Much of the world – outside of China and a few other countries – is facing an uncontrolled virus, which has not been stopped due to criminal incompetence by the government. That governments in these wealthy countries cynically override basic scientific protocols issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by scientific organizations exposes their sinister practices. Any concern that is less than a focus on managing the virus by testing, contact tracing, and isolation – and if these are not sufficient, then enforcing a temporary lock – is foolish. Equally sad is that these rich countries have pursued policies of “vaccine nationalism” by stockpiling vaccine candidates rather than policies to create “popular vaccines.” For humanity’s sake, it would be wise to suspend intellectual property rules and develop procedures to make a universal vaccine for everyone.
Although pandemics are a major problem in all of our minds, another major problem threatens the longevity of our species and our planet.
NUCLEAR ANNOUNCEMENT: In January 2020, the Atomic Scientist Bulletin set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, too close for convenience. The clock, created two years after the first atomic weapon was developed in 1945, is evaluated annually by the Council for Science and Security Bulletin, which decides whether to move the minute hand or stay in place. By the time they set the clock again, it might be near collapse. The already limited arms control agreement was torn apart as the major powers possess nearly 13,500 nuclear weapons (more than 90 percent of which are held by Russia and the United States alone). The yield of this weapon could easily make the planet even more uninhabitable. The United States Navy has deployed the low-yield W76-2 tactical nuclear warhead. Immediate action towards nuclear disarmament must be high on the world agenda. Hiroshima Day, which is celebrated annually on August 6, should be a day of contemplation and protest even stronger.
CLIMATE DISASTERS: A scientific paper published in 2018 emerged with a shocking headline: “Most atolls will be uninhabitable by the middle of the 21st century due to rising sea levels exacerbating wave-induced flooding.” The authors found that atolls from the Seychelles to the Marshall Islands are likely to disappear. The 2019 United Nations (UN) report estimates that 1.0 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Add to that the devastating wildfires and coral bleaching disaster and it’s clear that we no longer need to linger over cliches about one thing or another being a canary in a climate catastrophic coal mine; the danger is not in the future, but in the present.
It is imperative that major powers – which have completely failed to shift away from fossil fuels – commit to the “shared but divergent” approach adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. This suggests that countries like Jamaica and Mongolia are updating their climate plans to the United Nations before the end of 2020 – as mandated by the Paris Agreement – even though these countries generate a fraction of global carbon emissions. Funds given to developing countries for their participation in the process have almost dried up while external debt has swelled. This shows the basic lack of seriousness of the “international community”.
NEOLIBERAL DESTRUCTION OF SOCIAL CONTRACTS: Countries in North America and Europe have deprived themselves of their public functions because the state has been handed over to profit-seekers and civil society has been commodified by private foundations. This means that the road to social transformation in this part of the world has been strangely blocked. Severe social inequality is the result of the relative political weakness of the working class. It is this weakness that allows billionaires to adopt policies that cause hunger to rise.
States should not be judged by the wording of their constitution, but by their annual budget; The US, for example, spends nearly $ 1 trillion (if you add the estimated intelligence budget) on its war machines, while it spends a fraction of it on public interests (such as on health care, something that was evident during the pandemic).
Western countries’ foreign policy appears to be well lubricated by the arms deal: the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Morocco agreed to recognize Israel on the condition that they buy US-made weapons worth $ 23 billion and $ 1 billion, respectively. The rights of Palestinians, Sahrawis and Yemenis are not a factor in this deal. The imposition of illegal sanctions by the United States on 30 countries including Cuba, Iran and Venezuela has become a normal part of life, even during the Covid-19 public health crisis. It is the failure of the political system when the citizens of the capitalist bloc cannot force their government – in many ways only democratic – to take a global perspective on this emergency.
Rising levels of hunger reveal that the struggle for survival is the horizon for billions of people on the planet (all this while China is capable of eradicating absolute poverty and largely eliminating hunger).
Nuclear destruction and extinction by climate catastrophes are twin threats to the planet. Meanwhile, for the victims of neoliberal attacks that hit past generations, the short-term problem of maintaining their existence simply shifts the fundamental question of the fate of our children and grandchildren.
Global problems of this scale require global cooperation. Pressured by Third World powers in the 1960s, the major powers agreed to the 1968 Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty, although they rejected the all-important Declaration on Establishing a New International Economic Order 1974.The balance of power available to push such a class agenda on the international stage it’s gone; Political dynamics in Western countries, in particular, but also in larger developing countries (such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa) are needed to change the character of government. A strong internationalism is required to pay sufficient and immediate attention to the dangers of extinction: extinction by nuclear war, climate catastrophe, and social collapse. The task ahead is daunting, and cannot be postponed.
Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher and political activist. Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist.
[This article was produced by Globetrotter and also published in www.counterpunch.org]