Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Noam Chomsky: There’s Reason for Hope

from  JstorDaily:

The celebrated linguist and scholar on his new book on global climate change, the mediated reality of Fox News, and the economics of the Green New Deal.

As the world faces an existential crisis–climate change, not the global coronavirus pandemic–it is fitting that Noam Chomsky, arguably the most influential public intellectual of the last half-century, is fixing his attention on a solution. Chomsky, perhaps best known as the father of modern linguistics, has spent decades speaking truth to power as a vocal anti-war activist, from the Vietnam War to the drone strikes under Barack Obama. And while he is associated with the American Left, he prefers to align with the “libertarian socialist” camp and has been deeply critical of both major U.S. parties.
In his new book, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal, Chomsky and renowned economist Robert Pollin answer questions posed by C.J. Polychroniou on the global climate catastrophe, spelling out what, exactly, could happen if we do not take immediate action to stop carbon emissions. In the book, Chomsky tackles the economic arguments related to the Green New Deal: how neoliberal economic policies since Ronald Reagan got us into the current mess, and why the new proposal actually will be good for American workers.

Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal

I spoke with him over Zoom from his home office in Arizona, and our conversation touched on how climate change will create new jobs, the biggest myths about the Green New Deal, and why the Republicans in Congress are worse than the Nazis.

Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Hope Reese: One of the things you’ve written is that people are going to have to be convinced of the urgency of the threats we face. How can that happen?
Noam Chomsky: If you look at the coverage of the conventions, there’s not one word about it, not a word. People are incapable of imagining what is not immediately in front of their eyes. So, if they see a storm, they might think about it. But when they see that the Greenland ice sheet has reached the point of irreversible melting, it sort of shoots off into the back of their minds. It’s going to destroy the species unless we overcome this.
You argue that we need to revive the labor movement. Can you talk about the importance of the labor movement in connection to the climate crisis?
Well, look over modern history. The labor movement has been in the forefront of just about every significant action for social change, reform, and so on. The U.S. labor history happens to be unusually harsh and brutal. Well, the labor movement has been very vibrant, but it’s repeatedly been crushed by force. And that was true in the 1920s: it had virtually disappeared. The Depression hit in 1929, and it took about five years for the labor movement to start to revive. And then it led the thrust toward the New Deal, which we’ve been living with since.
When Reagan and Thatcher came in, they understood this very well. Their first actions were to destroy the labor movement––illegal strike-breaking under Reagan, which was pretty effective. But nowadays the labor movement is quite weak. It could reconstitute. And if it does, it should be in the forefront of this, so these are issues that immediately affect working people.

One example: Even before the pandemic, the oil and gas prices were sharply declining. Companies were going out of business, wells were not being closed, which is very dangerous because they leak methane and so on. There are about 100,000 workers involved in this. They can be put to work immediately and constructively just to close the wells. Okay? Make sure that the wells are closed and not leaking huge quantities of methane. Not a huge sum of money, but it requires some concern for working people and that’s lacking.
The Democrats gave up on the working class 50 years ago. The Republicans are violently opposed to working people. They pretend otherwise, but it’s clear from what they do, so nobody’s pushing it. Actually, you can read it in the business press, Bloomberg Businessweek proposes it, another picks it up. Then, there’s the Green New Deal, which is essential for survival. One strong component of it is engaging working people.
How does that happen under the Green New Deal?
There’s a huge amount of work to be done simply in retrofitting homes, construction development, and mass transportation. All of these activities engage a huge part of the labor force, installing solar heaters, solar panels, and so on. Well, that should be a large part of the Green New Deal. But of course, it takes legislation, initiative, popular movements to press it. These things are happening, but not on a sufficient scale to make it work.
I mean, the Republican Party programs, of course, are just asking for total disaster and calamity. And the Democrats have a somewhat better program. In fact, the best on paper, the best program that’s ever been produced. But meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee’s cutting back on it. So, for example, both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris proposed cutting subsidies on the fossil fuel industries, which is insane. The democratic establishment cut it out of the program—over the objections of both the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate.
This is the kind of thing that takes lots of public activism to overcome. The Clintonite Democrats are basically moderate Republicans. They don’t want to see anything happen, and they control the “Party of Radicals,” which means that there has to be a lot of effort to get the chance to get a serious change.
In the book, you say that dismantling capitalism might be ideal, but there’s a problem with doing that now. How so?
It’s just out of the question. In order to overturn capitalism, you have to have huge masses of the population committed to overturning all of the basic institutions of society and creating new ones. Do you see any sign of that anywhere?
I believe you wrote that we just don’t have the time for it, in the face of this immediate crisis…
We have to work on it, but you have to create the situation. You can’t do it by snapping your fingers. Talking about getting rid of capitalism is like saying, “why don’t we have total peace on earth with everyone loving each other?” It’d be nice.
What role does the media play in the public’s perception of the climate crisis? In light of fake news and a fractured media landscape, can we come to an agreement about what’s going on?
Well, it’s not entirely a fractured landscape. There’ve been good studies of media outreach by the business press and peer research and so on, and the results are pretty interesting. So one major study took about 30 media, print, TV, radio, the full range, and asked people which ones they go to, and they divided into Republicans and Democrats. Among the Democrats, it was a pretty broad spectrum, most of them. Among Republicans, it was very narrow, focused on Fox News, Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh. That’s what they hear. Now, what they hear is what you just said: fake news. Everything’s invented, Rush Limbaugh, four corners of deceit, science, academia, government, and media. They thrive on the deceit. Well, if half the population has that drummed into their heads every day, every year, you’re going to get stranger attitudes.

No comments:

Post a Comment