Philosopher Noam Chomsky: ‘Trillions for Wall Street? Then you can also save the climate’

December 4, 2019 by No Comments

Noam Chomsky just turned 92 years old. Yet he publishes one book after another, each time steeped in the political-economic ideals that he has been proclaiming since his breakthrough as a linguist in the 1950s. Also in his last two works, Internationalism or Extinction (2019) in Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal (September 2020), he warns of the consequences of neoliberal policies and the concentration of wealth in the few.

In his latest book, Chomsky and Robert Pollin, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, tackle the climate crisis in an attempt to find a solution. Central question: to avoid an existential crisis, how can you stop using fossil fuels within thirty years, without people losing work and wealth?

According to Pollin, it is economically and technically feasible. Until 2050, public and private investments in clean energy and more efficient energy use will require $2.6 trillion annually worldwide. That money must come from, among other things, taxes on fossil fuels and polluting emissions (CO .).2), removed from defense, issuance of ‘green’ bonds and purchase of them by central banks.

According to Chomsky, the political feasibility is less evident. He denounces the energy giants, who have cast doubt on climate change for decades, and the American Republicans with their ruthless drive to maximize profits. At the same time, he draws hope from a new generation of activists who are ‘visibly’ shaking neoliberalism and pursuing climate-friendly economic reforms.

You argue in your latest book that a global Green New Deal is essential to save the planet.

“If we are not without harmful emissions by 2050, irreversible changes may take place in the environment, which in the long term will mean the destruction of human life. Robert Pollin analyzes in detail that such a Global Green New Deal is extremely feasible. A steady reduction in fossil energy use can stop the climate crisis and improve the living environment. A fairly small percentage of global GDP is enough, 2 to 3 percent. But much needs to be done. This is a World War II scale project. The stakes are different, the order of magnitude is not.”

Such a global program requires international cooperation. Who takes the lead?

“International cooperation is indeed necessary. The United States has been in charge for the last four years – in environmental destruction. Shockingly, we’ve spent four years running away from a solution. The Trump administration proved to be a committed adversary. Various measures have been taken in other parts of the world, although they have not always been effective.”

Pollin praises the European Green Deal target of 55 percent CO2reduction, but calls €260 billion per year for the period up to 2030 “sadly inadequate”. How do you see this European Union climate plan?

“It is certainly not enough. We must, step by step, move away from any use of fossil fuels. That means intensive further development of alternative energy sources, conducting research, and building more sustainably. We need to redesign cities, drastically change our agriculture.

“The destruction of our environment not only has a huge impact on global warming, but also leads to pandemics that can be much more deadly than the current ones. We have been lucky in that regard so far.”

Airline KLM received 3.4 billion euros from corona support without strict requirements for greening. Should state aid go hand in hand with far-reaching sustainability requirements, as IMF director Kristalina Georgieva argued?

“The initiative must come from governments or international organizations. Of course you can do something about sustainability locally, even in your own home. But the larger projects will have to go much further. The move away from fossil fuels must be an international project, initiated and coordinated by governments.”

The IMF has always wanted fiscal discipline, and is now calling for government spending to stimulate the economy. What do you think of that?

“The main question is: where does that money go? The US has spent tens of trillions of dollars in recent months to save Wall Street. Saving the climate costs a fraction of that – emitting less greenhouse gases in 2030, being climate neutral by 2050, all the goals of the Green New Deal.

“During the previous crisis, we also saw that the US Treasury Department intervened by pumping huge amounts into the economy. What happend? Those who caused the crisis were rescued, but the working class lost homes and jobs. That was denied and that turned out to be a breeding ground for demagogues like Trump. But the problems run much deeper. Forty years of neoliberal policies have concentrated wealth in the upper echelon, leading to stagnation or decline for the rest of the population.”

You see capitalism as a catastrophe. But you could also say that it has largely lifted countries like China and India out of poverty.

“In China, the government is doing terrible things, but a lot of remarkable things are also happening. The country is a frontrunner in the development and production of sustainable energy. And it survived the pandemic wonderfully. Normal life has been picked up and China’s GDP is even rising. The IMF predicts a worldwide GDP decline, but not in China: about 5 percent growth in the last quarter. At the same time, China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, although its per capita emissions are far below those in the US. We do not know whether it will succeed, but China has announced that it will be climate neutral by 2050. And it has promised free vaccines to poorer countries.

“Something like that should be tackled internationally, but what is the West and especially the US doing? It tries to hinder China’s development. The Trump administration is banning US investment in Chinese companies that have a military connection — pretty much all of them are. That’s insane, we should work together. Yes, pernicious things are happening in China, and let’s resist them, but let’s not stop their development.”

Meanwhile, President Trump sees stock market records as a measure of the strength of the economy.

“Stock markets show how investors estimate the probability of future profits.

“Those indices are now almost completely separate from the real economy, mainly due to government intervention. Shares are mainly owned by wealthy people and companies. Indeed, people also benefit from high stock prices through their pension, but that is a small percentage. So it is again a gift for the rich.”

Will the stock market reflect the real economy better in the future?

“It cannot go on like this. It’s very similar to the fossil fuel companies. They know they can’t go on like this, but are only thinking about making as much profit as possible by financing climate denial.

“Forty years ago, scientists at the oil and gas company ExxonMobil discovered that global warming is having a devastating effect on the environment. The company’s leadership did nothing with their findings. It wasn’t until famed geophysicist James Hansen gave a powerful presentation on the impacts of climate change in 1988 that ExxonMobil responded. Not by denying the facts, that would be too easy, but by sowing doubt. And they still do it to protect their short-term gains.”

Does the new president Joe Biden give hope for the climate?

“That depends on the Democratic party. On the one side is the party leadership, on the other side are predominantly young voters who favor a more social-democratic direction. That direction is called “radical” in the US, but it involves things like general health care and free higher education.

“The Democratic party wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a ‘low-carbon’ economy. That does mean: continue with fossil fuels. That is a fight within the party. The future largely depends on the direction she chooses.”

What will it mean for Biden’s clout if Republicans retain their majority in the Senate?

“I am more than concerned. A Republican Senate makes the country ungovernable. And in two years, Republican leaders like Trump, Pence, Pompeo and McConnell will come and say, look how the Democrats screwed up, give us back the power.”

Are you optimistic about the direction of society? Can you save the planet?

“We know how to save the planet. We know it is feasible. Many, mostly young, activists are doing everything they can to achieve those goals. One of them, 17-year-old Greta Thunberg, spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“She gave a calm, factual speech describing what is happening with the climate. And then she said to the public, world leaders from politics and business: You betrayed us. And that’s right, they betray this and the next generation.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way, we have a choice. Decisive action can turn the tide. So is there any reason to be optimistic? Yes of course. There are opportunities, we just have to grab them.”