Energy, Governments, & Noam Chomsky

By Michael Jones

Governments ignore externalities of corporations, this is the way Washington (and global economy) works, politics, lobbyists, etc. The modern juggernaut of a corporation has to flip profits at amazing rates and will let nothing get in its path, including the government. This has become the rule, not the exception. If governments would pay attention to, and require all businesses to take care of any externalities which are negative, and caused by corporations we might find ourselves in a much better place. An externality is anything that occurs as an unintended consequence; here we are talking about them in the context of corporations. I.E., if DOW Chemical has unforeseen waste product and sends it down the river, oops, that’s an externality. Most externalities of importance and which I am writing about are usually in the forms of pollution and inequality to humans (sweat shops, etc). Pollution usually goes hand in hand with the later form since large corporations are not likely to shit in their own backyards.

Is sustainable energy possible and what technology will we use if it is? Fossil fuel has been the driving force that has allowed Earth’s number of humans to skyrocket since the industrial revolution. It was an anomaly that we found oil and exploited it to the level we did at that time. Coal and Nuclear power sources are not good long term solutions for our impending shortage crisis. There is no such thing as clean coal as our current so called “clean coal” scheme entails us pumping the waste deep underground for future generations to deal with it, much like nuke power, but arguably less dangerous. Nuclear waste lasts almost forever and we just fill mountains with it, in the hopes that “science” will figure out what to do with it one day. If every home and business’s roof were to add solar arrays and those were possibly augmented with wind turbines (in good candidate locales) we may be in a better situation but as Mr. Chomsky suggests below,  perhaps where we have found ourselves is not fixable in time for us to become sustainable. But perhaps through very hard work we can have a grass roots effort to make a huge paradigm shift.

Lastly I ask about structures of society. Although his answer is to the point, he makes it clear that exactly how we get there, a roadmap of sorts is not clearly defined. I too believe that institutions should be democratized or as I like to call it “collectivized”. Businesses should be shared ownership collectives with the employees much like current unions but empowering the employee even more. Yes, there are indeed many hurdles to jump over to realize a collective based non-profit, sustainable democratic society. Just to name a few there are large scope programs we would have to figure out how to run; hospitals, prisons, infrastructure, local government (if there is to be any), and defense (if there is to be any). These are all very complicated structures to figure out, and with the current power structure of our nation the road map there would likely be very rough indeed, but as Mr. Chomsky alludes to below it is not impossible.

Here is my short Q & A with Noam Chomsky:

MJ: Our economy is so extremely dependent on petroleum oil, which in effect has allowed our world population to grow exponentially in the last 100 years (I believe this is a main contributing factor). Do you see a way for which we continue to live via science finding new and innovative techniques to replace the oil which will inevitably run out and possibly destroy our society? Do you think that markets are dynamic enough to cope with the problem (IE. Oil goes up to $10/gallon so people buy electric cars/stop driving)?

NC: There’s very little reason to believe that markets can solve the problem. In fact, they are exacerbating it, and are likely to drive the world to destruction because of inherent and well-known flaws of markets, notably, ignoring externalities. Governments could do it, if they can free themselves from control by concentrated capital and consider instead human needs – in this case, decent survival. We can’t be certain that sustainable energy is attainable, probably mainly solar, but it’s a fair possibility.

MJ: Do you think that we must, in the end, go back to basics and become local level economies (much of how many operate in developing countries) buying our food and other goods that will be sold and manufactured at the local level, reducing middle men/product packaging? I don’t believe that capitalism is sustainable the way it currently runs because it requires unlimited growth, and we of course have finite resources. I am not favorable of communism in the way that many past and current countries have implemented it because they invariably use a dictator (although, I think fondly of many of Marx’s great ideas). I think that a type of society that utilized democracy but didn’t allow private ownership of land would be best for humanity.

NC: I think a society could come into being based on democratic control of institutions and overcoming illegitimate structures of authority and domination. It will take a lot of work and commitment, but there is no inherent reason why that is impossible to attain.

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