Acclaimed social philosopher Noam Chomsky wants you to know that presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are ignoring two of the gravest threats to humankind: climate change and nuclear war.
Chomsky points to a study from the Climate Vulnerability Monitor released in late September that found that the current predictions of the effects of global warming would be regressive for the world economy.
“The study was widely reported elsewhere but Americans have been spared the disturbing news,” Chomsky writes. The Democrats’ and Republicans’ official stances on climate change were reviewed in Science magazine’s Sept. 14 issue, he continues. “In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both parties demand that we make the problem worse.”
In 2008, both party platforms had devoted some attention to how the government should address climate change. Today, the issue has almost disappeared from the Republican platform – which does, however, demand that Congress “take quick action” to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency, established by former Republican President Richard Nixon in saner days, from regulating greenhouse gases. And we must open Alaska’s Arctic refuge to drilling to take “advantage of all our American God-given resources.” We cannot disobey the Lord, after all.
The platform also states that “We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research” – code words for climate science. The Republican candidate Mitt Romney, seeking to escape from the stigma of what he understood a few years ago about climate change, has declared that there is no scientific consensus, so we should support more debate and investigation – but not action, except to make the problems more serious. The Democrats mention in their platform that there is a problem, and recommend that we should work “toward an agreement to set emissions limits in unison with other emerging powers.” But that’s about it. President Barack Obama has emphasized that we must gain 100 years of energy independence by exploiting fracking and other new technologies – without asking what the world would look like after a century of such practices. So there are differences between the parties: about how enthusiastically the lemmings should march toward the cliff.
As for nuclear war, the U.S. would have the world believe that the nations it has been threatening to bomb into the Stone Age pose a greater threat to peace on earth than it or its equally scared and belligerent allies. But victims of Western aggression in the region know better. The hypocrisy is visible everywhere. Unlike Iran, Chomsky writes, Israel “refuses to allow inspections or sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has hundreds of nuclear weapons and advanced delivery systems, and a long record of violence, aggression and lawlessness, thanks to unremitting American support.”
Through the smog of American foreign policy, which is especially opaque during an election season, the candidates’ thoughts look like this:
Two positions are counterposed: Should the U.S. declare that it will attack if Iran reaches the capability to develop nuclear weapons, which dozens of countries enjoy? Or should Washington keep the “red line” more indefinite? The latter position is that of the White House; the former is demanded by Israeli hawks – and accepted by the U.S. Congress. The Senate just voted 90-1 to support the Israeli position.
But Obama and Romney could consider a prohibition on nuclear weapons altogether:
Missing from the debate is the obvious way to mitigate or end whatever threat Iran might be believed to pose: Establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. The opportunity is readily available: An international conference is to convene in a few months to pursue this objective, supported by almost the entire world, including a majority of Israelis.
But the current government of Israel, which our candidates support, disagrees. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration will not participate in an abolition program until there is a “general peace agreement” in the region. Never mind that Israel’s military activities in the occupied Palestinian territories go a long way toward making such an agreement impossible. Washington and Tehran are both pushing all involved closer to nuclear war.
Straightforward ways exist to overcome this threat, but they will not be taken unless there is large-scale public activism demanding that the opportunity be pursued. This in turn is highly unlikely as long as these matters remain off the agenda, not just in the electoral circus, but in the media and larger national debate. Elections are run by the public relations industry. Its primary task is commercial advertising, which is designed to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices – the exact opposite of how markets are supposed to work, but certainly familiar to anyone who has watched television. It’s only natural that when enlisted to run elections, the industry would adopt the same procedures in the interests of the paymasters, who certainly don’t want to see informed citizens making rational choices. The victims, however, do not have to obey, in either case. Passivity may be the easy course, but it is hardly the honorable one.