“We are at a unique moment in human history,” Professor Noam Chomsky told the American Solar Energy Society 2022 conference on 21 June.
“Decisions that must be made right now will determine the course of future history, if there is to be any human history, which is very much in doubt.”
The renowned US political commentator warned there is “a narrow window” to deal with the “long carefully executed campaign to destroy organised human life on Earth”, and, while proposed measures to allay the crisis are “quite feasible”, whether humans implement them isn’t assured.
The reason pending self-annihilation may not be enough to halt human extinction, Chomsky maintains, is due to the “dread gap”: the disconnect between “our technical capacity to destroy and our moral capacity to control this impulse”.
Chomsky points to the Doomsday Clock, which continues to be set at 100 seconds to midnight: the closest it’s ever been. This is due to the dual threats of climate change and nuclear war, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine now a flashpoint for the potential use of such weaponry.
The professor further notes, that the climate crisis is being driven by the energy system: a huge institutional structure, consisting of “fossil fuel industries, banks, other financial institutions, a substantial part of the legal community and other centres of private and state power”.
Heightening the crisis
During his address, Chomsky pointed to a case then before the US Supreme Court: West Virginia versus the Environmental Protection Agency. He made clear that it had the potential to “determine the fate of the world” in terms of limiting climate action.
“The Supreme Court, now properly reactionary,” continued Chomsky, “is about to consider a case, which, if approved, will constitute a major step towards preventing the government from enacting measures to restrict the use of fossil fuels or to limit the effects of environmental disruptions.”
A coalition of US states and coal companies were challenging an ability the EPA had held since 2015, which allowed it to require existing coal-fired power plants to reduce climate-causing emissions, in a manner that ensured an accelerated transition towards green energy.
The court on 30 June ruled in favour of fossil fuels, as it found that “capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible solution”, but it’s not within the authority of the EPA to carry out.
According to Chomsky, if the case was successful, as it has been, it would set a precedent for other pending cases, which rely on the intricate arguments of “high price law firms that are making their own crucial contributions to the project of destroying organised life on Earth”.
The decline in rational discourse
A pioneering linguistic, Chomsky further outlined that another concerning factor that has caused the “distinguished panel of analysts” who oversee the Doomsday Clock to set the minute hand closer to annihilation is the deterioration in rational discourse.
“Unless we can use our capacities for thought in an arena of rational discourse, there is no hope of closing the dread gap in time to save ourselves,” the professor underscored.
And in conclusion, Chomsky rose the Fermi Paradox, which provides that as other planets in the galaxy can support intelligent life, where is it?
Well, the professor points to one solution, which is that self-annihilation may be an inherent feature of intelligent lifeforms and hence they no longer exist.