Noam Chomsky’s staggering take on the link between aliens and the climate crisis

Noam Chomsky
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What do extra-terrestrials have to do with the environmental crises we’re facing on Earth? Much more than you’d think, according to the renowned scholar and activist Noam Chomsky.

Speaking at an online event organised by the campaign group Just Stop Oil on 23 April, Chomsky brought up an alien-related paradox – the Fermi Paradox – to “view what’s happening on Earth from a broader perspective”. His comments illuminated the “incredible challenge” that the human species currently faces.

A lethal feature

The Fermi Paradox draws its name from Enrico Fermi, an Italian-American physicist. Simply put, the paradox is the conflict between the existence of a universe that appears to be able to support extra-terrestrial life and the lack of evidence that such life exists. The paradox effectively asks, if intelligent life exists elsewhere, why haven’t we found signs of it?

In the Just Stop Oil event, Chomsky spoke about one theory on why extra-terrestrial life is apparently nowhere to be found, saying:

One answer that has been seriously proposed and cannot be dismissed is that higher intelligence has developed innumerable times. But it has proven to be lethal. It has discovered the means of self-annihilation but has not been able to develop the moral capacity to prevent it. Perhaps that’s even an inherent feature of what we call higher intelligence.

Linking this to the current environmental crises, he added:

Well, we are now engaged in an experiment to test this thesis; to determine whether this principle holds of modern humans, of us.

Read on...

Designed for self-annihilation

Elsewhere in Chomsky’s talk, he made clear where he sees the drive for self-annihilation residing among modern humans. It’s in the power centres, such as political leadership and institutional structures, which Chomsky said are “designed for self-annihilation”.

Chomsky gave a prime example of this in his comments. He said that Vladimir Putin’s “criminal aggression” in Ukraine, which is devastating the country, has provoked “euphoria” in the executive offices of fossil fuel companies. That’s because, as an article in DeSmog highlighted, they’re able to exploit the war to further their own agendas and dig for more and more fossil fuels.

Chomsky described the war as a big setback to the environmental crises. Because these companies, no longer “bothered by the complaints of silly environmentalists”, are now free to further fill “their bulging pockets”. The companies are being lauded “for saving civilisation” due to their expansion plans amid the fuel crisis, Chomsky indicated. But what that means in reality is that they are now “destroying the planet more effectively”.

In short, the institutional structures we have are so devoid of moral capacity that they’re exploiting a life-destroying war to further destroy life. That’s how deeply entrenched their drive for self-annihilation is.

We have the means

Chomsky noted that there isn’t much time “to determine the answer” on whether the principle holds for modern humans overall. Speaking to the crowd that tuned in for the Just Stop Oil event, he said:

More accurately, you will determine the answer. Like it or not, fate has placed you in a position where you will determine whether we march on to disaster, or whether the human species and much other life on Earth can be saved from a terrible, indescribable fate.

The scholar emphasized that the “means” to save life on Earth from such a fate are “available” and “known”. They include a swift transition to clean energy sources, such as wind and solar, and a rapid downscaling of fossil fuel production. As Chomsky pointed out, economist Robert Pollin has suggested nationalising a number of the US’s big fossil fuel companies in order to do this. Pollin says that such nationalisation could advance “the necessary phaseout of fossil fuels as an energy source” in “an orderly fashion”.

Responding to a question about what individuals can do, Chomsky advised people to ask themselves “how can I make a difference wherever I am?”. It may be a “small difference”, he said, but “these things multiply very quickly”.

‘An incredible challenge’

Though the differences individuals can make may be small, the task at hand couldn’t be bigger, as Chomsky’s concluding remarks highlighted:

you’re in the lead in determining whether human higher intelligence is capable of developing the moral capacity to overcome the drive for self-annihilation, which manifests itself in so many ways.

It’s an incredible challenge. There’s been nothing like it in human history, which will proceed to an inglorious end unless you and people like you can find the way to take the lead in facing and overcoming the challenges that lie before us.

Featured image via screengrab / Just Stop Oil

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  • Show Comments
      1. Here in the corporate-powered West, if the universal availability of green-energy alternatives would come at the expense of the traditional energy production companies, one can expect obstacles, including the political and regulatory sort. If something notably conflicts with corporate big-profit interests, even very progressive motions are greatly resisted, often enough successfully.

        As individual consumers, too many of us still recklessly behave as though throwing non-biodegradable garbage down a dark chute, or pollutants flushed down toilet/sink drainage pipes or emitted out of elevated exhaust pipes or spewed from sky-high jet engines and very tall smoke stacks — even the largest toxic-contaminant spills in rarely visited wilderness — can somehow be safely absorbed into the air, water, and land (i.e. out of sight, out of mind).

        It’s like we’re inconsequentially dispensing of that waste into a black-hole singularity, in which it’s compressed into nothing. Indeed, I, myself, notice every time I discard of trash, I receive a reactive Spring-cleaning-like sense of disposal satisfaction. (I even feel it, albeit far more innocently, when deleting and especially double-deleting email.) …

        Still, thinking about the awe experienced and even love felt by astronauts for the spaceship Earth below, I wonder: If a large portion of the planet’s most freely-polluting corporate CEOs, governing leaders and over-consuming/disposing individuals rocketed far enough above the earth for a day’s (or more) orbit, while looking down, would have a sufficiently profound effect on them to change their apparently unconditional political/financial support of Big Fossil Fuel?

      2. It sure got me to click, tho, and that’s good because it’s a message we all need to hear, often, if the lack of progress globally is anything to go by.
        Also, there will be those who have never heard of the paradox before. Rather than chide the author, why not engage with the subject matter?

    1. Your title to the article is naughty. It implies that Chomsky was claiming that there was a link. But the assumption behind what he is saying is that there are no extraterrestrial aliens so there can’t be a link. The link between humanity and climate crisis is self-destruction. The selves that are doing the destroying are the merchant masters of the economies and governance, who will not, cannot, stop their addiction to currency acquisition and hoarding, and warring with anybody who potentially thwarts their compulsions.

      Little people doing their bit to reverse climate catastrophe and ecosystem collapses won’t influence the lords of currency. It’s a matter of scale.

      1. Mainstream news-media also need to walk their talk on climate change, ergo global warming caused by fossil fuel. Canadian media conglomerate Postmedia does the opposite; it is on record allying itself with Canada’s fossil fuel industry, including the mass extraction and export of bitumen, the dirtiest and most polluting crude oil. [“Mair on Media’s ‘Unholiest of Alliances’ With Energy Industry”, Nov.14 2017,].

        During a presentation, it was stated: “Postmedia and CAPP [Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers] will bring energy to the forefront of our national conversation. Together, we will engage executives, the business community and the Canadian public to underscore the ways in which the energy sector powers Canada.”

        Also, a then-publisher of Postmedia’s National Post said: “From its inception, the National Post has been one of the country’s leading voices on the importance of energy to Canada’s business competitiveness internationally and our economic well-being in general. We will work with [Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers] to amplify our energy mandate and to be a part of the solution to keep Canada competitive in the global marketplace. The National Post will undertake to leverage all means editorially, technically and creatively to further this critical conversation.”

        A few years ago, Postmedia had also acquired a lobbying firm with close ties to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in order to participate in his government’s $30 million PR “war room” in promoting the industry’s interests. Furthermore, last May, Postmedia refused to run paid ads by Leadnow, a social and environmental justice organization, that exposed the Royal Bank of Canada as the largest financer of the nation’s fossil fuel extraction.

        Really, should this be a partisan position for any news-media giant to take, especially considering fossil fuel’s immense role in man-caused climate change?!

    2. Every day of the year desperately needs to be World Earth Day — but a serious effort rather than just brief news-media tokenism. Clearly, too many mainstream-news-media CEOs and senior editors remain unfazed by manmade global warming and its resultant extreme weather events.

      And it’s not just Fox News but rather pretty much the entire mainstream news-media spectrum that are complicit — especially in regards to human-created climate change.

      In an interview with the online National Observer (posted Feb.12, 2019), Noam Chomsky noted that while the mainstream news-media, including The New York Times, do publish stories about man-made global warming, “It’s as if … there’s a kind of a tunnel vision — the science reporters are occasionally saying ‘look, this is a catastrophe,’ but then the regular [non-environmental pro-fossil fuel] coverage simply disregards it.” …

      Particularly disturbing was an editorial a local newspaper (The Surrey Now-Leader) printed, headlined “Earth Day in need of a facelift”. It opined that “some people would argue that [the day of environmental action] … is an anachronism,” that it should instead be a day of recognizing what we’ve societally accomplished. “And while it [has] served us well, in 2017, do we really need Earth Day anymore?” (?!?!)

      Varied lengths of the same editorial, unfortunately, was also run by some sister newspapers, all owned by the same news-media mogul who also happens to be an aspiring oil refiner.

      Until reading this, I had never heard anyone, let alone a mainstream news outlet, suggest we’re doing so well as to render Earth Day an unnecessary “anachronism”. Considering the sorry state of the planet’s natural environment, I still find it one of the most absurd and irresponsible acts of editorial journalism I’ve witnessed in my 3.5 decades of news consumption.

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