“…the interest of the general population is to preserve human life; the interest of corporations is to make profits – those are fundamentally different interests.”
In a series of discussions that took place in Rowe, Massachusetts in early 1989, Noam Chomsky, the great linguist and political dissident, was asked whether he thinks there are “any developments over the past few decades that are new on the international scene, which people should be aware of as we analyze things that are taking place in the world.”
Parts of his response easily could have been made today, twenty-five years later.
“Well, in my view, there are at least two really major things that are coming along that are new: one is a shift in the international economy. And the other threat is to the environment – which just can’t be ignored much longer, because if facing it is delayed too much longer there isn’t going to be a lot more to human history.”
Of course, everyone now has at least a cursory awareness of climate change and the many threats that it poses, so it is no longer considered a “new development.”
However, a massive portion of the public, and a massive portion of the U.S. government, refuse to accept the evidence that climate change is a human-driven phenomenon, or they simply reject the idea that we can do something about it. This is terrifying, as it delays action on an issue that badly needs our attention.
Chomsky points to our greed-based economic practices as one of the major problems here:
“The reality is that under capitalist conditions – meaning maximization of short-term gain – you’re ultimately going to destroy the environment: the only question is when. Now, for a long time, it’s been possible to pretend that the environment is an infinite sources and an infinite sink.
Neither is true obviously, and we’re now sorting of approaching the point where you can’t keep playing the game too much longer. It may not be very far off. “
And now is the time that scientists are realizing that we have far surpassed the point where we can’t keep playing this game.
So what can we do?
“Well, dealing with that problem is going to require large-scale social changes of an almost unimaginable kind. For one thing, it’s going to certainly require large-scale social planning, and that means participatory social planning if it’s going to self-destruct – it’s only a question of time before you make the planet unlivable, by destroying the ozone layer or some other way.
And that means huge socio-psychological changes have to take place if the human species is going to survive very much longer.”
We really have reached the point of no return. It’s not difficult to be pessimistic: with so much of the government pushing back against climate change, it really is going to take unprecedented social planning to make any measurable improvements and delay the destruction of our planet.
Power, says Chomsky, must be “rooted in large parts of the population.”
“…if people can actually participate in social planning – then they will presumably do so in terms of their own interests, and you can expect the decisions to reflect those interests. Well, the interest of the general population is to preserve human life; the interest of corporations is to make profits – those fundamentally different interests.”
In response, a man in the audience replies that, “In an industrial society…one might argue that people need to have jobs.”
Here is Chomsky’s take:
“Sure, but having jobs doesn’t require destroying the environment which makes life possible. I mean, if you have participatory social planning, and people are trying to work things out in terms of their own interests, they are going to want to balance opportunities to work with quality of work, with type of energy available, with conditions of personal interaction, with the need to make sure your children survive, and so on and so forth.
But those are all considerations that simply don’t arise for corporate executives, they just are not a part of the agenda. In fact, if the C.E.O. of General Electric started making decisions on that basis, he’d be thrown out of his job in three seconds, or maybe there’d be a corporate takeover or something – because those things are not a part of his job.
His job is to raise profit and market share, not to make sure that the environment survives; or that his workers lead decent lives. And those goals are simply in conflict.”
So, for Chomsky, this issue comes down to conflicting interests. There is an enormous profit incentive for corporations to continue utilizing the same energy sources and the same methods of production, even if they are destroying the environment in which we live.
Corporations don’t care about people and their health, they don’t care about animals, they don’t care about plants; they care about profit.
And if there isn’t a drastic movement by the population, this profit incentive will continue to devastate this planet. It’s a scary reality, but one that has to be faced immediately.
This movement has to take place on a mass scale. A few large groups rallying together won’t cut it.
“…right now we have to make big decisions about how to produce energy, for one thing – because if we continue to produce energy by combustion, the human race isn’t going to survive much longer. Alright, that decision requires social planning: it’s not something that you can just decide on yourself. Like, you can decide to put a solar-energy something-or-other on your own house, but that doesn’t really help. This is the kind of decision where it only works if it’s done on a mass scale.”