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America *IS* Exceptional. It's Not a Good Thing

Roundup
tags: American exceptionalism, climate



Aviva Chomsky, a TomDispatch regularis professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts. Her latest book, Is Science Enough?  Forty Critical Questions about Climate Justice, is just about to be published.

Three years after the end of World War II, diplomat George Kennan outlined the challenges the country faced this way:

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.”

That, in a nutshell, was the postwar version of U.S. exceptionalism and Washington was then planning to manage the world in such a way as to maintain that remarkably grotesque disparity. The only obstacle Kennan saw was poor people demanding a share of the wealth.

Today, as humanity confronts a looming climate catastrophe, what’s needed is a new political-economic project. Its aim would be to replace such exceptionalism and the hoarding of the earth’s resources with what’s been called “a good life for all within planetary boundaries.”

Back in 1948, few if any here were thinking about the environmental effects of the over-consumption of available resources. Yet even then, however unknown, this country’s growing wealth had a dark underside: the slow-brewing crisis of climate change. Wealth all too literally meant the intensified extraction of resources and the production of goods. As it happened, fossil fuels (and the greenhouse gases that went with their burning) were essential to every step in the process.

Today, the situation has shifted — at least a bit. With approximately 4% of the world’s population, the United States still holds about 30% of its wealth, while its commitment to over-consumption and maintaining global dominance remains remarkably unshaken. To grasp that, all you have to do is consider the Biden White House’s recent Indo-Pacific Strategy policy brief, which begins in this telling way: “The United States is an Indo-Pacific power.” Indeed.

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