Climate Catastrophe, Collapse, Democracy, and Socialism (Part I)
July 15, 2022
The following is the first part of the interview-debate “Climate Catastrophe, Collapse, Democracy, and Socialism” between linguist and political critic Noam Chomsky, Chilean exponent of the Marxist-Collapsist theoretical current Miguel Fuentes, and American ecologist and evolutionary biologist Guy McPherson. Each participant takes a different theoretical and political-programmatic approach to the same problem: the imminence of a super-catastrophic climate change horizon and the possibility of a near civilizational collapse. The debate leads back from reflection on the ecological catastrophe to older debates arising from the history of the left. The interview has been edited to accord with Sublation Magazine’s stylistic standards. The original document can be found in the debates section of the Marxism and Collapse website.
Also to be found there is the debate, referred to in the text, between Michael Lowy, Miguel Fuentes, and Antonio Turiel together with critical comments by Spanish Marxist ecologist Jaime Vindel, Argentinean left-wing leader Jorge Altamira, and Chilean journalist Paul Walder.
Marxism and Collapse: In a recent discussion between ecosocialist stances and collapsist approaches represented by Michael Lowy (France), Miguel Fuentes (Chile), and Antonio Turiel (Spain), Lowy constantly denied the possibility of a self-induced capitalist collapse and criticized the idea of the impossibility of stopping climate change before it reaches the catastrophic level of 1.5°C degrees of global warming. Do you think that the current historical course is heading to a social global downfall comparable, for example, to previous processes of civilization collapse or maybe to something even worse than those seen in ancient Rome or other ancient civilizations? Is a catastrophic climate change nowadays unavoidable? Is a near process of human extinction as a result of the overlapping of the current climate, energetic, economic, social and political crisis and the suicidal path of capitalist destruction, conceivable?
Noam Chomsky: The situation is ominous, but I think Michael Lowy is correct. There are feasible means to reach the IPPC goals and avert catastrophe, and also moving on to a better world. There are careful studies showing persuasively that these goals can be attained at a cost of 2-3% of global GDP, a substantial sum but well within reach — a tiny fraction of what was spent during World War II. And, serious as the stakes were in that global struggle, what we face today is more significant by orders of magnitude. At stake is the question whether the human experiment will survive in any recognizable form.
The most extensive and detailed work I know on how to reach these goals is by economist Robert Pollin. He presents a general review in our joint book Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal. His ideas are currently being implemented in a number of places, including some of the most difficult ones, where economies are still reliant on coal. Other eco-economists, using somewhat different models, have reached similar conclusions. Just recently IRENA — the International Renewable Energy Agency, [which is] part of the UN — came out with the same estimate of clean energy investments to reach the IPCC goals.