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Chomsky on Climate: We’re fucked without massive changes

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[From ZCommunications | Hitting Society With A Sledgehammer by Noam Chomsky | ZNet Article]


First of all, there is a very broad scientific consensus on this. There are skeptics at both ends of this, bothends! If you look at the public debate it is between the consensus and a small group of people including a couple of scientists who don’t think it is that serious. There is a third group that is omitted, a much larger group of scientists. For example, the Climate Change Study Group right here [at MIT] ( What they have been arguing for years is that the consensus is too conservative. That it is nowhere near alarmist enough. And time after time they have been proven right. Time after time the consensus has been proven much too optimistic. The consensus is bad enough, incidentally. It means we are falling over a cliff. But it is nowhere near what the likelihood is, what the serious skeptics are saying, those who say “it is a lot worse than you think.”  And the serious skeptics include people in the major international organizations and others quite mainstream, like the climate group right here…very good scientists.

We see it all the time, like a couple of weeks ago, when the arctic ice melts over the summer, and when it stopped melting there were measurements of how much it had melted, and it was dramatic enough to make the front page of the New York Times. When you read the story it tells you where we are. The first half of the story said the arctic ice is melting a lot faster than the consensus predicted, the computer models were too optimistic, and a little talk about the effects of this. It has an escalating effect. More dark waters exposed results in more absorption of sun rays and less reflection. It speeds up the process. They talked about it. That is the first half of the article. The second half of the article is what a great opportunity it is, more mining, more extraction of fossil fuels, i.e., lots of ways to make the problem worse, so let’s celebrate. If somebody was watching this from outer space they would think “you guys are insane.”  You are marching toward disaster and you are very happy because you can make it worse.

Listen to the presidential debates. Nobody talks about climate change, you don’t talk about that. But both candidates were euphoric about what they call “energy independence.”  I don’t know what is supposed to be so great about energy independence, and in fact it is mostly a joke, but what does it mean?  It means, they claim, we have a hundred years of fossil fuels domestically or in Canada that we can use to create a greater disaster. That is the excitement. What kind of world will it be in a hundred years?  Well, we don’t ask that question.

When you look at tar sands and fracking and these disputes, there is plenty of opposition. Most of it is local, “you are destroying our water supplies,” and things like that, which is all true. But the real problem is global. Unless those fossil fuels are left in the ground we’re in real trouble. And that is recognized by some groups around the world. Rather strikingly, mostly by indigenous groups. You look around the world, the indigenous societies, tribal societies and first nations, whatever you want to call them, these groups have been pressing very hard for paying attention to what is sometimes called “the rights of nature,” which is really the right of survival for species, including us. And in the countries where they have significant influence, maybe a majority, or at least they are in the political system, they are actually doing something about it. For example, in Ecuador where there is a large indigenous population, the government is pursuing a program; they are appealing to the rich industrial countries for aid to enable them to keep the oil in the ground. They have fairly substantial oil reserves and say “we’d prefer not to use them,” but of course it is cutting down our opportunities for development so help us out so we can develop without destroying the world, and destroying the Amazon, and so on.

In Bolivia there is actually a “Rights of Nature” provision in the Constitution. You go to Australia it is the same thing. I happened to be there not long ago and the indigenous groups, the remnants of the indigenous groups, mostly exterminated, they are pressing very hard not to lift uranium. There are large uranium deposits in the areas where they still have their kinds of reservations and they say “leave it in the ground.”  They have a whole history of what we call myth, I mean a kind of aural tradition about the danger of allowing the yellow plague to escape, and what will happen. And they are right. You lift that uranium and you’ll be in real trouble. In this case it is not climate change it is probable nuclear war. And it is the same everywhere.

All over the world there are wars going on over mining. In India, half the country is in flames. There is a major war in the tribal areas, basically, where there are plenty of resources to mine but there are communities who live there and don’t want to see their lives destroyed. And many of them do not want to see the species destroyed. I’ve been somewhat involved in the same things in Colombia, my daughter much more so…same kinds of problems. And they have a kind of sensibility that the sophisticated, educated people don’t have, and if we don’t get it we are in bad trouble. So that is serious.

I mean even the consensus is serious. The likelihood, which is worse than the consensus, is much more dangerous. We are very close to the point which is regarded generally as a kind of tipping point, you know, 2 degrees centigrade rise in temperature. We are very close to that now, and it won’t take long to get there. If we get there it could be irreversible. In fact, the International Energy Association ( is predicting we are likely to get to 4 degrees centigrade, and nobody knows what that would mean. Boston would be under water, things like that.


he other problem, which is also quite serious, is, first of all, there is enormous corporate propaganda, huge corporate propaganda to try to marginalize the question or suppress it, in all kinds of ways – publishing fake studies, everything. That is why the party programs, which pretty much reflect corporate propaganda, they say practically nothing about it. The Republican Party program this time around I don’t think even mentioned climate change. The Democratic program sort of had a couple of empty words about it, but no policy proposals. They say openly, it is not a secret, that they are carrying out (they don’t call it “propaganda”) publicity campaigns to try to make people understand that there is no problem. And you can see why the Koch Brothers would believe that, along with the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce, and so on. They themselves, the individuals themselves, may be contributing to environmental causes, but in their institutional role as business leaders they are concerned with short-term profit. And it is true that if you pay attention to things like climate change you might harm short-term profit. Incidentally, that is not obviously true; we could come back to that. Under some kinds of calculations it is true, and they do not want to bother with it. And that is having an effect on the population. The majority of the population still thinks it is a problem, but it is declining, and it is less than many other countries. It’s one of the reasons the U.S. drags its feet in international conferences, partly it is just business power, partly it is because the popular constituency isn’t as big as it should be. (So, other places like Europe are way ahead of us on this).

And they have an argument. This takes us back to our earlier discussion. And the argument is convincing. The argument is that it will cut back growth. Well, should we have growth?  Suppose you are a majority of the population which has been subjected to the neoliberal assault (that we were talking about earlier). Well, you want things to get better for you, you are in bad shape. And the mantra is “growth.”

Q:  Is growth a code word for “profits”?

NC:  When it is used by the business world, yes. But when it is used in public propaganda it says it is a way for you to have food on the table. So, it is a code word for that. But it is not the way to get food on the table. The point is there is no alternative presented. So they are given a choice between “Can I improve my circumstances, can my kid get a job, can I get food on the table, can I have some security.” That is one side. Or, shall I worry about global warming?   Given that choice, people are pretty likely to say “Look, I want the things I need and my family needs.”  It is a totally false choice, but that is the way it is presented. And that is a serious problem.

That is like the other problems, it is like “right to work” versus” right to scrounge.”  You’ve got to break through the doctrinal shackles if you want to understand these things. Alone, it is pretty hard to do that. That takes organization, association, etc., what the “Wobblies” in the old days used to call “talking to your neighbors.”  You’ve got to talk to your neighbors. You have to be with other people and think things through, and so on. That is mostly what the unions were for, including “the Wobblies.”

As that shatters, people are left on their own, and then you can easily succumb to this propaganda which has a certain level of veracity to it. Even the most vulgar propaganda systems usually have some truth in them. And this one has some truth in it, and it can sell. Under those circumstances it has been difficult to develop a popular movement on a sufficient scale to overcome the pressures that are leading us to march off the cliff.

Read the entire article here: ZCommunications | Hitting Society With A Sledgehammer by Noam Chomsky | ZNet Article


Written by Sean Bozkewycz

January 25, 2013 at 13:18

Posted in Uncategorized

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