Noam Chomsky: Will Capitalism Destroy Civilization?

Truthout has an article by Chomsky, looking at one of the roots of  climate/environmental crisis. He talks about the drive for short-term profit, in a system that has few real checks and balances. And he makes a really useful distinction between capitalist democracy as it could or should be, and how it actually is.

People sometimes talk about “jobs vs. the environment.” But after reading Chomsky, below, I think we need to talk about unlimited short-term profit vs. the environment.

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There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.

It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive RECD and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. But could functioning democracy make a difference?

Let’s keep to the most critical immediate problem that civilization faces: environmental catastrophe. Policies and public attitudes diverge sharply, as is often the case under RECD. The nature of the gap is examined in several articles in the current issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Researcher Kelly Sims Gallagher finds that “One hundred and nine countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast, the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy.”

It is not public opinion that drives American policy off the international spectrum. Quite the opposite. Opinion is much closer to the global norm than the U.S. government’s policies reflect, and much more supportive of actions needed to confront the likely environmental disaster predicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus.

As Jon A. Krosnick and Bo MacInnis report in Daedalus: “Huge majorities have favored steps by the federal government to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated when utilities produce electricity. In 2006, 86 percent of respondents favored requiring utilities, or encouraging them with tax breaks, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. Also in that year, 87 percent favored tax breaks for utilities that produce more electricity from water, wind or sunlight. These majorities were maintained between 2006 and 2010 and shrank somewhat after that.”

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival.

Those historians will observe that the richest and most powerful country in history, which enjoys incomparable advantages, is leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster.

Leading the effort to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life are the so-called “primitive” societies: First Nations, tribal, indigenous, aboriginal. The countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction. Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call “the rights of nature,” while the civilized and sophisticated scoff.

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