectuals have, don’t you think that the role of intellectuals has changed dramatically over the course of the last half century or so? I mean, true, critical/oppositional intellectuals were always few and far between in the modern Western era, but there were always giants in our midst whose voice and status were not only revered by a fair chunk of the citizenry, but, in some cases, produced fear and even awe among the members of the ruling class. Today, we have mainly functional/conformist “intellectuals” who focus on narrow, highly specialized and technical areas, and do not dare to challenge the status quo or speak out against social evils out of fear of losing their job, being denied tenure and promotion, or not having access to grants. Indeed, whatever happened to public intellectuals like Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, and to iconic artists like Picasso with his fight against fascism?

Noam Chomsky: Well, what did happen to Bertrand Russell?

Russell was jailed during World War I along with the handful of others who dared to oppose that glorious enterprise: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, Eugene Debs — who was even excluded from postwar amnesty by the vengeful Woodrow Wilson — to mention only the most famous. Some were treated more kindly, like Randolph Bourne, merely ostracized and barred from liberal intellectual circles and journals. Russell’s later career had many ugly episodes, including his being declared by the courts to be too free-thinking to be allowed to teach at City College, a flood of vilification from high places because of his opposition to the Vietnam War, scurrilous treatment even after his death.

Not all that unusual for those who break ranks, no matter how distinguished their contributions, as Russell’s surely were.

The term “intellectual” itself is a strange one. It is not applied to a Nobel laureate who devotes his life to physics, or to the janitor in his building who may have little formal education but deep insight and perceptive understanding of human affairs, history, culture. The term is used, usually, to refer to a category of people with a degree of privilege who are somehow regarded to be the guardians of society’s intellectual and moral values. They are supposed to uphold and articulate those values and call upon others to adhere to them.

Within this category there is a small minority who challenge power, authority and received doctrine. It is sometimes held that their responsibility is “to speak truth to power.” I’ve always found that troubling. The powerful typically know the truth quite well. They generally know what they are doing, and don’t need our instructions. They also will not benefit from moral lessons, not because they are necessarily bad people, but because they play a certain institutional role, and if they abandon that role, somebody else will fill it as long as the institutions persist. There is no point instructing CEOs of the fossil fuel industry that their activities are damaging communities and destroying the environment and our climate. They’ve known that for a long time. They also know that if they depart from dedication to profit and concern themselves with the human impact of what they are doing, they’ll be out on the streets and someone will replace them to carry out the institutionally required tasks. Read more

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On Friendship /(Collateral Damage) IV – Goethe-Institut Amsterdam – September 2021 – June 2022











On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) – IV How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist [The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia] (September 2021 – June 2022)
A critical project concerning post-war artist Joseph Beuys, created by Joseph Sassoon Semah, curator Linda Bouws
© Stichting Metropool Internationale Kunstprojecten

Goethe-Institut Amsterdam, Herengracht 470, Amsterdam
28 October 2021- 23 December 2021

Joseph Sassoon Semah – Exhibition ‘On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV‘
Monday-Friday, 10.00 – 17.00 p.m.
See for more information Goethe-Institut

Goethe-Institut Amsterdam, Herengracht 470, Amsterdam
28 October 2021, 20.00 pm, Performance and Meeting

Mati Shemoelof (Poet, Author, Editor, Journalist, Berlin & Joseph Sassoon Semah. (English)

Discussion about the creative activities of Joseph Beuys adhere to Eurocentric culture in general and to post-war German culture in particular. And yet, what will happen when two Iraqi Jews, i.e. Babylonian Jews – who live in two European capitals, Berlin and Amsterdam, respectively – decided to deconstruct Beuys's post war art production.
Could we give these two guests who became our host free speech,and should we listen to their desire to reclaim the Jewish Babylonian tradition from Joseph Beuys’ art?
Most of the research on Joseph Beuys artistic activity has been generated by theories concerning Eurocentric culture, values and experiences, however this time we have the opportunity to hear other voices, different reading that criticizes Beuys’ work.

See for more information & tickets Goethe-Institut

Goethe-Institut Amsterdam, Herengracht 470, Amsterdam
11 November 2021, 20.00 pm, Performance and Meeting

Joseph Sassoon Semah & Rick Vercauteren
Joseph Sassoon Semah On Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell: Zwischen Dichtung und Wahrheit. (English)

Joseph Beuys manifested himself post-war as the new Messiah, as a healer, as a shaman for the Germans, to free himself as perpetrator and free the Germans of their guilt. Vostell embodies the victim and claims to embody the German guilt, to fill the vacuum that the genocide left behind. Wolf Vostell claimed since the early 1950's that his mother was a Sephardic Jew. However, it wasn’t until many years later that scholars began to inquire about Wolf’s ‘fabricated’ autobiography. Joseph Sassoon Semah and Rick Vercauteren will focus on the German artist duo Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell.

See for more information & tickets Goethe-Institut

The project is realised in part with the support of Mondriaan Fund, the public fund for visual art and cultural heritage and Redstone Natuursteen & Projecten.

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Occupy Wall Street Was Good, But It Was Never Going To Be Good Enough

CJ Polychroniou

Social movements can create change, but need proper organizational structures to dismantle hegemonic power.

Ten years ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement was born with protests in Manhattan’s financial district. Its aim was to draw attention to the huge gap that had grown between the super-rich and average Americans in the age of global neoliberalism.

While it is uncertain whether it even qualifies as an actual social movement, Wall Street Occupy was a smashing success: its powerful message of the richest 1 percent owning more of the country’s wealth than any other time in recent history captured the public imagination, provided the impetus for the emergence of a new wave of social activism, both in the US and abroad, and eventually became a rallying point for the left-wing of the Democratic Party.

However, like most actual social movements, Occupy Wall Street was short-lived and its lack of specific demands did not change the realities on the ground: economic inequalities have continued to grow since and Wall Street remains a dominant player in the US and world economy alike.

Social movements emerge on account of the existence of dysfunction within a political or economic system. Systemic inequality and social and environmental injustice are the primary drives behind the rise of most forms of social activism in today’s world, yet the decision for people to become politically active has simple psychological roots.  Social movements emerge only when discontent has become quite prevalent among a sizable segment of the citizenry. Indeed, it was feelings of deprivation and discontent that gave rise to the anti-globalization movement of the 1990s, to the pro-democracy protests and uprisings that took place in the Middle East and North Africa in the early 2010s, and to the Russian protest movements in 2011-2012.  Nonetheless, all of those movements also phased out rather quickly, without accomplishing their intended goals, although they did cause quite a stir at the time.

The problem with social movements is that they are informal groupings of individuals or organizations which, while they can generate significant attention around an issue or cause, influence positively public opinion, and initiate some form of tangible change, they lack the instruments to dismantle hegemonic power. Put differently, social movements, generally speaking, do not last very long and ultimately fail to dismantle existing power structures because they do not invest in organizational structures.

From the above, one may be quick to jump to the conclusion that participation in political parties is the most effective way for citizens in contemporary societies to bring about structural change. Not so fast. While this may have been the case in the past, it is no longer so today because political parties, including those of left and radical ideological orientation, have undergone fundamental organizational changes. With rare exceptions, they have moved away from being mass parties and have abandoned any pretext of actually seeking to bring about profound social and economic changes. Party identification has also declined everywhere in the world, and even the distinction between Left and Right has broken down.

In sum, the best hope we have for reshaping the world is with social activism and protest movements. But sustainable activism requires implementing organizational structures which are currently missing from most social movements. It would be most helpful in this case if contemporary social movements looked to the history of the old radical Left and the way those parties managed to sustain organizational continuity while fighting for a new social and economic order under political and social conditions far more adverse than what exists today. And to the way the Austrian communist party of today has managed, through a steadfast course in old-fashioned class politics, to engage itself in community activism in the city of Graz, a strategy which led to its shocking victory last month in the city’s municipal elections.

“Crown heads, wealth, and privilege may well tremble should ever again the black and red unite,” Otto von Bismarck allegedly said in connection with the political environment of his time.

We might be able one day to express something along similar lines if social movements started to implement the organizational structures of the Old Left.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.


C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change” and “Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors).

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