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Reply from Noam Chomsky to the Interventions of Miguel Fuentes and Guy McPherson

Noam Chomsky

“What matters (…) We need not accept the conclusion that all is lost”

(Reply from Noam Chomsky to the Interventions of Miguel Fuentes and Guy McPherson in the first part of the debate “Climate Catastrophe, Collapse, Democracy, and Socialism”)

Editorial Note

Presented below is the response of renowned American social scientist Noam Chomsky to the positions expressed by Miguel Fuentes (representative of the new ideology of Collapsist Marxism) and Guy McPherson (North American climate scientist) in the ongoing debate “Climate Catastrophe, Collapse, Democracy, and Socialism.” His reply joins the recent interventions in this discussion by John Bellamy Foster (founder of contemporary Marxist ecology and current editor of Monthly Review), Yanis Varoufakis (Marxist economist and former Minister of Economy of Greece), and Max Wilbert (representative of the international eco-radical organization Deep Green Resistance)[1].

One of the characteristics of Chomsky’s response lies in his rejection of some of the premises that accompany collapsist and/or extinctionist positions (represented in this debate by Miguel Fuentes, Guy McPherson, and Max Wilbert). This is evident in his support for the perspectives presented by Yanis Varoufakis (who, in his previous intervention, advocated for his particular approach to a Green New Deal proposal), as well as by mentioning specific examples of social and advocacy struggles that, according to Chomsky, demonstrate the possibility of a positive resolution to the global climate and energy crisis today. This, he argues, can be achieved within the framework of an effective policy of social and climate justice.

Another key aspect of Chomsky’s response, again in line with Varoufakis, lies in his implicit (and sometimes explicit) criticism of the collapsist stance that rejects certain levels of “institutional engagement” in the path towards an energy transition to an ecologically sustainable society, as well as the notion of an already “irreversible” ecological and social collapse on a planetary scale.

Nevertheless, while Chomsky’s intervention stands out favourably for its intensity and energy in engaging with the collapsist perspective, it seems that there is a certain attempt to avoid a more detailed discussion of the arguments put forth by his counterparts in this debate. For example, the critique defended by Fuentes, McPherson, and Wilbert regarding the concept of “sustainability”, the role of so-called “renewable energies”, and other “argumentative pillars” on which the proposal of a New Green Deal is based. Chomsky’s response seems to lack the “spirit of synthesis” that characterized Varoufakis’ previous intervention and, above all, that of ecosocialist John Bellamy Foster.

In conclusion, this is a fundamental debate of our time that addresses the ecological crisis, energy depletion, resource scarcity, overpopulation, and the prospect of an imminent civilizational collapse. It includes some of the most important voices in contemporary left intellectual circles and echoes other discussions taking place internationally around these same issues. For instance, the debate initiated by French collapsology (see the work of Pablo Servigne) and the ongoing one in Spain between Jorge Riechmann (a prominent figure in Spanish collapsist Marxism) and Antonio Turiel (the main exponent of the theory of degrowth in the Spanish-speaking world), who are challenging the positions of Spanish intellectuals Emilio Santiago Muíño and Jaime Vindel (close to the figures of Pablo Iglesias and Íñigo Errejón).

A debate that, albeit gradually, is also starting to “seep” into the political discussions in Latin American countries, where terms like “collapsology” or “degrowth theory” have begun to slowly enter the public arena. Some examples of this can be found in the recent discussions led by ecologist thinker Maristella Svampa in Argentina, the inclusion of collapsist-oriented debates in certain left-leaning media outlets such as the magazine Desde Abajo (Colombia) or Aporrea (Venezuela), as well as the controversy surrounding the term “degrowth” within the framework of the past Constitutional Convention in Chile. Other examples of this in Chile include some recent interventions by former presidential candidate Daniel Jadue and media figure Ariel Zuñiga regarding collapsist topics, as well as the impact that the polemic sparked by French Marxist intellectual Marina Garrisi on the concept of “Ecological Leninism” (coined by Swedish thinker Andreas Malm) has had on certain circles of the left in Latin America (which are usually reluctant to critique developmentalist-industrialist perspectives).

In more historical terms, this debate echoes not only those significant intellectual discussions that characterized the 20th century (such as the one between Chomsky and Michel Foucault on the concept of “human nature”) but also the heated controversies within the realm of Marxism in past centuries concerning the dilemma of “reform or revolution” (now applied to the discussion of the ecological and energy crisis). This debate, why not?… would also be connected to those profound “existential inquiries” of humanity that have accompanied each of the major “transitions” our civilization has faced in the past. A debate (perhaps the final one) in the face of a potential collapse of human society and life on our planet[2].

Marxism and Collapse

July 26, 2023

“What matters (…) We need not accept the conclusion that all is lost”

Noam Chomsky counter-reply to the first part of the debate “Climate Catastrophe, Collapse, Democracy and Socialism”

Noam Chomsky

I have been asked to comment on the rejoinders to my response to the questions of the interview-debate “Climate Catastrophe, Collapse, Democracy, and Socialism” originally sent to me. That turns out to be quite easy. I can simply refer to the final contribution to this discussion by Yanis Varoufakis.

Like him, “I was struck and concerned by their embrace of defeat,” referring to the rejoinders by Miguel Fuentes and Guy McPherson. In the latter case, it is explicit: we’re finished, no point in further discussion. Fuentes reaches the same conclusion more obliquely. For him, democracy and socialism are dead, all of modernity is dead, we have to think things through from the beginning and discover something new, and implement it.

Noam Chomsky, Miguel Fuentes, Guy McPherson, John Bellamy Foster and Max Wilbert

A moment’s thought suffices to demonstrate that Fuentes’s project is suicidal.  The time scale for his project, if even achievable, is immeasurably beyond the scale within which we must deal with the urgent crisis of today. Hence, he reaches the same conclusion as McPherson: Game over.

Fuentes ask further “Who’s in a hurry,” and suggests we learn from the tortoise. He knows well who’s in a hurry: Humans are, along with all the other species that we are wantonly destroying in our folly.

Fuentes dismisses disparagingly what he takes to be my proposal of a mere “tax.” Reference is to the detailed, sophisticated and comprehensive plans of action worked out by left economist Robert Pollin and his associates, which, they argue plausibly, could significantly mitigate the immediate crisis in a feasible manner. Furthermore, they are now involved in implementing these plans. With some success. In the major coal mining state of West Virginia (that concentrates a significant part of the coal mining in the United States), the United Mine Workers union has adopted a program of transition to renewable energy based on these plans, as have many other unions in extractive industries. 

This is the kind of combination of detailed theoretical inquiry and direct activism on the ground that offers some hope of avoiding terminal catastrophe. We need not accept the conclusion that all is lost!

The United Mine Workers union and the ecological transition[3]

Like it or not, the fact is that the immediate crisis has to be faced within the basic framework of existing state capitalist institutions, with modifications that might be imposed by an aroused public in the short term. Lofty pronouncements are not going to wish these facts away.

Does that mean that we have to put aside the efforts to dismantle the existing socioeconomic system with its inherent suicidal thrust, along with much else that is intolerable? Of course not!  The struggle to overthrow oppressive and destructive institutions and create a more just social order goes hand-in-hand with the efforts to overcome imminent and lethal crises.  What is more, the two are mutually supportive. As every authentic revolutionary knows by heart, people are not going to undertake hazardous actions with uncertain outcomes unless they have come to understand that their just aspirations cannot be met within existing structures. That’s true for actions ranging from a strike to social revolution. The consciousness and understanding achieved in the struggle to save us from planetary catastrophe today can contribute directly to recognition of the need for large-scale social change, which in turn advances today’s immediate struggles.

What matters, as Varoufakis stresses, is “what we do and how we do it,” whatever our speculations about the prospects. There is a great deal that we can do – and that, fortunately, is being done – in both of the intertwined and mutually supportive domains of that great struggle that lies ahead of us: averting imminent catastrophe and helping to channel in constructive directions the “rational rage” that will arise from our dedication to implementing the detailed proposals included in the Global New Green Deal, as well as from “witnessing how the establishment shoot these proposals down”. Not just watching: resisting their efforts to do so as a step towards social revolution.

I opt for Varoufakis’ strategy number 3!

Noam Chomsky

January 6, 2023

[1] The Spanish version of the first part of the debate between Noam Chomsky (USA), Miguel Fuentes (Chile), and Guy McPherson (USA), as well as the critical comments from John Bellamy Foster (USA-Canada), Yanis Varoufakis (Greece), and Max Wilbert (USA-Canada) can be found here:

[2] A complementary discussion on these topics can be found in the debate “Ecosocialism versus Collapse Theory” between Michael Löwy (France), Miguel Fuentes (Chile), and Antonio Turiel (Spain), which featured critical comments from Jaime Vindel (Spain), Jorge Altamira (Argentina), and Paul Walder (Chile). The debate was published a few years ago. Link:

[3] Source: