Noam Chomsky: Survival of Organized Human Life Is At Risk Due to Climate Change & Nuclear Weapons

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At least eight people have died in California as climate change-fueled wildfires rage statewide. In total, firefighters are battling 17 wildfires blazing across California, engulfing more than 200,000 acres and forcing mass evacuations, including in Yosemite National Park. The fires come amid a surge of deadly extreme weather worldwide, including in India, where more than 500 people have died as a result of flooding and heavy rains in recent weeks. Scientists have linked increased flooding and rainfall to climate change. For more, we speak with world-renowned political dissident, author and linguist Noam Chomsky. He is a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than 50 years.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our conversation with the world-renowned political dissident, professor, linguist, Noam Chomsky.

NOAM CHOMSKY: We can’t overemphasize the fact that we’re in a unique moment of human history. In fact, we have been, ever since 1945. In 1945, human history changed dramatically. In August 1945, humans demonstrated that their vaunted intelligence had created a means to destroy life on Earth. Didn’t quite have it yet at that point, but it was obvious that it was going to extend and expand, as it in fact did.

A couple of years later, 1947, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists established its famous Doomsday Clock. How far are we from midnight, terminal disaster? It was set at seven minutes to midnight. It once reached two minutes to midnight, 1953, when the U.S. and then the Soviet Union detonated thermonuclear weapons, which do have the capacity to essentially destroy life. Then it’s oscillated variously. It’s now back at two minutes to midnight—with an addition.

It was not known in 1945 that we were not only entering the nuclear age, but entering a new geological epoch, what geologists call the Anthropocene, an epoch in which human activity is having severe and deleterious effects on the environment in which human and other life can survive. We also entered into what’s now called the sixth extinction, a rapid extinction of species, which is comparable to the fifth extinction 65 million years ago when an asteroid, huge asteroid, hit the Earth, we know.

The World Geological Society finally settled on the end of World War II as the onset of the Anthropocene—sharp escalation and destruction of the environment, not only global warming, carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, but also such things as plastics in the ocean, which are predicted to be greater than the weight of fish in the ocean not far in the future.

So we’re destroying the environment for organized human life. We’re threatening a terminal disaster with regular nuclear confrontations. Anybody who’s looked at the record, which is shocking, would have to conclude that it’s a miracle that we’ve survived this long. Humans beings, right now, this generation, for the first time in history, have to ask, “Will human life survive?” And not in the far future will organized societies—those are the issues we should be concerned with. These are—everything else pales in significance in comparison with this.

And going back to NATO, well, what is it doing? It expanded to the Russian border. If you take a look at Trump’s policies from a geostrategic point of view, they’re totally incoherent. I mean, on the one hand, he’s making nice to Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, he’s escalating the threats against Russia, and hence to ourselves, as well. Arms to Ukraine, serious threat to Russia. Increasing forces at the Russian border, the Russians are doing the same on the other side. Military maneuvers, the new nuclear program which he’s instituted, which is a severe threat to Russia, and indeed the world.

Already under Obama, the modernization programs had reached the level where they were posing a literal first-strike threat to Russia. Important work on that has appeared in the scientific journals, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Trump is escalating it, even more modernization of extremely dangerous forces, also significantly lowering the threshold for nuclear war, also new weapons, which are supposedly tactical nuclear weapons, which, as any nuclear strategist can tell you, are just incentives for escalation to final disaster. These are enormous threats against Russia, ourselves, as well, combined with being polite to Putin at a press conference. Geostrategically, this makes no sense.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I mean—

NOAM CHOMSKY: It all makes perfect sense—

AMY GOODMAN: Trump has gone—

NOAM CHOMSKY: —only on a different assumption.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump has gone after NATO allies, from, you know, Britain to Germany, and, before that, Macron in France, as well as Trudeau in Canada. But he also, while questioning NATO, says he’s questioning it because he simply wants them to spend more money, and actually named the weapons manufacturers in the United States that he wants them to spend more money on, saying they should spend 4 percent of their budgets on weapons. If you could comment on this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: In other words—my view is that none of this makes—if you’re looking for a serious strategy behind this, you’re looking in the wrong place. That’s not what lies behind it. None of this makes sense from a strategic point of view. None. It’s all contradictory, incoherent and so on. That should tell us something: Let’s look somewhere else. And it all makes perfect sense on the assumption that he’s driven by one overwhelming concern: himself. All of this makes sense for a megalomaniac who wants to make sure that he has power, he has wealth, has to appeal to a number of constituencies to make sure he’s supported.

One constituency is the overwhelmingly hawkish establishment—you know, expand NATO, build up the military system, modernize nuclear weapons and so on. OK, he’s got them in his pocket. The crucial constituency is—and his actual one—are the corporate sector and the super-rich. And he’s just lavishing gifts on them. While he’s prancing in front of the media, and the media are helping him out by focusing on him, his minions in Congress are carrying out sheer robbery. I mean, it’s unbelievable, if you take a look at it point by point. I’ve mentioned a couple of examples before.

Then he has to maintain a voting base; otherwise, he’s out. And he does that by posturing. “I’m going to—I’m going to confront NATO, make them pay more, so they won’t be robbing us anymore.” Great. “I’m going to confront China. Stop stealing our intellectual property.” Great. “I’m going to put tariffs on everybody. I’m defending you guys, workers’ rights.” Point by point, it all falls into place. And I think that’s pretty much what’s going on. This searching for some coherent geostrategic strategy behind this is almost hopeless. There are a few things, of course. The effort to construct an alliance of the most reactionary Middle Eastern states against Iran—Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Egypt under the dictatorship—that’s a crazy, but coherent, strategy.

I should say that one corollary to the “me first” doctrine, which has been observed over and over, is that if Obama did something, I’ve got to do the opposite, no matter what it is. Doesn’t matter what the consequences are. Otherwise, I’m not, you know, a transformative president, a significant president.

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