Noam Chomsky's 2016 book "Who Rules the World?" contains a passage in which the great left thinker asks readers to "imagine you're a historian a hundred years from now -- assuming there are any historians a hundred years from now, which is not obvious -- and you're looking back on what's happening today." This reflection appears in a chapter titled "The Eve of Destruction."
It's a bracing thought. Given the current state and rate of environmental destruction, the continuing advance in the destructive power of nuclear weapons systems, and the likelihood of pandemics in a warmer and more globalized world, there are good reasons to wonder if a human civilization with historians will exist a century from today. We may well be standing near the "end of history," and not the glorious bourgeois-democratic one that Francis Fukuyama imagined with the end of the Cold War.
Speaking of cold wars, United States neoconservatives and liberals have in the last three decades teamed up to create a "new" one with still heavily nuclear-weaponized Russia. The risk of a nuclear war catastrophe is greater today than it was during the Cold War, when humanity came close to disaster on numerous occasions. This reflects the ongoing development of nuclear weapons technologies and a series of U.S. and U.S.-allied Western actions that have provoked Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire:
-- President Bill Clinton's decision to annul a 1990 agreement with Moscow not to push the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) further east after the reunification of Germany and not to recruit Eastern European states that had been part of the Soviet-ruled Warsaw Pact.
-- NATO's decision to renege on its 1997 pledge not to install "permanent" and "significant" military forces in former Soviet bloc nations.
-- NATO's decision two years ago to place four battalions on and near the Russian border.
-- The 1999 U.S.-NATO military intervention in the Yugoslav civil war, leading to the dismemberment of Serbia and the building of a giant U.S. military base in the newly NATO-U.S.-created state of Kosovo. This remarkable development has hardly stopped Washington from shaming Russia for deploying its military to "forcibly redraw borders in Europe" by annexing Crimea.
-- President George W. Bush's unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
-- President Barack Obama's decision to deploy anti-missile systems (supposedly aimed at Iran's nonexistent nuclear weapons and actually meant to intercept Russian missiles) in Romania and Poland.
-- Obama's decision to invest more than $1 trillion in an upgrade of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, which was already stocked to blow up the world 50 times over. The upgrade involves "strategic" bombs with smaller yields, something that dangerously blurs the lines between conventional and nuclear weapons. It has certainly helped spark a new nuclear arms race with Russia and, perhaps, China.
-- U.S. provocation and endorsement of a 2014 right-wing coup against the pro-Russian government in Ukraine -- on Russia's western border -- a development that predictably created war in eastern Ukraine and a crisis that has led to dozens of dangerous incidents between NATO and Russian forces.
-- Washington's self-righteous denunciation and slandering of Russia's "very reasonable" annexation of Crimea (in the words of political writer Diana Johnstone), which was overwhelmingly supported by Crimeans as a natural response to the United States' installation of a right-wing, pro-NATO government in Kiev.
Perilous as the nuclear situation may be, the environmental danger is arguably greater. This is thanks to the shrinking time window for averting a climate catastrophe that is unfolding before our very eyes. Nuclear weapons don't kill off the human species just by existing. If we continue to miraculously escape launch (and even a first strike could start nuclear winter on its own) for a century, we can thank our lucky stars and proceed to dismantle nuclear weapons in 2118. There'll be no such luck available to us if we avoid action to stop the carbon-gassing of life on earth. We have 20 to 30 years (to be generous) to get off fossil fuels and curb mass consumption or it's curtains. We are currently on pace for 500 atmospheric carbon parts per million -- a level of warming likely to melt much of the world's life-supporting Antarctic ice sheet -- within 50 years, if not sooner.
Every new year of increased carbon emissions in an ever-warmer and more climatologically volatile world speeds us toward fatal feedback loops (perhaps already underway), bringing the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. The clock is currently at two minutes to doom, thanks to what leading scientists call "the failure of world leaders to...reduce the existential threat of nuclear war and unchecked climate change."