‘A Death Sentence For People And Ecosystems’: The Climate Emergency, Governments And The Public Enemy

On a trip to Japan in 2014, approaching the third anniversary of the Fukishima nuclear disaster, Noam Chomsky told an audience that:

‘Governments regard their own citizens as their main enemy.’

What he meant was that states do not wish their own populations to know and understand the details of government policies, for fear of provoking an adverse public reaction that would limit or derail the state’s ability to do whatever it wants.

Chomsky cited the example of the Iraqi city of Fallujah that was twice brutally attacked by overwhelming US firepower in the Iraq war, including white phosphorus munitions. US forces left behind huge numbers of dead and a toxic legacy of deadly radiation that caused considerably raised levels of birth defects and cancer. But:

‘The US government denies it [culpability for these war crimes].’

Likewise, added Chomsky:

‘In 1961, the United States began chemical warfare in Vietnam, South Vietnam, chemical warfare to destroy crops and livestock. That went on for seven years. The level of poison—they used the most extreme carcinogen known: dioxin. And this went on for years. There’s enormous effects in South Vietnam. There are children today being born in Saigon hospitals, deformed children, and horrible deformations. Government refuses to investigate. They’ve investigated effects on American soldiers, but not on the South Vietnamese. And there’s almost no study of it, except for independent citizens’ groups.’

Governments protect themselves by concealing such damning information, meanwhile even surveilling their own citizens. As Chomsky noted:  

‘That’s why you have state secret laws. Citizens are not supposed to know what their government is doing to them. Just to give one final example, when Edward Snowden’s revelations [about surveillance of US citizens by the US National Security Agency] appeared, the head of U.S. intelligence, James Clapper, testified before Congress that no telephone communications of Americans are being monitored. It was an outlandish lie. Lying to Congress is a felony; should go to jail for years. Not a word. Governments are supposed to lie to their citizens.’

Then again, as the US journalist I.F. Stone observed:

‘All governments lie.’

A truth that he reiterated when he wrote:

‘Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.’

Chomsky emphasised the warning about state spying on citizens in another interview:

‘Governments should not have this capacity. But governments will use whatever technology is available to them to combat their primary enemy – which is their own population.’

As was revealed by Snowden, this state surveillance has been carried out via ‘direct access’ to systems run by tech giants, including Microsoft, Apple and Google.

Chomsky added:

‘They [governments and corporations] take whatever is available, and in no time it is being used against us, the population. Governments are not representative. They have their own power, serving segments of the population that are dominant and rich.’

The notion that governments – and corporations – fear the general population might seem strange. But it is encapsulated in the famous verse from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, ‘The Masque of Anarchy’:

‘Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!’

Shelley wrote the poem, subtitled ‘Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester’, on hearing of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Eighteen people were killed by cavalry charging into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered to demand parliamentary reform.

In recent years, Corbyn famously quoted this verse on several occasions, including at Glastonbury in 2017; in particular, the stirring final line, ‘Ye are many—they are few!’.

To protect their own self-image of strength and impregnability, it is vital that governments and corporations conceal their fear of public power. Just occasionally, however, it slips out. Thus, a recent gathering of global elites at the five-star Savoy hotel in London was warned of ‘pitchforks and torches’ unless inequality is tackled.

The image of huge crowds of peasants swarming the strongholds of the super-rich might sound like a scene from ‘The Simpsons’. But ‘progressive advisers’ told the wealthy Savoy conference attendees that:

‘There was a “real risk of actual insurrection” and “civil disruption” if the yawning inequality gap between rich and poor was allowed to widen as a result of energy and food price hikes hitting squeezed households.’

Julia Davies, a founding member of Patriotic Millionaires UK, a group of super-rich people calling for the introduction of a wealth tax, warned that global poverty and the climate emergency were going to get ‘so much worse’ unless the wealthy did more to help poorer citizens.

She continued:

‘Everyone can say it is somebody else’s responsibility. But it is the wealthiest in society who are the people who can actually really do something about it.’

The implication here is that it is incumbent upon the rich to save the rest of us. Salvation will not, and cannot, come from the unwashed multitudes below.

This was put in more palatable terms when another contributor advocated ‘a clear methodology for investing philanthropic capital’. So, essentially an improved form of charity is being proposed; not a fundamental restructuring of class and economic power that would deliver true justice.

A Fake Labour Leader

As we have pointed out before, there is no threat of such justice happening under a likely future Labour government led by Sir Keir Starmer, seemingly the establishment’s favoured choice for maintaining the status quo.

Jonathan Cook summed it up succinctly:

‘Starmer has overseen the rush by the party back into the arms of the establishment. He has ostentatiously embraced patriotism and the flag.

‘He demands lockstep support for Nato. Labour policy is once again in thrall to big business, and against strikes by workers. And, since the death of the Queen, Starmer has sought to bow as low as possible before the new king without toppling over.’ 

After Just Stop Oil protests had temporarily interrupted two tennis matches at Wimbledon, Starmer was quick to condemn them:

‘I can’t wait for them to stop their antics, frankly. You know, they’re interrupting iconic sporting events that are part of our history, tradition and massively looked forward to across the nation. I absolutely condemn the way they go about their tactics.’

The Leader of His Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition added:

‘And I have to say it’s riddled with an arrogance that only they have the sort of right to force their argument on other people in this way.’

Presumably, if Starmer had been around during the women’s emancipation movement, he would have condemned the actions of suffragette Emily Davison for hindering the progress of the king’s horse at Epsom racecourse.

Similarly, when the wedding of George Osborne, the Tory chief architect of ‘austerity’ which contributed to 335,000 excess deaths, was briefly interrupted by an orange confetti-wielding woman, Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves was swift out of the blocks:

‘I have got no time for Just Stop Oil. To be honest, I think it is a bit pathetic and quite tedious disrupting tennis, snooker, other people’s weddings.’

For the record, Just Stop Oil said they had nothing to do with the Osborne wedding confetti, but they praised the woman’s actions.

The campaign group added:

‘Perhaps the press could focus on something more important now? Like the current government’s plans to licence over 100 new oil and gas projects, which will result in excess deaths the likes of which we have never seen. Or the fact that the UN Secretary General has said that “climate change is out of control” as we’ve just seen the hottest average temperatures since records began. Or the fact that Canadian wildfires have now burned down an area the size of Portugal….We are in catastrophically dangerous territory…’

Like Tony Blair in the 1990s, Starmer has been cosying up to media mogul Rupert Murdoch, according to a largely welcoming account in the Observer. Starmer is being given advice and urged in an even more neoliberal direction by Peter Mandelson, the Machiavellian Labour lurker. Mandelson had been a big player in Blair’s general election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005. In January this year, Mandelson hailed Starmer as ‘a strong and assertive leader’ and praised him for having ‘seen off the Corbynites, the anti Semites and the rest.’

As for Starmer trying to curry favour with Murdoch, Mark Seddon, Director of the Centre for United Nations Studies at the University of Buckingham, warned via Twitter:

‘This may impress The Observer, but it certainly doesn’t those of us who saw all of this before with Blair’s grovelling to Murdoch. History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce.’

He added:

‘When I became editor of Tribune I went to meet him [Starmer]. I thought he was shallow and lacked any hinterland. My opinion of him has only got worse in the intervening years.’

Indeed, Starmer is the epitome of a shallow, fake politician. The major exception to Starmer’s fakery is his genuine commitment to be a safe pair of hands for established power. Further evidence, if it were needed, was his reaction to a polite protest by two young climate activists standing behind him as he gave a speech earlier this month. Holding up a banner, they said:

‘No more u-turns, we need a Green New Deal now.’

Their clear message was that society needs to take serious action immediately in the face of the climate emergency. Starmer’s response was farcical:

‘We did that last month.’

Did what exactly last month? Claiming that he would block new North Sea oil and gas exploration might sound like a decent, minimal first step to addressing the climate crisis. But coming from a politician who serially breaks promises, it is hardly convincing. Indeed, Starmer is already ‘in retreat’ as he has been at pains to reassure oil company Equinor that he would not block the Rosebank oil and gas field west of Shetland, expected to produce 300 million barrels of oil, if he becomes Prime Minister.

Continuing his corporate charm offensive, Starmer has sought to reassure fossil fuel CEOs in recent weeks:

‘Let me be clear: those who think we should somehow simply end domestic oil and gas production in Britain are wrong. Under Labour’s plans, they will play a crucial part in our energy mix for decades to come.’

When asked by one of the climate protesters at Starmer’s speech which side he was on, the Labour leader gave a response that would not ruffle any Big Business feathers:

‘We are on the side of economic growth.’

Starmer promised the protesters he would speak with them afterwards. He didn’t. Unsurprisingly, it was yet another broken promise.  

Concluding Remarks

Over many years, Media Lens has repeatedly drawn attention to the latest warnings by climate scientists, many of whom are increasingly disturbed and scared. We have also highlighted the refusal by governments and their corporate-financial allies to do anything, other than escalate the crisis. Meanwhile, the establishment media, although reporting the latest climate findings, have performed their usual role of normalising the unthinkable and propping up the system of turbo-capitalism that is leading humanity to extinction. 

As mentioned above, some flickerings of concern can be observed from within the establishment, urging ‘philanthropic’ action before the public revolts with ‘pitchforks and torches’. Moreover, financial institutions are being warned that their economic models are ‘implausible’ and show a serious ‘disconnect’ from reality given the climate emergency. In particular:

‘the consequences of passing climate “tipping points” — self-reinforcing and irreversible negative planetary changes — are often not captured by the models’.  

Meanwhile, the planet keeps heating up to dangerous levels. 3 July was the world’s hottest ever day in recorded history. Reuters reported that the average global temperature reached 17.01 degrees Celsius, surpassing the August 2016 record of 16.92C.

Climate scientist Friederike Otto, of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, said starkly:

‘It’s a death sentence for people and ecosystems.’

The current extreme temperatures – exceeding 50C in parts of the US and China – is ‘the new normal’, said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Prof Petteri Taalas. He added:

‘The extreme weather – an increasingly frequent occurrence in our warming climate – is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy and water supplies.’

As writer Matthew Todd observed:

‘Unfortunately most broadcast media are now at the “OK, this is because of climate change” stage, when what is actually appropriate is “A global emergency needs to be declared and a World-War-like Marshall plan to save us needs to be enacted across all nations of the planet”.’

A sliver of truth emerged from the outgoing energy editor of the Financial Times:

‘Capitalism won’t deliver the energy transition fast enough.’

We have always advocated peaceful protest, and we still do. But, as the public becomes more oppressed, violated and disregarded, is the threat of ‘pitchforks and torches’ going to be a factor in delivering the changes needed in society?

Perhaps we can take solace from the lyrics of a beautiful song by The Smile, sung by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke:

‘Free in the knowledge that one day this will end

Free in the knowledge that everything is change

And this was just a bad moment’

And, once again, let us identify the cynical use of fear by those who currently rule the world, and the possibility of change when we come together:

‘A face using fear

To try to keep control

When we get together

Well, then who knows’