Climate change poses an imminent threat to human life, said political philosopher Noam Chomsky – and humans are drawing their own doom ever closer.
“This is the first time in human history that we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for decent survival, (and) it is already happening,” Chomsky told journalist Chris Hedges, writing for Truthdig.
Hedges was accused last week by the New Republic of plagiarizing some of his work in Harper’s Magazine and other publications.
Chomsky said species destruction had reached the same level as 65 million years ago – when an asteroid hit the earth, ending the period of dinosaurs and wiping up many other species.
“It is the same level today, and we are the asteroid,” he said. “If anyone could see us from outer space they would be astonished.”
The noted linguist said some sectors of the global population – such as the First Nations in Canada, aboriginals in Australia, and tribal people in India – had tried to slow the march to catastrophe, while others were actively courting disaster.
“Who is accelerating it?” Chomsky said. “The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.”
He compared this phenomenon to a theory by Ernst Mayr, a 20th-century evolutionary biologist who speculated humans would never encounter intelligent extraterrestrials because higher life forms quickly force themselves into extinction.
“Mayr argued that the adaptive value of what is called ‘higher intelligence’ is very low,” Chomsky said. “Beetles and bacteria are much more adaptive than humans. We will find out if it is better to be smart than stupid. We may be a biological error, using the 100,000 years which Mayr gives [as] the life expectancy of a species to destroy ourselves and many other life forms on the planet.”
But Chomsky remained hopeful that the corporate elite could be overthrown before they bring on environmental disaster, citing historical examples of mass movements that returned power to autonomous collectives.
“In the 1920s the labor movement had been practically destroyed,” he said. “This had been a very militant labor movement. In the 1930s it changed, and it changed because of popular activism. There were circumstances [the Great Depression] that led to the opportunity to do something. We are living with that constantly. Take the last 30 years. For a majority of the population it has been stagnation or worse. It is not the deep Depression, but it is a semi-permanent depression for most of the population. There is plenty of kindling out there that can be lighted.”
A recent Ohio State University study found the politically induced decline of the labor movement in recent decades was largely responsible for growing levels of income inequality.
“Union decline and the presence of Republican presidents remained the most important explanations for income inequality,” said David Jacobs, the study’s co-author. “Even education wasn’t nearly as important as union decline.”
Chomsky said state propaganda remained powerful enough to limit the terms of debate and convince Americans to support the Obama administration’s use of drones – which he called “the biggest terrorist campaign in history” – and drive the nation into war with Iraq.
“Obama is regarded as a critic of the invasion of Iraq,” he said. “Why? Because he thought it was a strategic blunder. That puts him on the same moral level as a Nazi general who thought the second front was a strategic blunder. That’s what we call criticism.”
Chomsky said social activism – particularly the Occupy Wall Street movement – had already started “breaking through the atomization of society.”
“There are all sorts of efforts to separate people from one another,” he said. “The ideal social unit [in the world of state propagandists] is you and your television screen. The Occupy actions brought that down for a large part of the population. People recognized that we could get together and do things for ourselves.”
“We can have a common kitchen,” Chomsky continued. “We can have a place for public discourse. We can form our ideas. We can do something. This is an important attack on the core of the means by which the public is controlled. You are not just an individual trying to maximize consumption. You find there are other concerns in life. If those attitudes and associations can be sustained and move in new directions, that will be important.”