Noam Chomsky

'We've lost six years': Noam Chomsky says his generation betrayed its descendants — but there's still hope

This month will mark a critical juncture in the struggle to avoid climate catastrophe. At the COP26 global climate summit kicking off next week in Glasgow, Scotland, negotiators will be faced with the urgent need to get the world economy off the business-as-usual track that will take the Earth up to and beyond 3 degrees Celsius of excess heating before this century's end, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Yet so far, the pledges of rich nations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions have been far too weak to rein in the temperature rise. Meanwhile, the Biden administration's climate plans hang in the balance. If Congress fails to pass the reconciliation bill, the next opportunity for the United States to take effective climate action may not arise until it's too late.

For the past several decades, Noam Chomsky has been one of the most forceful and persuasive voices confronting injustice, inequity, and the threat posed by human-caused climate chaos to civilization and the Earth. I was eager to know Professor Chomsky's views on the roots of our current dire predicament and on humanity's prospects for emerging from this crisis into a livable future. He very graciously agreed to speak with me by way of a video chat. The text here is an abridged version of a conversation we had on October 1, 2021.

Professor Chomsky, now 92, is the author of numerous best-selling political works, translated into scores of languages. His critiques of power and advocacy on behalf of the political agency of the common person have inspired generations of activists and organizers. He has been institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1976. His most recent books are Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance, with Marv Waterstone, and Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet, with Robert Pollin and C.J. Polychroniou.

— Stan Cox

Stan Cox: Most of the nations that will be meeting in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference on October 31-November 12, 2021, have made emissions-reduction pledges. For the most part, those pledges are wholly inadequate. What principles do you think should guide the effort to prevent climate catastrophe?

Noam Chomsky: The initiators of the Paris Agreement intended to have a binding treaty, not voluntary agreements, but there was an impediment. It's called the Republican Party. It was clear that the Republican Party would never accept any binding commitments. The Republican organization, which has lost any pretense of being a normal political party, is almost solely dedicated to the welfare of the super-rich and the corporate sector, and cares absolutely nothing about the population or the future of the world. The Republican organization would never have accepted a treaty. In response, the organizers reduced their goal to a voluntary agreement, which has all the difficulties that you mentioned.

We've lost six years, four under the Trump administration which was openly dedicated to maximizing the use of fossil fuels and dismantling the regulatory apparatus that, to some extent, had limited their lethal effects. To some extent, these regulations protected sectors of the population from pollution, mostly the poor and people of color. But they're the ones who, of course, face the main burden of pollution. It's the poor people of the world who live in what Trump called "shithole countries" that suffer the most; they have contributed the least to the disaster, and they suffer the worst.

It doesn't have to be this way. As you write in your new book, The Path to a Liveable Future, there is indeed a path to a livable future. There are ways to have responsible, sane, and racially just policies. It's up to all of us to demand them, something young people around the world are already doing.

Other countries have their own things to answer for, but the United States has one of the worst records in the world. The United States blocked the Paris Agreement before Trump eventually got into office. But it was under Trump's instructions that the United States pulled out of the agreement altogether.

If you look over at the more sane Democrats, who are far from guiltless, there are people called moderates like Senator Joe Manchin (DWV), the leading recipient of fossil-fuel funding, whose position is that of the fossil-fuel companies, which is, as he put it, no elimination, just innovation. That's Exxon Mobil's view, too: "Don't worry, we'll take care of you," they say. "We're a soulful corporation. We're investing in some futuristic ways to remove from the atmosphere the pollution that we're pouring into it. Everything's fine, just trust us." No elimination, just innovation, which may or may not come and if it does, it will probably be too late and too limited.

Take the IPCC report that just appeared. It was much more dire than previous ones and said we must eliminate fossil fuels step by step, every year, and be free of them completely within a few decades. A few days after the report was released, Joe Biden issued a plea to the OPEC oil cartel to increase production, which would lower gas prices in the United States and improve his position with the population. There was immediate euphoria in the petroleum journals. There's lots of profit to be made, but at what expense? It was nice to have the human species for a couple of hundred thousand years, but evidently that's long enough. After all, the average lifespan of a species on Earth is apparently around 100,000 years. So why should we break the record? Why organize for a just future for all when we can trash the planet helping rich corporations get richer?

SC: Ecological catastrophe is closing in on us largely because, as you once put it, "the entire socioeconomic system is based on production for profit and a growth imperative that cannot be sustained." However, it seems that only state authority can implement the necessary changes in ways that are equitable, fair, and just. Given the emergency we face, do you think that the U.S. government would be able to justify imposing national-resource constraints like rules for resource allocation or fair-shares rationing, policies that would necessarily limit the freedom of local communities and individuals in their material lives?

NC: Well, we have to face some realities. I would like to see a move towards a more free and just society — production for need rather than production for profit, working people able to control their own lives instead of subordinating themselves to masters for almost their entire waking life. The time required for succeeding at such efforts is simply too great for addressing this crisis. That means we need to solve this within the framework of existing institutions, which can be ameliorated.

The economic system of the last 40 years has been particularly destructive. It's inflicted a major assault on most of the population, resulting in a huge growth in inequality and attacks on democracy and the environment.

A livable future is possible. We don't have to live in a system in which the tax rules have been changed so that billionaires pay lower rates than working people. We don't have to live in a form of state capitalism in which the lower 90% of income earners have been robbed of approximately $50 trillion, for the benefit of a fraction of 1%. That's the estimate of the RAND Corporation, a serious underestimate if we look at other devices that have been used. There are ways of reforming the existing system within basically the same framework of institutions. I think they ought to change, but it would have to be over a longer timescale.

The question is: Can we prevent climate catastrophe within the framework of less savage state capitalist institutions? I think there's a reason to believe that we can, and there are very careful, detailed proposals as to how to do it, including ones in your new book, as well as the proposals of my friend and co-author, economist Robert Pollin, who's worked many of these things out in great detail. Jeffrey Sachs, another fine economist, using somewhat different models, has come to pretty much the same conclusions. These are pretty much along lines of proposals of the International Energy Association, by no means a radical organization, one that grew out of the energy corporations. But they all have essentially the same picture.

There's, in fact, even a congressional resolution by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey which outlines proposals that are pretty close to this. And I think it's all within the range of feasibility. Their cost estimates of 2% to 3% of GDP, with feasible efforts, would not only address the crisis, but would create a more livable future, one without pollution, without traffic jams, and with more constructive, productive work, better jobs. All of this is possible.

But there are serious barriers — the fossil-fuel industries, the banks, the other major institutions, which are designed to maximize profit and not care about anything else. After all, that was the announced slogan of the neoliberal period — the economic guru Milton Friedman's pronouncement that corporations have no responsibility to the public or to the workforce, that their total responsibility is to maximize profit for the few.

For public-relations reasons, fossil-fuel corporations like ExxonMobil often portray themselves as soulful and benevolent, working day and night for the benefit of the common good. It's called greenwashing.

SC: Some of the most widely discussed methods for capturing and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would consume vast quantities of biomass produced on hundreds of millions or billions of acres, thereby threatening ecosystems and food production, largely in low-income, low-emissions nations. A group of ethicists and other scholars recently wrote that a "core principle" of climate justice is that "the urgent, basic needs of poor people and poor countries ought to be secured against the effects of climate change and of measures taken to limit" climate change. That would seem to clearly rule out these "emit carbon now, capture it later" plans, and there are other examples of what we might call "climate-mitigation imperialism." Do you think that the world may be faced with more and more of this sort of exploitation as temperatures rise? And what do you think about these proposals for bioenergy and carbon capture?

NC: It's totally immoral, but it's standard practice. Where does waste go? It doesn't go in your backyard, it goes to places like Somalia that can't protect themselves. The European Union, for example, has been dumping its atomic wastes and other pollution off the coast of Somalia, harming the fishing areas and local industries. It's horrendous.

The latest IPCC report calls for an end to fossil fuels. The hope is that we can avert the worst and reach a sustainable economy within a couple of decades. If we don't do that, we will reach irreversible tipping points and the people most vulnerable — those least responsible for the crisis — will suffer first and most severely from the consequences. People living in the plains of Bangladesh, for example, where powerful cyclones cause extraordinary damage. People living in India, where the temperature can go over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. Many may witness parts of the world becoming unlivable.

There were recent reports by Israeli geoscientists condemning its government for not taking account of the effect of the policies they are pursuing, including developing new gas fields in the Mediterranean. They developed an analysis that indicated that, within a couple of decades, over the summer, the Mediterranean would be reaching the heat of a Jacuzzi, and the low-lying plains would be inundated. People would still live in Jerusalem and Ramallah, but flooding would impact much of the population. Why not change course to prevent this?

SC: The neoclassical economics underlying these injustices lives on in economic climate models known as "integrated assessment models," which come down to cost-benefit analyses based on the so-called social cost of carbon. With these projections, are economists seeking to gamble away the right of future generations to a decent life?

NC: We have no right to gamble with the lives of the people in South Asia, in Africa, or people in vulnerable communities in the United States. You want to do analyses like that in your academic seminar? OK, go ahead. But don't dare translate it into policy. Don't dare to do that.

There's a striking difference between physicists and economists. Physicists don't say, hey, let's try an experiment that might destroy the world, because it would be interesting to see what would happen. But economists do that. On the basis of neoclassical theories, they instituted a major revolution in world affairs in the early 1980s that took off with Carter, and accelerated with Reagan and Thatcher. Given the power of the United States compared with the rest of the world, the neoliberal assault, a major experiment in economic theory, had a devastating result. It didn't take a genius to figure it out. Their motto has been, "Government is the problem."

That doesn't mean you eliminate decisions; it just means you transfer them. Decisions still have to be made. If they're not made by government, which is, in a limited way, under popular influence, they will be made by concentrations of private power, which have no accountability to the public. And following the Friedman instructions, have no responsibility to the society that gave them the gift of incorporation. They have only the imperative of self-enrichment.

Margaret Thatcher then comes along and says there is no such thing as society, just atomized individuals who are somehow managing in the market. Of course, there is a small footnote that she didn't bother to add: for the rich and powerful, there is plenty of society. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, ALEC, all kinds of others. They get together, they defend themselves, and so on. There is plenty of society for them, just not for the rest of us. Most people have to face the ravages of the market. And, of course, the rich don't. Corporations count on a powerful state to bail them out every time there's some trouble. The rich have to have the powerful state — as well as its police powers — to be sure nobody gets in their way.

SC: Where do you see hope?

NC: Young people. In September, there was an international climate strike; hundreds of thousands of young people came out to demand an end to environmental destruction. Greta Thunberg recently stood up at the Davos meeting of the great and powerful and gave them a sober talk on what they're doing. "How dare you," she said, "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words." You have betrayed us. Those are words that should be seared into everyone's consciousness, particularly people of my generation who have betrayed them and continue to betray the youth of the world and the countries of the world.

We now have a struggle. It can be won, but the longer it's delayed, the more difficult it'll be. If we'd come to terms with this ten years ago, the cost would have been much less. If the U.S. hadn't been the only country to refuse the Kyoto Protocol, it would have been much easier. Well, the longer we wait, the more we'll betray our children and our grandchildren. Those are the choices. I don't have many years; others of you do. The possibility for a just and sustainable future exists, and there's plenty that we can do to get there before it's too late.

Copyright 2021 Stan Cox

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Noam Chomsky is the author of numerous best-selling political works, translated into scores of languages. He has been institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1976. His most recent books are Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance, with Marv Waterstone, and Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet, with Robert Pollin and C.J. Polychroniou.

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Stan Cox, senior scientist at The Land Institute, is the author of The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic, just published, and The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can, featuring a forward by Noam Chomsky.

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Chomsky and Prashad: The reality behind the US 'withdrawal' from Afghanistan

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was criminal. It was criminal because of the immense force used to demolish Afghanistan's physical infrastructure and to break open its social bonds.

On October 11, 2001, journalist Anatol Lieven interviewed the Afghan leader Abdul Haq in Peshawar, Pakistan. Haq, who led part of the resistance against the Taliban, was getting ready to return to Afghanistan under the cover of the U.S. aerial bombardments. He was, however, not pleased with the way the United States had decided to prosecute the war. "Military action by itself in the present circumstances is only making things more difficult—especially if this war goes on a long time and many civilians are killed," Abdul Haq told Lieven. The war would go on for 20 years, and at least 71,344 civilians would lose their lives during this period.

Abdul Haq told Lieven that "the best thing would be for the U.S. to work for a united political solution involving all the Afghan groups. Otherwise, there will be an encouragement of deep divisions between different groups, backed by different countries and badly affecting the whole region." These are prescient words, but Haq knew no one was listening to him. "Probably," he told Lieven, "the U.S. has already made up its mind what to do, and any recommendations by me will be too late."

After 20 years of the incredible destruction caused by this war, and after inflaming animosity between "all the Afghan groups," the United States has returned to the exact policy prescription of Abdul Haq: political dialogue.

Abdul Haq returned to Afghanistan and was killed by the Taliban on October 26, 2001. His advice is now out-of-date. In September 2001, the various protagonists in Afghanistan—including the Taliban—were ready to talk. They did so partly because they feared that the looming U.S. warplanes would open the doors to hell for Afghanistan. Now, 20 years later, the gulf between the Taliban and the others has widened. Appetite for negotiations simply does not exist any longer.

Civil War

On April 14, 2021, the speaker of Afghanistan's parliament—Mir Rahman Rahmani—warned that his country is on the brink of a "civil war." Kabul's political circles have been bristling with conversations about a civil war when the United States withdraws by September 11. This is why on April 15, during a press conference held in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Sharif Amiry of TOLOnews asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the possibility of a civil war. Blinken answered, "I don't think that it is in anyone's interest, to say the least, for Afghanistan to descend into a civil war, into a long war. And even the Taliban, as we hear it, has said it has no interest in that."

In fact, Afghanistan has been in a civil war for half a century, at least since the creation of the mujahideen—including Abdul Haq—to battle the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government (1978-1992). This civil war was intensified by the U.S. support of Afghanistan's most conservative and extreme right-wing elements, groups that would become part of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamist factions. Never once has the United States offered a path to peace during this period; instead, it has always shown an eagerness at each turn to use the immensity of the U.S. force to control the outcome in Kabul.

Withdrawal?

Even this withdrawal, which was announced in late April 2021 and began on May 1, is not as clear-cut as it seems. "It's time for American troops to come home," announced U.S. President Joe Biden on April 14, 2021. On the same day, the U.S. Department of Defense clarified that 2,500 troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11. In a March 14 article, meanwhile, the New York Times had noted that the U.S. has 3,500 troops in Afghanistan even though "[p]ublicly, 2,500 U.S. troops are said to be in the country." The undercount by the Pentagon is obscurantism. A report by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, furthermore, noted that the United States has about 16,000 contractors on the ground in Afghanistan. They provide a variety of services, which most likely include military support. None of these contractors—or the additional undisclosed 1,000 U.S. troops—are slated for withdrawal, nor will aerial bombardment—including drone strikes—end, and there will be no end to special forces missions either.

On April 21, Blinken said that the United States would provide nearly $300 million to the Afghanistan government of Ashraf Ghani. Ghani, who—like his predecessor Hamid Karzai—often appears to be more of a mayor of Kabul than the president of Afghanistan, is being outflanked by his rivals. Kabul is buzzing with talk of post-withdrawal governments, including a proposal by Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to form a government that he would lead and that would not include the Taliban. The U.S., meanwhile, has consented to the idea that the Taliban should have a role in the government; it is now being said openly that the Biden administration believes the Taliban would "govern less harshly" than it did from 1996 to 2001.

The United States, it appears, is willing to allow the Taliban to return to power with two caveats: first, that the U.S. presence remains, and second, that the main rivals of the United States—namely China and Russia—have no role in Kabul. In 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Chennai, India, where she proposed the creation of a New Silk Road Initiative that linked Central Asia through Afghanistan and via the ports of India; the purpose of this initiative was to cut off Russia from its links in Central Asia and to prevent the establishment of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which now runs all the way to Turkey.

Stability is not in the cards for Afghanistan. In January, Vladimir Norov, former foreign minister of Uzbekistan and the current secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), addressed a webinar organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. Norov said that Daesh or ISIS has been shifting its fighters from Syria to northern Afghanistan. This movement of extremist fighters is of concern not only to Afghanistan but also to Central Asia and to China. In 2020, the Washington Post revealed that the U.S. military had been providing aerial support for the Taliban as it made gains against ISIS fighters. Even if there is a peace deal with the Taliban, ISIS will destabilize it.

Forgotten Possibilities

Forgotten are the words of concern for Afghan women, words that provided legitimacy for the U.S. invasion in October 2001. Rasil Basu, a United Nations official, served as a senior adviser on women's development to the Afghan government from 1986 to 1988. The Afghan Constitution of 1987 provided women with equal rights, which allowed women's groups to struggle against patriarchal norms and fight for equality at work and at home. Because large numbers of men had died in the war, Basu told us, women went into several occupations. There were substantial gains for women's rights, including a rise in literacy rates. All this has been largely erased during the U.S. war over these past two decades.

Even before the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89, men who are now jockeying for power—such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—said that they would undo these gains. Basu remembered the shabanamas, notices that circulated to women and warned them to obey patriarchal norms (she submitted an opinion piece warning of this catastrophe to the New York Times, to the Washington Post, and to Ms. Magazine, all of whom rejected it).

Afghanistan's last communist head of government—Mohammed Najibullah (1987-1992)—submitted a National Reconciliation Policy, in which he put women's rights at the top of the agenda. It was rejected by the U.S.-backed Islamists, many of whom remain in positions of authority today.

No lessons have been learned from this history. The U.S. will "withdraw," but will also leave behind its assets to checkmate China and Russia. These geopolitical considerations eclipse any concern for the Afghan people.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief 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 book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

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Chomsky and Prashad: Why we need a tribunal on governments' crimes against humanity during COVID

Warnings that the oxygen supply was running out in the city of Manaus, Brazil, came to local and federal government officials a week before the calamity led to the deaths by asphyxiation of patients afflicted with COVID-19. No modern state—such as Brazil—should have to admit that it did nothing when these warnings came in and simply allowed its own citizens to die for no reason.

A Supreme Court judge and the solicitor general have demanded that the Brazilian government act, but this has not moved Jair Bolsonaro's administration. Everything about this story—detailed in Solicitor General José Levi do Amaral's report—reveals the rot of privatization and incompetence. The local health officials knew in early January that there was going to be an oxygen shortage imminently, but their warning did not carry any weight. A private contractor who had the job of providing the oxygen informed the government six days before the city ran out of this crucial supply in the fight against COVID-19. Even with the contractor's information, the government did nothing; it would later say—against all scientific advice—that early treatment for coronavirus did not work. The insensitivity and incompetence of the government of Bolsonaro have led General Prosecutor Augusto Aras to call for a special probe. As Bolsonaro dithered, the government of Venezuela, in an act of solidarity, sent a shipment of oxygen to Manaus.

The latest development caused by the government's toxic mix of privatization, ineptitude, and callousness should strengthen the case brought by Brazil's health care unions against Jair Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in July. But the problem is not the fault of Bolsonaro alone or even of Brazil. The problem lies in the neoliberal governments, governments in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and others, governments whose commitments to profit-making firms and billionaires far outstrip their commitment to their own citizens or to their own constitutions. What we are seeing in countries such as Brazil is a crime against humanity.

It is time to impanel a citizens' tribunal to investigate the utter failure of the governments of Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, and others to break the chain of the infection of COVID-19. Such a tribunal would collect the factual information that would ensure that we do not allow these states to tamper with the crime scene; the tribunal would provide the ICC with a firm foundation to do a forensic investigation of this crime against humanity when its own political suffocation is eased.

We should all be outraged. But, outrage is not a strong enough word.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief 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 book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Chomsky and Prashad: There are 3 major threats to life on Earth that we must address in 2021

Large parts of the world—outside of China and a few other countries—face a runaway virus, which has not been stopped because of criminal incompetence by governments. That these governments in wealthy countries cynically set aside the basic scientific protocols released by the World Health Organization and by scientific organizations reveals their malicious practice. Anything less than focused attention to managing the virus by testing, contact tracing, and isolation—and if this does not suffice, then imposing a temporary lockdown—is foolhardy. It is equally distressing that these richer countries have pursued a policy of "vaccine nationalism" by stockpiling vaccine candidates rather than a policy for the creation of a "people's vaccine." For the sake of humanity, it would be prudent to suspend intellectual property rules and develop a procedure to create universal vaccines for all people.

Although the pandemic is the principal issue on all of our minds, other major issues threaten the longevity of our species and of our planet. These include:

Nuclear Annihilation

In January 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, too close for comfort. The clock, created two years after the first atomic weapons were developed in 1945, is evaluated annually by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, who decide whether to move the minute hand or keep it in place. By the time they set the clock again, it may well be closer to annihilation. Already limited arms control treaties are being shredded as the major powers sit on close to 13,500 nuclear weapons (more than 90 percent of which are held by Russia and the United States alone). The yield of these weapons could easily make this planet even more uninhabitable. The United States Navy has already deployed low-yield tactical W76-2 nuclear warheads. Immediate moves toward nuclear disarmament must be forced onto the world's agenda. Hiroshima Day, commemorated each year on August 6, must become a more robust day of contemplation and protest.

Climate Catastrophe

A scientific paper published in 2018 came with a startling headline: "Most atolls will be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century because of sea-level rise exacerbating wave-driven flooding." The authors found that atolls from the Seychelles to the Marshall Islands are liable to vanish. A 2019 United Nations (UN) report estimated that 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Add to this the catastrophic wildfires and the severe bleaching of the coral reefs and it is clear that we no longer need to linger over clichés about one thing or another being a canary in the coal mine of climate catastrophe; the danger is not in the future, but in the present. It is essential for major powers—who utterly fail to shift from fossil fuels—to commit to the "common but differentiated responsibilities" approach established at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It is telling that countries such as Jamaica and Mongolia updated their climate plans to the UN before the end of 2020—as mandated by the Paris Agreement—even though these countries produce a tiny fraction of global carbon emissions. The funds that were committed to developing countries for their participation in the process have virtually dried up while external debt has ballooned. This shows a lack of basic seriousness from the "international community."

Neoliberal Destruction of the Social Contract

Countries in North America and Europe have eviscerated their public function as the state has been turned over to the profiteers and civil society has been commodified by private foundations. This means that the avenues for social transformation in these parts of the world have been grotesquely hampered. Terrible social inequality is the result of the relative political weakness of the working class. It is this weakness that enables the billionaires to set policies that cause hunger rates to rise. Countries should not be judged by the words written in their constitutions but by their annual budgets; the U.S., for example, spends almost $1 trillion (if you add the estimated intelligence budget) on its war machine, while it spends a fraction of this on the public good (such as on health care, something evident during the pandemic). The foreign policies of Western countries seem to be well lubricated by arms deals: the United Arab Emirates and Morocco agreed to recognize Israel on the condition that they could purchase $23 billion and $1 billion worth of U.S.-made weapons, respectively. The rights of the Palestinians, the Sahrawi, and the Yemeni people did not factor into these deals. The use of illegal sanctions by the United States against 30 countries including Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela has become a normal part of life, even during the COVID-19 public health crisis. It is a failure of the political system when the populations in the capitalist bloc are unable to force their governments—which are in many ways democratic in name only—to take a global perspective regarding this emergency. Rising rates of hunger reveal that the struggle for survival is the horizon for billions of people on the planet (all this while China is able to eradicate absolute poverty and largely eliminate hunger).

Nuclear annihilation and extinction by climate catastrophe are twin threats to the planet. Meanwhile, for victims of the neoliberal assault that has plagued the past generation, the short-term problems of sustaining their mere existence displace fundamental questions about the fate of our children and grandchildren.

Global problems of this scale require global cooperation. Pressured by the Third World states in the 1960s, the major powers agreed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968, although they rejected the deeply important Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order of 1974. The balance of forces available to drive such a class agenda on the international stage is no longer there; political dynamics in the countries of the West, in particular, but also in the larger states of the developing world (such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa) are necessary to change the character of the governments. A robust internationalism is necessary to pay adequate and immediate attention to the perils of extinction: extinction by nuclear war, by climate catastrophe, and by social collapse. The tasks ahead are daunting, and they cannot be deferred.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief 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 book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

'There is a strategy': Noam Chomsky dismantles the Trump-McConnell Republican party 'con game'

Even for Donald Trump, the remarks were almost staggering in their density. Last month, in an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Western liberalism has “outlived its purpose,” adding that “it has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.” When asked during the G20 summit in Osaka if he agreed, Trump offered this gleaming ruby: “[Putin] sees what’s going on—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. I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

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READ IT: More than 70 scholars join Noam Chomsky to sign petition to stop the US from interfering in Venezuelan politics

The following open letter—signed by 70 scholars on Latin America, political science, and history as well as filmmakers, civil society leaders, and other experts—was issued on Thursday, January 24, 2018 in opposition to ongoing intervention by the United States in Venezuela.

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Noam Chomsky Explains Exactly What's Wrong with Libertarianism

The following is the adapted text of an interview that first appeared in Modern Success magazine.

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Chomsky: Trump's #1 Goal as President

[This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.] 

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Chomsky: The Economic Facts of American Life in the 21st Century

The following is an excerpt from the new book Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power by Noam Chomsky and edited by Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott (Seven Stories Press, 2017). This excerpt was previously published at BillMoyers.com:

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Noam Chomsky: The Republican Party Is the 'Most Dangerous Organization in World History'

The following is an excerpt from the new book Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power by Noam Chomsky and edited by Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott (Seven Stories Press, 2017): 

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Noam Chomsky: Explaining the 'Collapse' That Gave Us Donald Trump

Noam Chomsky is a philosopher, social critic, political activist, and pioneering linguist. Having served as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955, Chomsky is the author of dozens of books, with his most recent book, Who Rules the World?, published in 2016. Chomsky spoke with HIR editors Kenneth Palmer and Richard Yarrow about his reflections on politics in the West, and what issues he thinks it has failed to properly address.

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Chomsky on America's Ugly History: FDR Was Fascist-Friendly Before WWII

This interview was done by AcTVism Munich this fall and has been edited for clarity.

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Trump in the White House: An Interview With Noam Chomsky

The following excerpt is from the forthcoming book Optimism Over Despair on Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change by Noam Chomsky and C.J. Polychroniou from Haymarket Books. This interview is copyright 2016 Noam Chomsky and C.J. Polychroniou.

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Noam Chomsky's 8-Point Rationale for Voting for the Lesser Evil Presidential Candidate

Among the elements of the weak form of democracy enshrined in the constitution, presidential elections continue to pose a dilemma for the left in that any form of participation or non participation appears to impose a significant cost on our capacity to develop a serious opposition to the corporate agenda served by establishment politicians. The position outlined below is that which many regard as the most effective response to this quadrennial Hobson’s choice, namely the so-called “lesser evil” voting strategy or LEV. Simply put, LEV involves, where you can, i.e. in safe states, voting for the losing third party candidate you prefer, or not voting at all. In competitive “swing” states, where you must, one votes for the “lesser evil” Democrat.

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Noam Chomsky: We Are Suffering the Major Downside of Corporate Globalization

The following is an interview with Noam Chomsky, conducted by James Resnick:

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Chomsky: Humanity Has Paid a Bloody Price for America's Mania to Control the World

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch. The second of two parts, it is excerpted from Noam Chomsky’s new book, Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books). Part 1 can be found by clicking here.

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Noam Chomsky: Who Rules the World?

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

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Noam Chomsky: There's a Huge Desire to Revamp Our Exploitive Economy, Bubbling in the Collective Unconscious

Philosopher, linguist, and social critic Noam Chomsky recently spoke about his experiences in campus activism and his vision of a just society to help inaugurate the Next System Project’s ambitious new teach-ins initiative taking place across the country. An initial signatory to the Next System statement, Chomsky explores the connections between culture, mass movements, and economic experiments—which in “mutually reinforcing” interaction, may build toward a next system more quickly than you may think. 

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Murder, Theft, Exploitation: How American Imperialism and Neoliberal Economics Conquered Latin America

The following is an excerpt from the book Year 501 by Noam Chomsky, part of a series of twelve new editions of Chomsky's classic works recently published by Haymarket Books: 

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Noam Chomsky: The Country Where Journalism Is Being Murdered

Journalists are the “watchdogs” of democracy, according to the European Court of Human Rights. Anyone who wants to control a country without being troubled by criticism tries to muzzle reporters, and unfortunately, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a past master at stifling the cries of freedom. As journalists from around the world converge on Antalya to cover this weekend’s Group of 20 summit, many of their Turkish colleagues are being denied accreditation.

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Noam Chomsky: Why Powerful Factions in America Are Hellbent on Spreading Mideast Chaos

On Saturday, Chomsky spoke before a sold-out audience of nearly 1,000 people at The New School in New York City. In a speech titled “On Power and Ideology,” he addressed the Republican efforts to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal. Below is an excerpted video of Chomsky's speech first broadcast by Democracy Now!, followed by a transcript of that segment. 

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Noam Chomsky: Why America Is the Gravest Threat to World Peace

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here.

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Noam Chomsky: How America's Way of Thinking About the World Naturally Produces Human Catastrophes

Tavis: Noam Chomsky is, of course, internationally recognized as one of the world’s most critically engaged public intellectuals. The MIT professor of linguistics has long been an unapologetic critic of both American foreign policy and the ideological role of the mainstream media.

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Noam Chomsky Reads the New York Times -- Explains Why 'Paper of Record' Is Pure Propaganda

A front-page article is devoted to a flawed story about a campus rape in the journal Rolling Stone, exposed in the leading academic journal of media critique. So severe is this departure from journalistic integrity that it is also the subject of the lead story in the business section, with a full inside page devoted to the continuation of the two reports. The shocked reports refer to several past crimes of the press: a few cases of fabrication, quickly exposed, and cases of plagiarism (“too numerous to list”). The specific crime of Rolling Stone is “lack of skepticism,” which is “in many ways the most insidious” of the three categories.

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Noam Chomsky: A Brief History of America's Cold-Blooded, Terroristic Treatment of Cuba

The establishment of diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba has been widely hailed as an event of historic importance. Correspondent John Lee Anderson, who has written perceptively about the region, sums up a general reaction among liberal intellectuals when he writes, in the New Yorker, that:

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Noam Chomsky: Can Civilization Survive Capitalism?

There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.”

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Noam Chomsky Slams West's Charlie Hebdo Outrage: 'Many Journalists Were Killed by Israel in Gaza Too'

After the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people including the editor and four other cartoonists, and the murder of four Jews at a kosher supermarket shortly after, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared "a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity."

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Noam Chomsky: Are We on the Verge of Total Self-Destruction?

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

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