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Chomsky: What America's 'Crisis' Means to the Rest of the World

The way we perceive "crises" here in the U.S. is a profound symbol of how we don't understand them internationally.

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Meanwhile “the government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.” Again no surprise, at least to those who remember their Adam Smith.

But there is a far more serious crisis, even for the rich and powerful. It is discussed by Bill McKibben, who has been warning for years about the impact of global warming, in the same issue of the New York Review of Books that I mentioned earlier. His recent article relies on the British Stern report, which is very highly regarded by leading scientists and a raft of Nobel laureates in economics. On this basis McKibben concludes, not unrealistically, “2009 may well turn out to be the decisive year in the human relationship with our home planet.” In December a conference in Copenhagen is “to sign a new global accord on global warming,” which will tell us “whether or not our political systems are up to the unprecedented challenge that climate change represents.” He thinks the signals are mixed. That may be optimistic, unless there is a really massive public campaign to overcome the insistence of the managers of the state-corporate sector on privileging short-term gain for the few over the hope that their grandchildren will have a decent future.

At least some of the barriers are beginning to crumble—in part because the business world perceives new opportunities for profit. Even The Wall Street Journal, one of the most stalwart deniers, recently published a supplement with dire warnings about “climate disaster,” urging that none of the options being considered may be sufficient, and it may be necessary to undertake more radical measures of geoengineering, “cooling the planet” in some manner.

As always, those who suffer most will be the poor. Bangladesh will soon have a lot more to worry about than even the terrible food crisis. As the sea level rises, much of the country, including its most productive regions, might be under water. Current crises are almost sure to be exacerbated as the Himalayan glaciers continue to disappear, and with them the great river systems that keep South Asia alive. Right now, as glaciers melt in the mountain heights where Pakistani and Indian troops suffer and die, they expose the relics of their crazed conflict over Kashmir, “a pristine monument to human folly,” Roy comments with despair.

The picture might be much more grim than even the Stern report predicts. A group of MIT scientists have just released the results of what they describe as the most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth’s climate will get in this century, [showing] that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago—and could be even worse than that.
Worse because the model does not fully incorporate other positive feedbacks that can occur, for example, if increased temperatures caused a large-scale melting of permafrost in arctic regions and subsequent release of large quantities of methane.

The leader of the project says, “There’s no way the world can or should take these risks,” and that “the least-cost option to lower the risk is to start now and steadily transform the global energy system over the coming decades to low or zero greenhouse gas-emitting technologies.” There is far too little sign of that.

While new technologies are essential, the problems go well beyond. We have to face up to the need to reverse the huge state-corporate social engineering projects of the post-World War II period, which quite purposefully promoted an energy-wasting and environmentally destructive fossil fuel-based economy. The state-corporate programs, which included massive projects of suburbanization along with destruction and then gentrification of inner cities, began with a conspiracy by General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil of California to buy up and destroy efficient electric public transportation systems in Los Angeles and dozens of other cities; they were convicted of criminal conspiracy and given a slap on the wrist. The federal government then took over, relocating infrastructure and capital stock to suburban areas and creating the massive interstate highway system, under the usual pretext of “defense.” Railroads were displaced by government-financed motor and air transport.

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