Rising Anti-Science Rhetoric Feeds the Pandemic and Climate Crisis

Today, a special broadcast: An hour with Noam Chomsky. He is a world-famous political dissident, linguist, and author who just turned 93. Chomsky spoke to Democracy Now!He predicted that new variants would emerge even before the Omicron coronavirus variation was discovered. “If you let the virus run rampant in poor countries, everyone understands that mutation is likely, the kind of mutation that led to the Delta variant, now the Delta Plus variant in India, and who knows what will develop,” Chomsky said.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:Today’s special broadcast features an hour with Noam Chmsky. The world-famous political dissident and linguist, Chomsky, has just turned 93. Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and I recently interviewed Noam as part of Democracy Now!’s 25th anniversary celebration. Noam Chomsky joined us in Tucson, Arizona where he teaches at University of Arizona. We asked him questions about the state and reasons why so many Americans are refusing to get vaccinated.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s overwhelmingly a far-right phenomenon. Others have been drawn in. I believe there are many sources. One of these sources is likely social media. It does circulate a lot of dubious and even false information. And if people are wedded to a particular part of it, that’s what they’ll be fed. Beyond that, there is skepticism about the government’s role. While this may seem a bit extreme, you can still understand the roots and motivations for skepticism.

And it’s not just the pandemic. Even worse is the attitude of skepticism regarding global warming. So, one rather shocking fact that I learned recently is that during the Trump years, among Republicans, the belief that global warming is a serious problem — not even an urgent problem, just a serious problem — declined about 20%. That’s very serious. Here we’re talking not just about the spread of a pandemic, but about marching over the precipice and ending the prospects for sustained, organized human life. That’s the kind of thing we’re facing. You can talk about the origins, but it must be overcome and dealt with immediately. Otherwise, the entire human species and all those we are casually killing will be in serious danger.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, can you talk about how you think that skepticism can be overcome — I mean, you, yourself, a serious critic of the corporate-government alliance — why people should trust large pharmaceutical companies like Moderna and Pfizer, that are making billions, why in this case we should trust that vaccines will save the population?

NOAM CHOMSKY:It would be impossible to trust information from Moderna and Pfizer if it came from them. The fact is that almost all of the health agencies in the world, as well as the vast majority of the medical professions and health sciences, accept the overwhelming evidence that vaccination drastically reduces the risk of infection and death. The evidence is overwhelming. And it’s therefore not surprising that it’s basically universally accepted by relevant authorities. It’s true that if it was just Big Pharma PR, there would be plenty of reason to doubt. But you can also look at the data. They’re available. And you can — when you do so, you can understand why there is essentially universal acceptance among the agencies that have no stake in the matter other than trying to save lives. You can understand why poor African countries who weren’t paid off by Big Pharma are pleading for vaccines. Their health agencies are.

And, in fact, the only exception I noted about this, apart from Trump for a period, was Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and he is now being under charges of a long senatorial investigation for charges of crimes against humanity for his failure to follow the normal protocol of trying to maximize the use of vaccines. Now that his reticence, reluctance on this matter has been overturned, it’s having the usual effect. Vaccinations are on the rise, while the incidence of diseases and deaths is steadily decreasing. It is difficult to deny the obvious correlation. Again, I repeat, that the effectiveness of vaccines is universally recognized by health agencies all over the globe.

Other things must be done, including social distancing, care, and masking in crowded areas. There are many measures that must be taken. Countries that follow these steps carefully do well. But where there’s a high level of skepticism, whatever its roots, there are serious problems.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think the U.S. should do to ensure that countries get vaccines around the world, not only for altruistic reasons, but because you can’t end this pandemic here or anywhere unless these vaccines get out everywhere? And I’m talking about Moderna and Pfizer. Moderna, the U.S. donated billions to. Pfizer, which the U.S. promised would purchase so many. Both corporations, among others have made billions. But what can the U.S. government do to ensure these vaccines are available in other countries, such as requiring Moderna to release their recipe? They will still make a fortune. What has Biden not done to allow people to have access these life-saving vaccinations?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I should say that Europe’s record is even worse than that of the United States. Biden has made some effort, but the wealthy countries have not, including the United States, though not primarily the United States — they have not taken measures that are within their capacity to ensure that other countries that have the resources to produce vaccines will have access not only to the products, the vaccines, but also to the process of manufacturing them.

We must recognize that the World Trade Organization rules were established mainly in 1990s under U.S. initiative and are radically protective and anti-free market. They protect Big Pharma and major corporations not only for the products they make but also the production processes. It is easy to break that patent. The governments can insist that the processes are made available and that vaccines are distributed to countries that require them.

This will save lives. It also means that we can save ourselves, as you stated. If you allow the virus to run wild in poor countries it will cause mutations. This is the kind of mutation which led to the Delta variant, now the Delta Plus version in India. Who knows what will happen next? Could be a — we’ve been kind of lucky so far. Coronaviruses can be deadly but not too contagious like Ebola. COVID-19. However, the next one might be both and might even be unstoppable by vaccines.

We know what measures must be taken to prevent this from happening: preparations, research, and health systems that work. It’s not a small point. Like, there are now new antivirals coming along which don’t stop the disease but prevent hospitalization. You must have a functioning system of health. It is difficult to imagine how these could be used in the United States. The health system is not structured in a way that allows people to access the information they need.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:You’ve experienced the disastrous effects of low vaccination rates, in which hospitals are unable to provide regular services as all beds are taken. COVID patients. You needed hospital treatment earlier this year, but couldn’t access a facility because all of the beds were taken. COVID patients. Could you explain how and whereabouts of this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, don’t want to go into the details, but I had something which was severe, couldn’t get to the hospital where my doctors are. They were overwhelmed with patients. They had to visit a couple of other hospitals before they were able to manage. So, you know, it’s not the worst case by any means. I should also mention that getting a booster shot was not an easy task. My wife was trying for — Valeria — for weeks simply to try to get an appointment. The system — I’m lucky. I’m relatively privileged. For others, it’s much worse.

Hospitals are overflowing. Nearly 100% of patients are not vaccinated in some regions of the country. This is a result of the large number who are from red states. They are reluctant and unable to implement appropriate measures. Because of the influx of nearly unvaccinated patients, hospitals were forced to cancel routine procedures. There’s a lot of extra deaths, enormous social costs. All of this can be controlled. We know how to deal. It’s a social malady, a breakdown of the social and cultural order, which is very serious in the pandemic case, but, as I want to keep stressing, far more serious in the case of environmental destruction. And we don’t have much time there. We can survive pandemics even if it comes at a high price. We’re not going to survive environmental destruction.

AMY GOODMAN:Noam Chomsky (93 years old), is a world-famous political dissident, linguist, and author. We talk about the climate crisis, the rise in proto-fascism within the United States, and many other topics when we return.


AMY GOODMAN: Michael Hurley performing “O My Stars” in our Democracy Now!Studios returned just before 2020’s pandemic.