Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal
Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal
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Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal

The Political Economy of Saving the Planet

Noam Chomsky, Robert Pollin

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Unavailable in your region
📖 eBook - ePub

Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal

The Political Economy of Saving the Planet

Noam Chomsky, Robert Pollin

About This Book

The environmental crisis under way is unique in human history. It is a true existential crisis. Those alive today will decide the fate of humanity. Meanwhile, the leaders of the most powerful state in human history are dedicating themselves with passion to destroying the prospects for organized human life. At the same time, there is a solution at hand, which is the Green New Deal. Putting meat on the bones of the Green New Deal starts with a single simple idea: we have to absolutely stop burning fossil fuels to produce energy within the next 30 years at most; and we have to do this in a way that also supports rising living standards and expanding opportunities for working people and the poor throughout the world. This version of a Green New Deal program is, in fact, entirely realistic in terms of its purely economic and technical features. The real question is whether it is politically feasible. Chomsky and Pollin examine how we can build the political force to make a global Green New Deal a reality.

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Information

Publisher
Verso
Year
2020
ISBN
9781788739870
Over the last couple of decades, the challenge of climate change has emerged as perhaps the most serious existential crisis facing humanity but, at the same time, as the most difficult public issue for governments worldwide. Noam, given what we know so far about the science of climate change, how would you summarize the climate change crisis vis-à-vis other crises that humanity has faced in the past?1
Noam Chomsky: We cannot overlook the fact that humans today are facing awesome problems that are radically unlike any that have arisen before in human history. They have to answer the question whether organized human society can survive in any recognizable form. And the answers cannot be long delayed.
The tasks ahead are indeed new, and dire. History is all too rich in records of horrendous wars, indescribable torture, massacres, and every imaginable abuse of fundamental rights. But the threat of destruction of organized human life in any recognizable or tolerable form—that is entirely new. It can only be overcome by common efforts of the entire world, though of course responsibility is proportional to capacity, and elementary moral principles demand that a special responsibility falls on those who have been primarily responsible for creating the crises over centuries, enriching themselves while creating a grim fate for humanity.
These issues arose dramatically on August 6, 1945. Though the Hiroshima bomb itself, despite its horrendous effects, did not threaten human survival, it was apparent that the genie was out of the bottle and that technological developments would soon reach that stage—as they did, in 1953, with the explosion of thermonuclear weapons. That led to the setting of the Doomsday Clock by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists at two minutes to midnight—meaning global termination—a dread setting to which it returned after Trump’s first year in office, describing the next year as “the new abnormal.”2 Prematurely. In January 2020, thanks largely to Trump’s leadership, the clock was moved closer to midnight than ever before: 100 seconds, dropping minutes for seconds. I won’t run through the grim record, but anyone who does will recognize that it is a near miracle that we have survived thus far, and the race to self-destruction is now accelerating.
There have been efforts to avert the worst, with some success, notably four major arms control treaties: ABM, INF, Open Skies, and New START. The Bush II administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002. The Trump administration withdrew from the INF Treaty in August 2019, timing its withdrawal almost exactly with Hiroshima Day. It has also indicated that it will not maintain the Open Skies or New START Treaties.3 That will mean that all bars are down and we can race toward terminal war.
The general “reasoning”—if one can use that word for total madness—is illustrated by the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, followed predictably by Russia’s own withdrawal. This major treaty was negotiated by Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987, greatly reducing the threat of war in Europe, which would quickly become global, hence terminal. The US claims that Russia is violating the treaty, as the media regularly report—failing, however, to add that Russia claims that the US is violating the treaty, a claim taken seriously enough by US scientists that the authoritative Bulletin of Atomic Scientists devoted a major article to expounding it.4
In a sane world, the two sides would move to diplomacy, bringing in outside experts to evaluate the claims, and then reaching a settlement, as Reagan and Gorbachev did in 1987. In an insane world the treaty would be abrogated and both sides would merrily proceed to develop new and even more dangerous and destabilizing weapons, such as hyper-sonic missiles, against which there is no currently imaginable defense (if there are defenses against any major weapons systems, a dubious prospect).
Our world.
Like the INF Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty was a Republican initiative. The idea was proposed by President Eisenhower, and implemented by President George H. W. Bush (Bush I). That was the pre-Gingrich Republican Party, still a sane political organization. Two respected political analysts of the American Enterprise Institute, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, describe the Republican Party since Newt Gingrich’s takeover in the ’90s as not a normal political party but a “radical insurgency” that has largely abandoned parliamentary politics.5 Under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, that has only become more evident—but he has ample company in Party circles.
The abrogation of the INF Treaty elicited little reaction apart from in arms control circles. But not everyone is looking the other way. The military industry can scarcely conceal its delight over the huge new contracts to develop means to destroy everything, and the more far-sighted are also developing longer-term plans to gain fat contracts to develop possible (if unlikely) means of defense against the monstrosities they are now free to develop.
The Trump administration wasted no time in flaunting its abrogation of the treaty. Within a few weeks, the Pentagon tersely announced the successful launching of an intermediate range missile violating the INF Treaty—virtually inviting others to join in, with all of the obvious consequences.6
Former Defense Secretary William Perry, who has spent much of his career on nuclear issues and is not given to exaggerated rhetoric, declared some time ago that he was “terrified,” in fact doubly terrified—both by the increasing threat of war and the slight attention it receives. We should in fact be triply terrified, adding that the race to terminal destruction is being carried out by people who are fully aware of the horrendous consequences of what they are doing. Much the same is true of their dedicated efforts to destroy the environment that can sustain life.
The net spreads wide. It is not just the policy makers, the Trump administration being particularly egregious and dangerous. It reaches to the big banks that are pouring money into fossil fuel extraction, and the editors of the best journals running article after article about the wondrous new technology that has propelled the US to the lead in producing the substances which will destroy us unless radically curbed, all without mention of the terrible word “climate.”
Scientists seeking extraterrestrial intelligence have been struck by the Fermi paradox: Where are they? Astrophysics suggests that there should be intelligent life elsewhere. Maybe they are right; there really is intelligent life, and when it discovers the strange inhabitants of Planet Earth, it has the sense to stay far away.
Let’s keep however to the second major threat to survival, environmental catastrophe.
It was not understood at the time, but the early post– World War II period marked a turning point in a second threat to survival. Geologists generally take the early post– World War II period to be the onset of the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in which human activity is having a profound, and devastating, impact on the environment, a judgment on timing confirmed most recently in May 2019 by the working group on the Anthropocene.7 By now evidence of the severity and imminence of the threat is overwhelming—and is quietly recognized even by the most extreme deniers, as we see below.
How are the two existential crises related? A simple answer is given by Australian climate scientist Andrew Glikson: “Climate scientists are no longer alone in having to cope with the global emergency, whose implications have reached the defence establishment, yet the world continues to spend near to $1.8 trillion each year on the military, a resource that needs to be diverted to the protection of life on Earth. As the portents for major conflicts—in the China Sea, Ukraine, and the Middle East are rising—who will defend the Earth?”8
Who indeed.
Climate scientists are certainly paying close attention and issuing frank and explicit warnings. Oxford professor of physics Raymond Pierrehumbert, a lead author of the frightening 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (since superseded by more urgent warnings), opens his review of existing circumstances and options by writing: “Let’s get this on the table right away, without mincing words. With regard to the climate crisis, yes, it’s time to panic … We are in deep trouble.” He then lays out the details carefully and scrupulously, reviewing the possible technical fixes and their very serious problems, concluding that “there’s no plan B.”9 We must move to zero net carbon emissions, and fast.
The deep concerns of climate scientists are readily available to those who don’t prefer to hide their heads in the sand. CNN celebrated Thanksgiving 2019 with a detailed (and accurate) report of an important study that had just appeared in Nature on tipping points—moments at which the dire effects of global warming will become irreversible. The authors conclude that consideration of tipping points and their interactions reveals that “we are in a climate emergency and strengthens this year’s chorus of calls for urgent climate action … The risk and urgency of the situation are acute … The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action—not just words—must reflect this.”10
The authors warn further that “atmospheric CO2 is already at levels last seen around four million years ago, in the Pliocene epoch. It is rapidly heading towards levels last seen some 50 million years ago—in the Eocene—when temperatures were up to 14°C higher than they were in pre-industrial times.” And what happened over very long periods then is now compressed by human action to a few years. They explain further that existing forecasts, while grim enough, have failed to take into account the effects of tipping points.
They conclude that “the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best. Hence we might already have lost control of whether tipping happens. A saving grace is that the rate at which damage accumulates from tipping—and hence the risk posed—could still be under our control to some extent.”
To some extent, and there is no time to lose.
Meanwhile the world watches as we proceed toward a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. We are approaching perilously close to the global temperatures of 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were six to nine meters higher than today.11 Truly unimaginable prospects, even discounting the effect of more frequent and violent storms, which will put paid to whatever wreckage is left.
One of many ominous developments that might fill the gap between 120,000 years ago and today is the melting of the vast West Antarctic ice sheet. Glaciers are sliding into the sea five times faster than in the 1990s, with more than 100 meters of ice thickness lost in some areas due to ocean warming, and those losses doubling every decade. Complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea levels by about five meters, drowning coastal cities, and with utterly devastating effects elsewhere—the low-lying plains of Bangladesh, for example.12
Only one of the many concerns of those who are paying attention to what is happening before our eyes.
Dire warnings from climate scientists abound. Israeli climatologist Baruch Rinkevich captures the general mood succinctly: “After us, the deluge, as the saying goes. People don’t fully understand what we’re talking about here … They don’t understand that everything is expected to change: the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the landscapes we see, the oceans, the seasons, the daily routine, the quality of life. Our children will have to adapt or become extinct … That’s not for me. I’m happy I won’t be here.”13
Rinkevich and his Israeli colleagues discuss various likely “horror scenarios” for Israel, but a few are optimistic. One observes that “Israel is definitely not the Maldives and it is not expected to be submerged anytime soon.” Good news. They generally agree, however, that the region may become mostly unlivable: “Cities are liable to be abandoned in Iran, Iraq and in developing countries, but in our country it will be possible to live.” And although the temperature of the Mediterranean may approach 40ºC (i.e., 104ºF), “the maximum permitted temperature in a Jacuzzi,” nevertheless, “humans will not be boiled alive like sea urchins and red-mouthed rock shells, but there could be mortal danger during the height of the bathing season.”
So there is hope for Israel under the most optimistic forecasts, if not for the region.
The essential observation is made by Professor Alon Tal: “We are aggravating the condition of the planet. The Jewish state has looked humanity’s ultimate challenge in the eyes and said: ‘Forget it.’ What will we tell our children? That we wanted a higher quality of living? That we had to remove all the natural gas from the sea because it was so economically profitable? Those are pathetic explanations. We’re talking about the most fateful issue there is, especially in the Mediterranean Basin, and the government of Israel isn’t capable of appointing a minister who cares that we are simply going to be cooked.”14
Tal’s comment is correct, and deeply troubling. What is it about humans that makes them able to accept “pathetic explanations” or just say “forget it” while looking “humanity’s ultimate challenge in the eyes”? That’s the response whether it is gradual impending environmental catastrophe or the opportunity to construct new means to destroy us all at once. What is it about humans that enables them to spend $1.8 trillion on the military—the US far in the lead—while not asking, “Who will defend the earth?”
While Tal’s observation generalizes, it is somewhat too strong. There are countries, and localities, where serious efforts are being undertaken to act before it is too late. And it is not too late. The answer to the mad race to produce more means of self-destruction is obvious enough, at least in words; implementation is another matter. And there is still time to mitigate the impending climate catastrophe if a firm commitment is undertaken. That is surely not impossible if the facts can be faced. In 1941, the US faced a serious though incomparably lesser threat, and responded with a voluntary mass mobilization so overwhelming that it greatly impressed Nazi Germany’s economic czar Albert Speer, who lamented that totalitarian Germany could not match the voluntary subordination to the national task in the more free societies.
Some estimate that the challenge, while immense, does not impose burdens comparable to those of 1941. Economist Jeffrey Sachs, in a careful study, concludes that “contrary to some commentaries, decarbonization will not require a grand mobilization of the U.S. economy on par with World War II. The incremental costs of decarbonization above our normal energy costs will amount to 1 to 2 percent of U.S. GDP per year during the period to 2050. By contrast, during World War II, federal outlays soared to 43 percent of GDP from the prewar level of 10 percent of GDP in 1940.”15
It can be done, but now we face a cruel irony of history. Just at the time when all must act together, with dedication, to confront humanity’s “ultimate challenge,” the leaders of the most powerful state in human history, in full awareness of what they are doing, are dedicating themselves with passion to radical escalation of the twin threats to survival. The government is in the hands of the only major “conservative party in the world that rejects the need to tackle climate change” and is also opening the door to the development of new and more threatening weapons of mass destruction.16
The members of the astonishing troika who have the fate of the world in their hands are the Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser, and the Chief—from the perspective of the world, the Godfather; international relations resemble the Mafia to an extent rarely recognized. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is an Evangelical Christian whose acuity as a political analyst is revealed by his belief that God may have sent Trump to the world to save Israel from Iran.17
The National Security Adviser until his September 2019 resignation (or firing, depended on whom you choose to believe), was John Bolton, who has left his minions in place. Bolton had a simple doctrine: the US must accept no external limits on its freedom of action—no treaties, no international agreements or conventions—and therefore must ensure that every country will have maximal opportunity to develop the means to destroy us all—the US in the lead, for what that’s worth. He also flaunts a corollary: bomb Iran because it will never agree to negotiate on anything.18 This prescription for action, and predication, was confidently issued while Iran was neg...

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APA 6 Citation
Chomsky, N., & Pollin, R. (2020). Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal ([edition unavailable]). Verso. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1692969/climate-crisis-and-the-global-green-new-deal-the-political-economy-of-saving-the-planet-pdf (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Chomsky, Noam, and Robert Pollin. (2020) 2020. Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal. [Edition unavailable]. Verso. https://www.perlego.com/book/1692969/climate-crisis-and-the-global-green-new-deal-the-political-economy-of-saving-the-planet-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Chomsky, N. and Pollin, R. (2020) Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal. [edition unavailable]. Verso. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1692969/climate-crisis-and-the-global-green-new-deal-the-political-economy-of-saving-the-planet-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Chomsky, Noam, and Robert Pollin. Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal. [edition unavailable]. Verso, 2020. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.
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