In this collection of interviews and speeches the prolific Chomsky offers his insights on two critical items. Asked, what are the primary issues that should concern us?, he replies, “Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe.” There seems to be an idea in the air lately (see Naomi Klein’s book on climate change, This Changes Everything) that capitalism is incompatible with democracy and survival of our civilization. Chomsky elucidates how the most ruthless in the capitalist game come to power and overinfluence the governmental and institutional agenda in the U.S., indeed the planet. Like other forms of addiction the quest for endless wealth is characterized by denial of information that might bring to light the addiction. And opposition to any policy that might infringe on accumulation behavior, especially sharing.
The possession of nuclear warheads, and their hair-trigger alert status are an extreme threat to our survival. An accidental launch is all too likely when only minutes are available to evaluate reports of a launch by some adversary. Numerous incidents have brought us perilously close to annihilation yet the decision makers refuse to move toward even discussing the issue. As Einstein remarked, “The splitting of the atom changed everything except the way we think… and so we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” We’ve been incredibly lucky so far. Even if we took these civilization-ending warheads off hair-trigger, we’d still have the dangerous situation of their existence. And since the nations who possess nuclear weapons fail to live up to their obligations under the NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty) to phase out the weapons, non-possessing states will sooner or later feel obligated, for their own security, to avoid intimidation from the armed states, to build their own. And since the U.S. seems to see nuclear weapons as essential to “security”, or should I say to the capacity to dominate, then obviously this stance contributes to proliferation.
A nuclear war, even a limited exchange, say between India and Pakistan, a real possibility, would probably end life, at least human life, in the northern hemisphere. A full exchange would likely create a nuclear winter for the whole planet since the debris put into the atmosphere would block the sun for months. This has been common knowledge for years yet the powers that be continue business as usual, unwilling to risk the advantageous power, profits and privilege the present order bestows on them. The accumulation addiction trumps common sense. The desire to dominate rather than share leaves no room for non-violent conflict resolution for in that endeavor the sought-after end is win-win, not win-lose. Win-win would make war far less likely, maybe obsolete, but that would limit the addiction. Carl Sagan has said that if we were to encounter an advanced alien culture they would be peaceful, for those who survive the evolution of intelligence, with its inevitable splitting of the atom, will have ended war by mastering conflict resolution.
The other item, environmental catastrophe, consists of climate change and all its implications for the 6+ billion people subject to its effects. Also, the hysterical pursuit of profits means the expense of containing pollutants is avoided as much as possible, thus POPS (persistent organic pollutants) proliferate our air, water and soil. Our soil blows away due to unsustainable agricultural practices associated with this same profit motive. Related is the deforestation of vital rainforests, acid rain, desertification. And coming again to nukes, nuclear weaponry and commercial reactors release radiation into the air/soil/water, routinely and by way of accidents (you’ve heard perhaps of Fukushima, Chernobyl?)… something quite predictable when you locate dangerous technology on earth quake faults and on waterways, source of drinking water essential to life. Currently Fukushima leaks immense quantities of radiation into the Pacific on a daily basis and has been doing so since 2011. Just as it has been shown that no amount of radiation is safe for the individual, no amount is safe for the life system. As in the irrational relationship with nuclear weapons, dirty but profitable energy technologies are preferred over sustainable alternatives due to entrenched interests. The recent outing of Exxon’s suppressing for years, studies that show climate change to be real, demonstrates that even without denial – they KNEW climate change was real – profits must come before science. Despite their knowledge they continued to fund climate-denying groups to muddy the waters, putting short-term profits above their own grandchildren and the rest of us. This is serious dsyfunction and the kind of economics that we allow to rule at our peril.