‘‘The End Of The World’’
‘With an Enemy like Trump?’
[Following is a slightly shortened version of a speech delivered by Noam Chomsky at Riverside Church, Manhattan, on December 05, 2016. The occasion was celebration of 20th anniversary of Democracy Now.]
Well, the reaction to
November 8th in Europe
was disbelief, shock, horror. It was captured pretty eloquently in the—on the front cover of the major German weekly, Der Spiegel. It depicted a caricature of Donald Trump presented as a meteor hurtling towards Earth, mouth open, ready to swallow it up. And the top headline read "Das Ende Der Well!" "The End of the World". There might be some truth to that concern, even if not exactly in the manner in which the artist, the authors, the others who echoed that conception, had in mind.
It had to do with other events that were taking place right at the same time, November 8th, events that I think were a lot more important than the ones that have captured the attention of the world in such an astonishing fashion, events that were taking place in Morocco, Marrakech, Morocco. There was a conference there of 200 countries, the so-called COP 22. Their goal at this conference was to implement the rather vague promises and commitments of the preceding international conference on global warming, COP 21 in Paris in December 2015, which had in fact been left vague for reasons not unrelated to what happened on November 8th here.
The Paris conference had the goal of establishing verifiable commitments to do something about the worst problem that humans have ever faced—the likely destruction of the possibility for organized human life. They couldn't do that. They could only reach a nonverifiable commitment-promises, but not fixed by treaty and a real commitment. And the reason was that the Republican Congress in the United States would not accept binding commitments. So they were left with something much weaker and looser.
The Morocco conference intended to carry this forward by putting teeth in that loose, vague agreement. The conference opened on November 7th, normal way. November 8th, the World Meteorological Organization presented an assessment of the current state of what's called the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch that is marked by radical human modification, destruction of the environment that sustains life. November 9lh, the conference basically ceased. The question that was left was whether it would be possible to carry forward this global effort to deal with the highly critical problem of environmental catastrophe, if the leader of the free world, the richest and most powerful country in history, would pull out completely, as appeared to be the case. That's the stated goal of the president-elect, who regards climate change as a hoax and whose policy, if he pursues it, is to maximize the use of fossil fuels, end environmental regulations, dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency—established by Richard Nixon, which is a measure of where politics has shifted to the right in the past generation and, in other ways, accelerate the race to destruction. Well, that was essentially the end of the Marrakech conference. It terminated without any issue. So that might signal the end of the world, even if not quite in the intended sense.
And, in fact, what happened in Marrakech was a quite astounding spectacle. The hope of the world for saving us from this impending disaster was China—authoritarian, harsh China. That's where hopes were placed. At the same time, the leader of the free world, the richest, most powerful country in history, was aiding in such a way as to doom the hopes to total disaster. It's an astonishing spectacle. And it's no less astounding that it received almost no comment. You can—something to think about.
Well, the effects are quite real. COP 21, the Paris negotiations, could not reach a verifiable treaty because of the refusal of the Republican Congress to accept binding commitments. The follow-up conference, COP 22, ended without any issue. We will soon see, in the not very distant future, even more dangerous, horrifying consequences of this failure right here to come to term to address in a serious way this impending crisis.
So, say, take the country of Bangladesh. Within a few years, tens of millions of people will be fleeing from the low-lying coastal plains simply because of the rise of sea level with the melting of the huge Antarctic glaciers much more quickly than was anticipated and the severe weather associated with global warming. That's a refugee crisis of a kind that puts today's crisis, which is more a moral crisis of the West than an actual refugee crisis—it will put this current crisis into a—it will seem like a footnote to a tragedy. And it's—the leading climate scientist in Bangladesh has reacted by saying that these migrants should have the right to move to the countries from which all these greenhouse gases are coming. Millions should be able to go to the United States and-United States and, indeed, the other rich countries that have grown wealthy, as we all have, while bringing this new geological epoch—bringing about this new geological epoch, which may well be the final one for the species.
And the catastrophic consequences can only increase. Just keeping to South Asia, temperatures which are already intolerable for the poor are going to continue to rise as the Himalayan glaciers melt, also destroying the water supply for South Asia. In India already, 300 million people are reported to lack water to drink. And it will continue both for India and Pakistan. And at this point, the two major threats to survival begin to converge. One is environmental catastrophe. The other is nuclear war, another threat that is increasing right before our eyes. India and Pakistan are nuclear states, nuclear-states with nuclear weapons. They were already almost at war. Any kind of real war would immediately turn into a nuclear war. That might happen very easily over water—over struggles over diminishing water supplies. A nuclear war would not only devastate the region, but might actually be terminal for the species, if indeed it leads to nuclear winter and global famine, as many scientists predict. So, the threats of survival—to survival converge right there, and we're going to see much more like it. Meanwhile, the United States is leading the way to disaster, while the world looks to China for leadership. It's an incredible, astounding picture, and indeed only one piece of a much larger picture.
The US isolation at Marrakech is symptomatic of broader developments that we should think about pretty carefully. They're of considerable significance. US isolation in the world is increasing in remarkable ways. Maybe the most striking is right in this hemisphere, what used to be called "our little region over here"—Henry Stimson, secretary of war under Roosevelt, "our little region over here", where nobody bothers us. If anybody gets out of line, we punish them harshly; otherwise, they do what we say. That's very far from true. During this century, Latin America, for the first time in 500 years, has freed itself from Western imperialism. Last century, that's the United States. The International Monetary Fund, which is basically an agency of the US Treasury, has been kicked out of the—of South America entirely. There are no US military bases left. The international organizations, the—the hemispheric organizations are beginning to exclude the United States and Canada. In 2015, there was a summit coming up, and the United States might have been excluded completely from the hemisphere over the issue of Cuba. That was the crucial issue that the hemisphere- on which the hemisphere opposed US policy, as does the world. That's surely the reason why Obama made the gestures towards normalization, that were at least some step forward—and could be reversed under Trump. We, don't know.
On a much more far-reaching scale, something similar is happening in Asia. As you know, one of Obama's major policies was the so-called pivot to Asia, which was actually a measure to confront China, transparently. One component of the pivot to Asia was the TPP, the Transpacific Partnership, which excluded China, tried to bring in other Asia-Pacific countries. Well, that seems to be on its way to collapse, for pretty good reasons, I think. But at the same time, there's another international trade agreement that is expanding and growing, namely, China's—what they call the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is now drawing in US allies, from Peru to Australia to Japan. The US will probably choose to stay out of it, just as the United States, virtually alone, has stayed away from China's Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, a kind of counterpart to the World Bank, that the US has opposed for many years, but has now been joined by practically all US allies, Britain and others. That's—at the same time, China is expanding to the West with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the China-based Silk Roads. The whole system is an integrated system of energy resource sharing and so on. It includes Siberia, with its rich resources. It includes India and Pakistan. Iran will soon join, it appears, and probably Turkey. This will extend all the way from China to Europe. The United States has asked for observer status, and it's been rejected, not permitted. And one of the major commitments of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the whole of the Central Asian states, is that there can be no US military bases in this entire region.
Another step toward isolation may soon lake place if the president-elect carries through his promise to terminate the nuclear weapons—the nuclear deal with Iran. Other countries who are parties to the deal might well continue. They might even—Europe, mainly. That means ignoring US sanctions. That will extend US isolation, even from Europe. And in fact Europe might move, under these circumstances, towards backing off from the confrontation with Russia. Actually, Brexit may assist with this, because Britain was the voice of the United States in NATO, the harshest voice. Now it's out, gives Europe some opportunities. There were choices in 1990, '91, time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev had a—what he called a vision of a common European home, an integrated, cooperative system of security, commerce, interchange, no military alliances from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The US insisted on a different vision—namely. Soviet Union collapses, and NATO remains and, indeed, expands, right up to the borders of Russia now, where very serious threats are evident daily.
By conventional measures, in 1945, the United States had reached the peak of global dominance—nothing like it in history. It had perhaps 50 percent of total world's wealth. Other industrial countries were devastated or destroyed by the war, severely damaged. The US economy had gained enormously from the war, and it was in—and the US, in general, had a position of dominance with no historical parallel. Well, that, of course, couldn't last. Other industrial countries reconstructed. By around 1970, the world was described as tripolar : three major economic centers-a German-based Europe, a US-based North America and the Northeast Asian area, at that time Japan-based, now China had moved in as a partner, conflict then partner. By now—by that time. US share in global wealth was about 25 percent. And today it's not far below that.
Well, all of this is highly misleading, because it fails to take into account a crucial factor, which is almost never discussed, though there's some interesting work on it. That's the question of ownership of the world economy. If you take a look at the corporate—the multinational corporations around the world, what do they own? Well, that turns out to be a pretty interesting matter. In virtually every—this increasingly during the period of neoliberal globalization of the last generation, corporate wealth is becoming a more realistic measure of global power than national wealth. Corporate wealth, of course, is nationally based, supported by taxpayers like us, but the ownership has nothing to do with us. Corporate ownership, if you look at that, it turns out that in virtually every economic sector—manufacturing, finance, services, retail and others—US corporations are well in the lead in ownership of the global economy. And overall, their ownership is close to 50 percent of the total. That's roughly the proportion of US national wealth in 1945, which tells you something about the nature of the world in which we live.
Well, there's a lot more to say about the fears and hopes and prospects. The threats and dangers are very real. There are plenty of opportunities. And as we face them, again particularly the younger people among you, we should never overlook the fact that the threats that we now face are the most severe that have ever arisen in human history. They are literal threats to survival: nuclear war, environmental catastrophe. These are very urgent concerns. They cannot be delayed. They became more urgent on November 8th, for the reasons you know and that I mentioned. They have to be faced directly, and soon, if the human experiment is not to prove to be a disastrous failure.
[Courtesy: Open Democracy]
Vol. 49, No.29, Jan 22 - 28, 2017