How Climate Change Is Worsened by Attacks on the Public Sector, Science and Regulation
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Christian Parenti is the author of Tropic of Chaos, most recently.
You’ve talked a lot about the effects of global warming and climate change in the rest of the world, especially in the Global South. One of the arguments made for why in the U.S. there is so much climate science denial is that populations here are relatively isolated from its worst effects. But as we see more and more extreme weather events like we’ve witnessed, how likely do you think that that is to continue, because more and more people are, of course, being affected?
CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, I don’t know whether people’s minds are going to change if there’s this continual barrage of disinformation, but it’s becoming a reality in everyday life, undeniably. And I think what it does is it calls to question the role of government. And the real difference between the Global South and the North in facing this problem is that, in the Global South, government—the public sector—has been systematically dismantled, on the orders of the IMF and the World Bank through structural adjustment programs, state assets have been privatized, and state capacity has been diminished. And so, people fall back, in the face of extreme weather, on their own devices, which in places like Kenya and Afghanistan are cheap AK-47s and raiding your neighbor’s cattle or turning to the drug trade. But in this country, there is still, despite a generation-long assault on the public sector and on government, which is picking up pace now, as we all know—there still is a public sector.
And at these moments, another thing that’s missing from these discussions is not just the word "climate change," but the words "public sector." I mean, who’s out there fighting these fires? It’s the public sector, you know? Where do people go when there are these cooling centers? It’s the public sector. It’s public schools, which are currently being privatized in Philadelphia. This assault on the public sector must be linked to climate change. So, in the face of extreme weather, I think that there really is—you know, we have to embrace the fact that U.S. capitalism is essentially a mixed economy already. We have 35 percent of the GDP is government activity. This is a right-wing talking point. Many on the left don’t even discuss it, but that’s a tool we can use.
AMY GOODMAN: Vermont is a perfect example of this.
CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yes. And last year we had Hurricane Irene dumped a lot rain on Vermont. And people came together on a voluntary basis, communities, but also the state government was there with lots of aid, levels of aid that far outstrip the great generosity of Vermont businesses by, you know, factors of three, four, five. And in these moments, we have to recognize that we are all connected and that one of the most important institutions for managing these types of crises is the public sector and that we cannot fire public workers, we cannot dismantle the state, and that it is clearly not always efficient and—inefficient and corrupt. It actually does lots and lots of valuable things.
And, you know, I’ll bet you what’s going to happen later in the summer is that FEMA is going to come under attack again. That’s what happened at the end of last summer, right? The right wing turned on FEMA. They said they were spending too much. Well, they’re spending too much because disasters have, you know, gone—they’ve doubled. The number of declared disasters have doubled in the last 20 years, like 99 last year. So, the GOP is trying to strip FEMA’s budget. Why do they hate FEMA so much? If you actually look into what FEMA does, it makes perfect sense why the right hates FEMA. Same reason they hate Social Security. Because it works. Because it’s a public agency that helps redistribute wealth to people in need. And it does all sorts of things that are essential to the people who are affected by disasters and to the regional economies that need to recover.