Interview With Noam Chomsky On The State Of The World

Noam Chomsky

We live in a world facing existential threats while extreme inequality is tearing our societies apart and democracy is in sharp decline. The U.S., meanwhile, is bent on maintaining global hegemony when international collaboration is urgently needed to address the planet’s numerous challenges. In the interview that follows, Noam Chomsky explains why we are at the most dangerous point in human history and why nationalism, racism, and extremism are rearing their ugly heads all over the world today.

Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT and laureate professor of linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. One of the world’s most-cited scholars and a public intellectual regarded by millions of people as a national and international treasure, Chomsky has published more than 150 books in linguistics, political and social thought, political economy, media studies, U.S. foreign policy, and world affairs.  His latest books are Illegitimate Authority: Facing the Challenges of Our Time (with C. J. Polychroniou; Haymarket Books); The Secrets of Words (with Andrew Moro; MIT Press, 2020); The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power (with Vijay Prashad; The New Press, 2022); and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Social Change (with C. J. Polychroniou; Haymarket Books, 2021).

C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, you have said on numerous occasions that the world is at the most dangerous point in human history. Why do you think so? Are nuclear weapons more dangerous today than they were in the past? Is the surge in right-wing authoritarianism in recent years more dangerous than the rise and subsequent spread of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s? Or is it because of the climate crisis, which you have indeed said that it represents the biggest threat the world has ever faced. Can you explain in comparative terms why you think that the world is today significantly more dangerous than it used to be?

Noam Chomsky: The climate crisis is unique in human history and is getting more severe year by year.  If major steps are not taken within the next few decades, the world is likely to reach a point of no return, facing decline to indescribable catastrophe.  Nothing is certain, but this seems a far too plausible assessment.

Weapons systems steadily become more dangerous and more ominous. We have been surviving under a sword of Damocles since the bombing of Hiroshima.  A few years later, 70 years ago, the U.S., then Russia, tested thermonuclear weapons, revealing that human intelligence had “advanced” to the capacity to destroy everything.

Operative questions have to do with the sociopolitical and cultural conditions that constrain their use.  These came ominously close to breaking down in the 1962 missile crisis, described by Arthur Schlesinger as the most dangerous moment in world history, with reason, though we may soon reach that unspeakable moment again in Europe and Asia.  The MAD system (mutually assured destruction) enabled a form of security, lunatic but perhaps the best short of the kind of social and cultural transformation that is still unfortunately only an aspiration.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the MAD system of security was undermined by Clinton’s aggressive triumphalism and the Bush II-Trump project of dismantling the laboriously constructed arms control regime.  There’s an important recent study of these topics by Benjamin Schwartz and Christopher Layne, as part of the background to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They review how Clinton initiated a new era of international affairs in which the “United States became a revolutionary force in world politics” by abandoning the “old diplomacy” and instituting its preferred revolutionary concept of global order.

The “old diplomacy” sought to maintain global order by “an understanding of an adversary’s interests and motives and an ability to make judicious compromises.” The new triumphant unilateralism sets as “a legitimate goal [for the US] the alteration or eradication of those arrangements [internal to other countries] if they were not in accord with its professed ideals and values.”

The word “professed” is crucial.  It is commonly expunged from consciousness here, not elsewhere.

In the background lies the Clinton doctrine that the U.S. must be prepared to resort to force, multilaterally if we can, unilaterally if we must, to ensure vital interests and “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources.”

The accompanying military doctrine has led to creation of a far more advanced nuclear weapons system that can only be understood as “a preemptive counterforce capability against Russia and China” (Rand Corporation) – a first-strike capacity, enhanced by Bush’s dismantling of the treaty that barred emplacement of ABM systems near an adversary’s borders.  These systems are portrayed as defensive, but they are understood on all sides to be first-strike weapons.

These steps have significantly weakened the old system of mutual deterrence, leaving in its place greatly enhanced dangers.

How new these developments were, one might debate, but Schwartz and Layne make a strong case that this triumphant unilateralism and open contempt for the defeated enemy has been a significant factor in bringing major war to Europe with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the potential to escalate to terminal war.

No less ominous are developments in Asia.  With strong bipartisan and media support, Washington is confronting China on both military and economic fronts.  With Europe safely in its pocket thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has been able to expand NATO to the Indo-Pacific region, thus enlisting Europe in its campaign to prevent China from developing – a program considered not just legitimate but highly praiseworthy.  One of the administration doves, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, expressed the consensus lucidly: “If we really want to slow down China’s rate of innovation, we need to work with Europe.”

It’s particularly important to keep China from developing sustainable energy, where it is far in the lead and should reach energy self-sufficiency by 2060 according to Goldman Sachs analysts.  China is even threatening to make new breakthroughs in batteries that might help save the world from climate catastrophe.

Plainly a threat that must be contained, along with China’s insistence on the One-China policy for Taiwan that the U.S. also adopted 50 years ago and that has kept the peace for 50 years, but that Washington is now rescinding.  There’s much more to add that reinforces this picture, matters we have discussed elsewhere.

It’s hard to say the words in this increasingly odd culture, but it’s close to truism that unless the U.S. and China find ways to accommodate, as great powers with conflicting interests often did in the past, we are all lost.

Historical analogies have their limits of course, but there are two pertinent ones that have repeatedly been adduced in this connection: The Concert of Europe established in 1815 and the Versailles treaty of 1919.  The former is a prime example of the “Old Diplomacy.” The defeated aggressor (France) was incorporated into the new system of international order as an equal partner.  That led to a century of relative peace.  The Versailles treaty is a paradigm example of the “revolutionary” concept of global order instituted by the triumphalism of the ‘90s and its aftermath.  Defeated Germany was not incorporated into the postwar international order but was severely punished and humiliated.  We know where that led.

Read more

Bookmark and Share

How The U.S. War On Taiwanese Semiconductors Might Benefit Japan

On May 15, 2023, Berkshire Hathaway reported in a Form 13F filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had completed the sale of its $4 billion stake in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC). This sale completed a process that began in February 2023, when Berkshire Hathaway announced that it sold 86 percent of its holdings in TSMC. In April, Berkshire Hathaway’s leader Warren Buffett told Nikkei that the geopolitical tension between the United States and China was “certainly a consideration” in his decision to divest from TSMC. TSMC told Nikkei, is a “well-managed company” but that Berkshire Hathaway would find other places for its capital. At his May 6 morning meeting, Buffett said that TSMC “is one of the best-managed companies and important companies in the world, and you’ll be able to say the same thing five, ten or twenty years from now. I don’t like its location and reevaluated that.” By “location,” Buffett meant Taiwan, in the context of the threats made by the United States against China. He decided to wind down his investment in TSMC “in the light of certain things that were going on.” Buffett announced that he would move some of this capital towards the building of a fledgling U.S. domestic semiconductor industry.

TSMC, based in Hsinchu, Taiwan,, is the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer. In 2022, it accounted for 56 percent of the share of the global market and over 90 percent of advanced chip manufacturing. Warren Buffett’s investment in TSMC was based on the Taiwanese company’s immense grip on the world semiconductor market. In August 2022, U.S. President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law, which will provide $280 billion to fund semiconductor manufacturing inside the United States. On December 6, 2022, Biden joined TSMC’s Chairman Dr. Mark Liu at the $40 billion expansion of TSMC’s semiconductor factories in North Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Liu said at the project’s announcement that the second TSMC factory is “a testimony that TSMC is also taking a giant step forward to help build a vibrant semiconductor ecosystem in the United States.”

The first TSMC plant will open in 2024 and the second, which was announced in December, will open in 2026. On February 22, 2023, the New York Times ran a long article (“Inside Taiwanese Chip Giant, a U.S. Expansion Stokes Tensions”), which pointed out—based on interviews with TSMC employees—that “high costs and managerial challenges” show “how difficult it is to transplant one of the most complicated manufacturing processes known to man halfway across the world.” At the December 6 announcement, Biden said, “American manufacturing is back,” but it is only back at a much higher cost (the plant’s construction cost is ten times more than it would have cost in Taiwan). “The most difficult thing about wafer manufacturing is not technology,” Wayne Chiu—an engineer who left TSMC in 2022—told the New York Times. “The most difficult thing is personnel management. Americans are the worst at this because Americans are the most difficult to manage.”

Blow up Taiwan
U.S. Ambassador Robert O’Brien, the former National Security Advisor of Donald Trump, told Steve Clemons, an editor at Semafor, at the Global Security Forum in Doha, Qatar, on March 13, 2023, “The United States and its allies are never going to let those [semiconductor] factories fall into Chinese hands.” China, O’Brien said, could build “the new OPEC of silicon chips” and thereby, “control the world economy.” The United States will prevent this possibility, he said, even if it means a military strike. On May 2, 2023, at a Milken Institute event, U.S. Congressman Seth Moulton said that if Chinese forces move into Taiwan, “we will blow up TSMC. … Of course, the Taiwanese really don’t like this idea.”

These outlandish statements by O’Brien and Moulton have a basis in a widely circulated paper from the U.S. Army War College, published in November 2021, by Jared M. McKinney and Peter Harris (“Broken Nest: Deterring China from Invading Taiwan”). “The United States and Taiwan should lay plans for a targeted scorched-earth strategy that would render Taiwan not just unattractive if ever seized by force, but positively costly to maintain. This could be done effectively by threatening to destroy facilities belonging to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company,” they write.

Right after Moulton made these incendiary remarks, former U.S. defense undersecretary Michèle Flournoy said that it was a “terrible idea” and that such an attack would have a “$2 trillion impact on the global economy within the first year and you put manufacturing around the world at a standstill.”

Taiwan’s officials responded swiftly to Moulton, with minister of defense Chiu Kuo-cheng asking, “How can our national army tolerate this situation if he says he wants to bomb this or that?” While Chiu responded to Moulton’s statement about a military strike on TSMC, in fact, the U.S. government has already attacked the ability of this Taiwanese company to remain in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s economics vice minister Lin Chuan-neng said in response to these threats and Buffett’s sale of TSMC that his government “will do its utmost to let the world know that Taiwan is stable and safe.” These incendiary remarks aimed at China now threaten the collapse of Taiwan’s economy.

Made in Japan
In his May 6 meeting, Warren Buffett said something that gives a clue about where the semiconductor manufacturing might be diverted. “I feel better about the capital that we’ve got deployed in Japan than Taiwan,” he said. In 1988, 51 percent of the world’s semiconductors were made in Japan, but as of 2022, the number is merely 9 percent. In June 2022, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) announced it would put in 40 percent of a planned $8.6 billion for a semiconductor manufacturing plant by TSMC in Kumamoto. METI said in November that it has selected the Rapidus Corporation—which includes a stake by NTT, SoftBank, Sony, and Toyota—to manufacture next-generation 2-nanometer chips. It is likely that Berkshire Hathaway will invest in this new business.

Author Bio:
This article was produced by Globetrotter

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Source: Globetrotter

Bookmark and Share

The Rise And Fall Of Greece’s Radical-in-Name-Only Syriza Party

On January 25, 2015, Greece’s left-wing party Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left), which subscribed to no particular ideology but ran an election campaign that vowed to end the sadistic austerity measures that had been imposed on Greece by its international creditors, shred the bailout agreements into pieces, write off a big chuck of the debt, and create jobs for hundreds of thousands of unemployed, won the legislative elections by taking 36% of the popular vote. The result of the election sent shock waves through Europe’s political establishment and marked the return of hope for Greece and left-wing parties and movements around the world.

It was indeed a historic victory for the Left, especially considering the fact that, ten years earlier, Syriza was struggling to gain just a few seats in the Greek parliament. The Communist Party of Greece was far more popular than the Coalition of the Radical Left, whose ranks included an array of leftists ranging from Trotskyists, Maoists, and neo-Marxists to greens and feminists. Indeed, while the Communist party had solid links with working-class people and exerted decisive influence on trade union activism, Syriza’s “impact on civil society was confined to the ideological attraction that it had for a small segment of the academia.”

On May 21, 2023, elections were held in Greece and the conservative New Democracy party of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis scored a landslide victory, trouncing Syriza by 20 percentage points. However, the new electoral system of proportional representation that had been introduced under the former prime minister and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras prevents New Democracy’s 40% vote to win an outright majority of the 300 seats in parliament. Mitsotakis had revealed all along that he is not interested in sharing power, so a second election is going to take place in late June where the winning party needs to achieve just 37% of the popular vote.

The scale of Syriza’s defeat in the parliamentary elections of May 21 (lost all but one of the 59 electoral regions in Greece) may signify the end of the road for the party of Alexis Tsipras. The party’s demise has in fact been underway from the very first weeks that Tsipras took office as Greece’s prime minister. Lack of experience in governance, ideological confusion, severe structural constraints, but also crude political opportunism and broken promises pretty much guaranteed that Syriza’s downfall was just a matter of time.

First, the radical-in-name-only Syriza party formed a government with the right-wing and xenophobic party Independent Greeks. There were deep disparities of all sorts between the two parties, but obviously this did not matter to Tsipras since he saw forging an alliance with right-wingers as a necessary tactical move to secure power. And power was all that ever mattered to Syriza’s leader and his inner circle. During the 2023 election campaign, Tsipras would leave many leftist voters flabbergasted by courting voters from the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.

Second, Tsipras signed an agreement to extend the austerity measures imposed on Greece by the euro masters, only a few weeks after coming to power.

Third, Syriza’s leader gambled on Greece’s future with a sham referendum in order to save his government from collapse and then went on to betray an entire nation that voted overwhelmingly against the continuation of austerity by signing a new bailout agreement that continued Greece’s status as Germany’s “de facto colony.”

Tsipras called the new bailout agreement “a necessary choice,” though he had engaged in ferocious attacks against his predecessors for having signed similar bailout agreements with the international creditors.

More than 40 Syriza MP’s spoke against the new measures, and half of Syriza’s central committee sided against the new agreement. But none of this mattered. Syriza had very weak democratic structures, no real links with the Greek working-class, and Tsipras had total authority over party decisions as most policy issues were decided in unofficial meetings with people close to the “great leader.” Moreover, Syriza as a party had lost its autonomy once it gained power and “was subsumed into the state.

Indeed, it was abundantly clear to any unbiased observer that Syriza’s inner circle consisted of people who were dedicated to the pursuit and maintenance of power rather than bringing about radical change. Subsequently, following his government’s capitulation to the euro masters, Tsipras took steps to rebrand the party as a “progressive” political force and begun to tap into the legacy of the Pasok party, one of Greece’s center-left political parties, and to emulate more and more the political persona and political tactics of its charismatic founder and former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, who, incidentally, also appeared on the Greek political scene as a radical who made exorbitant promises to the people, such as socializing the economy, modernizing the countryside, terminating membership in NATO, and shutting down U.S. military bases in Greece.

Since the end of the Second World War, sadly enough, the Greek left has been betrayed by its own leaders on multiple occasions. The end result of Syriza’s abandonment of radicalism was defection on the part of hundreds of thousands of mostly working-class voters, though its metamorphosis into a mainstream political party attracted many center-left voters to its ranks.

In the 2019 legislative elections, Syriza still managed to gather 31.5% of the popular vote, losing just less than four points since its last victory in 2015, but the conservative New Democracy party not only won and secured a comfortable majority of 158 out of 300 seats, but had a remarkable 11-point increase from 2015.

Moreover, unlike Tsipras’ “leftist” government, Mitsotakis’ conservative government kept many of its campaign promises and handled some foreign policy crises rather effectively. For example, Mitsotakis kept his promise to cut taxes, including a 22% cut to an unpopular property tax introduced during the first bailout agreement, suspended the value added tax on new construction, and reduced the insurance costs of employees and businesses.

Big capital and the middles classes have been the main beneficiaries of Mitsotakis’ efforts to rejuvenate the Greek economy. Because of the pandemic, Greece’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 9% in 2020, but grew by 8.43% in 2021 and by 5.91% in 2022. Tourism contributed greatly to the strong rebound in GDP, and the economic prosperity of Greece remains strongly tied to the development of tourism.

However, Greece’s current accounts deficit increased substantially in 2022, mainly due to the worsening of the balance of goods. And the government debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 171.3% at the end of 2022, which is really at unsustainable levels, though the mainstream press in Greece would not devote space to presenting gloomy economic data ahead of the elections.

But it’s doubtful that doing so would have made any difference. The truth of the matter is that there is an impression among many Greek voters that the Mitsotakis’ government has stabilized the economy, protects the national interest more than adequately, and that it would be suicidal to have Syriza back in power after all its broken promises and flimsy statements made about the economy by key party members during an election campaign, which included a proposal for “local complementary currencies” by the party’s former minister of finance and which came only a few days after Yanis Varoufakis (rightly or wrongly, one of the most unpopular political figures in all of Greece) had called for the adoption of a parallel currency “Dimitra.” Syriza’s shaky position on key issues of national security was also a major drawback for many voters.

Indeed, it seems that what lies at the heart of the 2023 Greek legislative election results is that many voters were distrustful of Tsipras and his politics. This is most likely why so many voters appeared unfazed by revelations of a major surveillance scandal that engulfed the conservative prime minister himself. Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government is made up of right-wing conservatives and even includes in its ranks a couple of high-ranking officials with a history of involvement in far-right politics, but it seems that voters were more concerned with Syriza’s own deficiencies rather than those of the ruling conservative party.

Voters also delivered “a crushing defeat” to Yanis Varoufakis’ MeRA25 party as it failed to cross the 3% threshold to re-enter parliament.

Among left-wing parties, only the Greek Communist party performed better, gathering 7.23% of the popular vote over 5.3% in 2019.

In sum, the future of the left in Greece looks anything but promising at present. With the revival of Pasok, which had been in steep decline electorally since 2012 but managed to get 11.46% of the popular vote in the 2023 legislative elections, Syriza’s long demise may be complete a few years from now. And it will be very difficult for the current Communist party to climb into double digits even if Syriza returns to the dark days of securing low-to-mid single digit votes.

But the Greek left has suffered many crippling blows in the past and always finds a way to resurrect itself, to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Because as long as exploitation, injustice, and extreme inequality remain central aspects of human society, there will always be a need to create a radical vision for the future.


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

The Deplorable Work Conditions Behind Harrods’ $7,000 ‘Ambootia Snow Mist’ Darjeeling Tea

Photo: Counterview

In 2015, after you were done gawking at the statue of Princess Di in the world’s largest department store, Harrods in London, you could head on over to the world-famous food halls where you could buy, among other high-priced indulgences, a type of tea branded “Ambootia Snow Mist.”

At $7,864 per kilogram—enough to make about 300 cups—Snow Mist regularly made appearances on listicles sporting headlines like “21 Gifts that Prove Harrods Has Finally Lost Its Fucking Mind.”

Sold exclusively by London’s high-end department store for about a decade starting in the late 2000s, the tea was grown on the Happy Valley Tea Estate, a 400-plus acre plantation nestled in the Himalayan hills, near the third tallest mountain in the world and the large town of Darjeeling.

Happy Valley is located in northern West Bengal, the same state as Bangla-speaking Kolkata, but the lingua franca in the region is Nepali. Locals known as Indian Gorkhas (to distinguish them from Nepali Gorkhas) have been agitating for almost four decades to get their own state called Gorkhaland.

The second oldest of Darjeeling’s 87 tea plantations, Happy Valley was established by a Britishman in 1854, just five years after Harrods. Happy Valley passed into the hands of an elite Bengali in the early 1900s. From there, it changed hands several times until it was abandoned, lying dormant up until the early 2000s (it is not uncommon for tea gardens to be semi-frequently abandoned by their owners, leaving workers, staff, and even managers in a lurch).

Many tea plantations have been taken over by investors looking for short-term profits but who lack a long-term vision for the tea industry. The standard playbook for this “promoter class” of new owners goes something like this: take out a huge loan against the tea land, siphon the capital to other businesses, and drive workers to further pauperization. It is well known in and around the industry that these owners routinely fail to pay legally required pension contributions and evade land taxes.

Importantly, the land itself is owned by the state of West Bengal, not by the owners of the plantations, who lease it long term.

These promoters also tend to abandon the tea plantations during the annual bonus period, allegedly due to worker protest and discontent, while also failing to clear all back pay that is due. The annual bonus period falls at the end of the calendar year and marks a time when employers and unions negotiate a bonus that workers get for regional holidays. Although it is true that there are more workers protesting during these periods in a perennial bid to negotiate higher bonuses, the claim by owners that said protests are the primary reason they must abandon their plantations doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Later, with the help of the government and even the tea workers’ own unions, these owners will often reopen the plantations and gardens under conditions that require workers to accept lower wages than what they previously earned, accept further casualization, and take lost jobs on the chin.

In the mid-2000s, Happy Valley, along with about a dozen other Darjeeling estates, became part of a company headed by businessman Sanjay Bansal. Bansal was not supposed to be one of those guys, one of the plantation owners who games the system at the expense of workers—his initial approach led many to believe he would handle business differently. Bansal was an “incredibly successful… international player for a decade,” says Sarah Besky, a cultural anthropologist and associate professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. But even major figures in the tea industry engage in unsavory practices.

Besky has spent a great deal of time studying Darjeeling’s tea industry and workers. “Anybody who knows anything about Darjeeling tea knows about Makhaibari and Ambootia,” Besky told TRNN. “The symbolic importance of Ambootia is huge.”

Ambootia, the name of another tea plantation, was the brand name behind Harrods’ Snow Mist and other teas produced by Darjeeling Organic Tea Estates Private Ltd. (DOTEPL), and it is also the informal name for Bansal’s broader company, the Ambootia Group, which owns numerous tea estates in Darjeeling, Assam, and Dooars. In 2015, DOTEPL was worth Rs. 12 billion ($187 million); in addition to Bansal, investors from Singapore and Europe also had varying stakes in the company at different points in time.

I (Saurav) visited Happy Valley on October 12 of last year, when the tea bushes were between harvests, or “flushes.” Rain was pouring down from the sky. Nevertheless, workers clad in galoshes and holding umbrellas are still expected to pluck two leaves and a bud from the bushes in such conditions.

On that day, though, no leaves were being plucked, because the workers were on strike, continuing a months-long labor dispute over backwages, a legally required holiday bonus, and a general state of disrespect from the bosses. Workers on the plantations in the area, including at Happy Valley, had demanded—and eventually won from the state government—a 20 percent bonus marking major holidays, but the mood at Happy Valley was anything but content.

Several dozen of the workers, most of them women, were huddled along the inside walls of a structure that, judging by the sign above, was meant to be a “fair price shop” for tourists and visitors to purchase tea from the plantation. A few men, the field staff, hovered inside, standing impatiently or animatedly pacing the floor. They, too, were being denied their wages.

One worker—let’s call her Chenbagam Rai—told me through interpreters that she worked an eight-hour day, from 7:30AM to 4:00PM, with a break for lunch. Workers typically work six-day weeks for a total of 48 scheduled hours per week. The harvesting quotas they need to meet can range from garden to garden; in some, it might be 7kg worth of tea per day; in others, it might be 11kg. With the help of the interpreters, Chenbagam relayed that she earned the minimum wage for Darjeeling tea workers of Rs. 232 ($2.81) per day (soon to be Rs. 250), not counting minor bonuses for exceeding production goals, but including Rs. 9 per day for food. Not only are these wages insufficient for workers to make a living on, they are also on the low end for workers across the industry. In other parts of India, tea plantation workers make more—around Rs. 400 ($4.93) per day—than their counterparts in Darjeeling do.

A union official (and one of my guides on the visit), Jatan Rai, told me that a living wage would be about Rs. 500 ($6.16) per day, plus benefits (like housing, access to medical care, etc.) that management is legally mandated to provide. When I was in Darjeeling, I spent a fair amount of time talking with Jatan, who was brought up as the son of two tea workers on an estate and is now the general secretary of the Hamro Hill Terai Dooars Chiabari Shramik Sangh (Hamro Hill Terai Dooars Tea Workers Union), as well as Saakal Dewan, a retired navy officer and active poet. Both Dewan and Jatan Rai, as well as Rai’s union, are affiliated with a local political party called the Hamro Party (unions generally tend to be affiliated with political parties in India). In India, apart from the railways, tea plantations are the largest organized sector.

In other parts of India, along with higher average wages, tea workers also tend to receive more of the benefits they are legally entitled to under the Plantations Labour Act of 1951, which instituted a slate of laws meant to secure universal standards for working conditions on Indian plantations. For instance, housing, water, education, healthcare, and other basic needs—all are supposed to be provided by plantation owners. “It is there in the rules—[the] Plantations Act,” said Jatan Rai. But the problem is that there are no real nor consistent enforcement mechanisms; as a result, the reality for workers is very different from what the Act spells out. Read more

Bookmark and Share

Capturing Carbon With Machines Is A Failure — So Why Are We Subsidizing It?

Richard Heinberg – Photo: Post Carbon Institute

Policymakers are pouring money into techno-fixes to solve the climate crisis, even though scientific studies indicate nature-based solutions are all-around more effective.

Human activity—mostly the burning of fossil fuels—has raised Earth’s atmospheric carbon content by 50 percent, from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 420 ppm. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve released approximately 950 billion metric tons of carbon into the air. Every year, humans emit more than 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, as of 2021 measurements. Even if we stop burning fossil fuels now, the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere will cause Earth’s climate to continue warming for decades, triggering heat waves, droughts, rising sea levels, and extreme weather.

Climate scientists warn that if we want to avert catastrophe, a significant amount of excess atmospheric CO2 must be captured and sequestered. The process is called carbon dioxide removal (CDR), and it has been receiving more attention as nations, states, and industries strive to meet their climate goals. But how should we go about doing it?

There are two broad strategies: biological and mechanical. Nature already absorbs and emits about 100 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year through the natural processes in the biosphere—including plant growth—an amount 2.5 times humanity’s annual carbon output. So, according to advocates for biological carbon removal, our best bet is simply to help the planet do a little more of what it is already doing to absorb carbon. We could accomplish this through reforestation, soil-building agricultural practices, and encouraging kelp growth in oceans.

On the other hand, advocates for mechanical carbon removal point to technologies that successfully capture CO2 in the laboratory; if these machines were scaled up, those advocates tell us, we could create an enormous new industry with plenty of jobs while removing atmospheric carbon and reducing climate risk. Scientists are exploring several chemical pathways for direct air capture (DAC) of carbon and ways to sequester CO2 in porous rock formations. Revenue streams come from government subsidies or from the use of captured CO2 in enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

So, which pathway—nature or machines—holds more promise?

In its sixth assessment report, released in March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body that regularly assesses the current state of climate science, points out that “biological CDR methods like reforestation, improved forest management, soil carbon sequestration, peatland restoration[,] and coastal blue carbon management can enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functions, employment[,] and local livelihoods.”

On the other hand, notes the IPCC, the implementation of mechanical DAC along with underground sequestration of CO2 “currently faces technological, economic, institutional, ecological-environmental and socio-cultural barriers.” Further, the current global rates of mechanical carbon capture and storage “are far below those in modeled pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C to 2°C.”

In a study published in the journal PLOS Climate in February 2023, a team of American scientists analyzed the benefits and downsides of the two pathways in detail. They used three criteria: effectiveness (“[d]oes the process achieve a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere” once all inputs and outputs are accounted for?), efficiency (“[a]t a climate-relevant scale… [of a billion metric tons of CO2 per year], how much energy and land are required?”), and impacts (“[w]hat are the significant co-benefits or adverse impacts [on nature and society]?”).

The team gathered data and crunched the numbers. The lead author, June Sekera, a carbon researcher and visiting scholar at the New School for Social Research in New York, concluded:
“[B]iological sequestration methods, including restoration of forests, grasslands, and wetlands and regenerative agriculture, are both more effective and more resource efficient in achieving a climate-relevant scale of CO2 removal than are techno-mechanical methods—which use machinery and chemicals to capture CO2. Additionally, the co-impacts of biological methods are largely positive, while those of technical/mechanical methods are negative. Biological methods are also far less expensive.”

In this comparative study, the scores for natural versus mechanical carbon removal methods were not close: Natural methods won in every category—and by a significant margin. The problem with machine-based carbon removal is not just that current technologies are immature (with the hope of getting better with more research and investment), but also that using machines is inherently inefficient, costly, and risky. On the other hand, removing carbon by restoring nature costs less, is more effective at reducing atmospheric carbon, and offers numerous side benefits.

The American study also noted that its findings “that biological methods exhibit superior effectiveness in comparison to DAC are consistent with data reported in the 2022 IPCC study.” It added in plain terms: “According to the IPCC, not only are biological methods of CDR more effective than DAC…, but their effectiveness is projected to increase significantly over time.”

As if to underscore that conclusion, a separate study published in March 2023 in the journal Nature Climate Change concluded that the protection and rewilding of even a small targeted group of wildlife species would help facilitate the capture and storage of enough carbon to keep the global temperature below the tipping point of warming 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

You might expect, therefore, that policymakers would currently be directing all of their support toward natural carbon removal methods. But you’d be wrong. Government policy support in the form of subsidies is being shoveled mostly into mechanical carbon removal.

In the U.S., the primary subsidy for mechanical CDR is the federal 45Q tax credit, introduced in 2008, which offers $10 to $20 per metric ton of CO2 captured and stored. But there are also carbon offset credit programs (including the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard), subsidies for building CO2 pipelines, and subsidies for the production of alternative fuels (including ethanol and hydrogen) that rely on carbon capture technology to be considered “low-carbon.” The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 significantly increased the number of credits in 45Q and broadened eligibility, and included federal subsidies for oil producers who pump CO2 underground to make it easier to extract trapped petroleum—which is by far the most common way of using captured CO2.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Biden signed in November 2021, included billions in federal funding for carbon capture projects. In the Midwest, as a result, there has been a rush to build thousands of miles of CO2 pipelines for carbon sequestration—a frenzy that has set off regulatory chaos and is pitting farmers and Native Americans against biofuel plant operators and venture capitalists. Researchers continue to spend time and money finding new chemical pathways to mechanical CO2 capture—resources that could instead be diverted to biological CO2 removal methods. Even AI is being enlisted in mechanical carbon capture efforts.

There are also subsidies that, in effect, promote nature-based CDR methods, including soil conservation and wetlands restoration programs, but these programs were not initially intended for carbon capture and sequestration, and they are not optimized for that purpose. In November 2022, at the global COP27 climate summit in Cairo, the Biden administration announced the “Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap,” an outline of strategic recommendations to put America on a path to “unlock the full potential of nature-based solutions” to address “climate change, nature loss, and inequity.” The roadmap calls for updating policies, providing funding, training a nature-based solutions workforce, and prioritizing research, innovation, knowledge, and adaptive learning to advance nature-based solutions. However, the roadmap remains, for the most part, in the realm of good intentions.

There’s only so much funding available for climate solutions, and the total amount is woefully inadequate. Only strategic investment will obtain significant results for the dollars spent, and it is now clear which path will get results.

Given the clear superiority of nature-based solutions, why is so much support still going toward mechanical carbon capture? Poor judgments in the past have created funding streams and projects with a momentum of their own. Most of the gold-rush fever surrounding mechanical carbon capture can be attributed simply to the lure of subsidies for building new DAC plants and pipelines.

In a 2018 article published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Justin Adams—who at the time was the managing director for global lands at the U.S.-based environmental nonprofit Nature Conservancy—urged the European Union to take the lead on using nature-based solutions in the climate crisis fight. “Many economists and policy advisors ignore the potential of natural climate solutions at our peril,” warned Adams’s article, calling a 2018 report by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) “short-sighted” for downplaying the potential of nature-based climate solutions.

“Natural climate solutions are in fact the world’s oldest negative emissions technology,” Adams wrote. “By managing carbon dioxide-hungry forests and agricultural lands better, we can remove vast quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and store them in trees and soils.”​​

The science tells us that policymakers and investors have so far been wrong to advocate so strongly for mechanical CDR solutions to the detriment of biological ones. The fate of future generations is at stake, and we cannot afford to waste both time and money on techno-fixes that are ineffective at achieving our climate goals. The clear path forward to addressing the looming catastrophic effects of climate change is to restore nature.

Author Bio:
Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival.

Source: Independent Media Institute
Credit Line: This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Bookmark and Share

South Korea Pivots To Conflict

South Korea’s far-right President Yoon Suk Yeol is rushing South Korea headlong into the middle of the new Cold War that the United States is waging against China. Yoon’s aspiration to position South Korea as a “global pivotal state” is turning South Korea into a bigger cog in the U.S. war machine and stakes South Korea’s security and economic future on a declining U.S.-led global order. Yoon’s support of the U.S. global order has taken him on a flurry of visits and meetings around the world from the virtual Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) summit to the NATO summit in Madrid to high-level meetings in Japan and the United States.

Most recently on his April 26 U.S. visit, President Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden announced the “Washington Declaration” to deploy U.S. nuclear-armed submarines to South Korea—reintroducing U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea for the first time in over 40 years. When viewed against North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons as a strategic deterrent, these weapons in South Korea will more likely fuel a nuclear arms race rather than check North Korea’s nuclear program. As former South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun observed, four out of North Korea’s six nuclear tests occurred in response to the hardline stance of conservative South Korean administrations that refused to dialogue with North Korea.

Ultimately, Yoon’s actions are putting South Korea on a dangerous path that further destabilizes inter-Korean relations and antagonizes China, its biggest trading partner. All the while, the move also forsakes the Korean government’s duty to advocate for reparations from Japan for Koreans exploited under Japanese colonialism and to prevent the discharge of radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear reactor, which lies upstream from South Korea.

Yoon’s ‘Global Pivotal State’
The alarming return of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea follows Yoon’s posturing to develop nuclear weapons in South Korea this past January as part of his evolving extremist hardline North Korea policy. More broadly, it forms part of Yoon’s greater foreign policy agenda of inserting South Korea in the security architecture of the U.S.’s anti-China Asia-Pacific grand strategy. The Yoon administration’s “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region,” like Yoon’s recent activities, follows closely from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, with the goal of building and enforcing a U.S.-led “rules-based order” in the region with “like-minded allies” to contain China.

For all its declarations of fairness and playing by the rules, this U.S.-dominated “rules-based order” is at odds with the actual multipolar world taking shape around the world as well as the multilateral nature of the internationally agreed-upon UN-based order. The United States has been leading the creation of regional minilateral bodies such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) or the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as part of its “hybrid war against China” and engaging in unilateral aggression toward China in the form of “military, economic, information, and military warfare.”

For example, the United States is setting the stage to dispute China’s actions in the South China Sea not through the UN “Law of the Sea Convention,” which the United States has not signed onto, but rather through the Indo-Pacific security framework. This allows the United States to target China’s actions while exempting its own naval operations from the oversight of “global bureaucrats”—i.e., the UN. Furthermore, despite calling for an “open” and “free” Indo-Pacific, the United States is waging a “chip war” by pressuring its Indo-Pacific allies to impede China’s access to semiconductor chips, one of the world’s most critical high-tech resources today.

The Yoon administration has been contributing to the buildup and reinforcement of this “rules-based order” through its participation in the Indo-Pacific framework, global NATO, and by consolidating the U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral military alliance. In May 2022, a few weeks into his term, Yoon participated virtually in the IPEF meeting. In December, the administration adopted its own Indo-Pacific Strategy which committed to “stabilize supply chains of strategic resources” and “seek cooperation with partners with whom we share values,”—i.e., IPEF states. South Korea is now being recruited into the U.S. chip war against China.

In June 2022, the participation of South Korea (including Yoon’s establishment of a NATO diplomatic mission) and three other Asia-Pacific states in the NATO meeting expanded NATO’s reach from the North Atlantic into the Pacific. This year, Yoon paved the way toward consolidating the U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral alliance by forgoing demands that Japan take responsibility for its colonial exploitation of Korean workers. Then, during his March visit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, he resumed the controversial 2016 General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) intelligence-sharing pact, laying the groundwork for direct military coordination between South Korea and Japan.

In April, U.S., Japan, and South Korean officials met and agreed to hold missile defense and anti-submarine exercises to counter North Korea and “promote peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region,” with special emphasis on “peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.” As a further show of commitment to the U.S. global war strategy, in an April 19 Reuters interview, Yoon reversed his position on Ukraine and raised the possibility of sending weapons, and exacerbated the U.S.’s provocations in Taiwan vis-a-vis the One China principle, to the ire of Chinese officials.

A Pivot Toward Peace
Activists in South Korea and abroad have been ceaselessly working toward peace on the peninsula, with key struggles waged along the very sites of U.S. military installations in the Asia-Pacific region encircling China, such as the construction of the military naval base in Gangjeong village. They have also been part of long-standing transnational activism to procure a peace treaty for the Korean War. As these activists and U.S. scholar Noam Chomsky have recently reiterated in the face of the April 26 U.S.-South Korea nuclear weapons deal, only a peace treaty ending the Korean War would lay the basis for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, bring an end to the U.S. military occupation of South Korea, and move toward peace and stability in Northeast Asia. To continue building greater exchange, dialogue, and solidarity, and pivot the region toward peace, this May 16, Justice Party National Assemblymembers along with the International Strategy Center and other civil society organizations in South Korea, the United States, and Japan will be organizing an International Forum for Peace in Northeast Asia and Against a New Cold War Order.

Author Bio:
This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Dae-Han Song is in charge of the networking team at the International Strategy Center and is a part of the No Cold War collective.

Alice S. Kim received her PhD from the Rhetoric Department at UC Berkeley and is a writer, researcher, and translator living in Seoul. Her publications include “The ‘Vietnamese’ Skirt and Other Wartime Myths” in The Vietnam War in the Pacific World (UNC Press, 2022) and “LeftOut: People’s Solidarity for Social Progress and the Evolution of Minjung After Authoritarianism,” in South Korean Social Movements (Routledge, 2011).

Source: Globetrotter

Bookmark and Share

  • About

    Rozenberg Quarterly aims to be a platform for academics, scientists, journalists, authors and artists, in order to offer background information and scholarly reflections that contribute to mutual understanding and dialogue in a seemingly divided world. By offering this platform, the Quarterly wants to be part of the public debate because we believe mutual understanding and the acceptance of diversity are vital conditions for universal progress. Read more...
  • Support

    Rozenberg Quarterly does not receive subsidies or grants of any kind, which is why your financial support in maintaining, expanding and keeping the site running is always welcome. You may donate any amount you wish and all donations go toward maintaining and expanding this website.

    10 euro donation:

    20 euro donation:

    Or donate any amount you like:

    ABN AMRO Bank
    Rozenberg Publishers
    IBAN NL65 ABNA 0566 4783 23
    reference: Rozenberg Quarterly

    If you have any questions or would like more information, please see our About page or contact us:
  • Like us on Facebook

  • Archives