Noam Chomsky speaks in Chicago on nuclear armament, climate change


Leah Dunlevy/The Daily Northwestern

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and linguist Noam Chomsky speaks at the University of Chicago on Monday. Chomsky was selected as the first speaker in a series of talks to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Haymarket Books.

Matthew Choi, Copy Chief

CHICAGO — The decision to go extinct or not is ours, said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and linguist Noam Chomsky at a talk Monday in Chicago.

Chomsky spoke on the threat of nuclear war and climate change and the forces allowing them to exist at an event hosted by Haymarket Books at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave., on the University of Chicago’s campus. Referring to the current presidential election, Chomsky said he was dismayed at the attention focused away from nuclear armament and climate change in favor of less “threatening” issues such as immigration from Latin America.

“Scarcely a comment on the two most important questions of human history,” Chomsky said. “Sensible steps have been proposed that can be taken right away … Decisions about those are the most important decisions in human history, and actions on these decisions cannot be delayed.”

Chomsky also explored the history behind these issues, arguing they largely originate in the domination of the United States in the global economic, military and political stages. Issues such as global warming and nuclear armament could be better solved, he said, but the solutions are continuously blocked by politics and omitted from policy discussion.

The event was originally scheduled to take place in Thorne Auditorium at Northwestern’s Chicago campus, Raghian said, but its 720-person capacity could not accommodate the overwhelming demand for tickets, which sold out in three hours. Raghian said Haymarket Books moved the location to Rockefeller Memorial Chapel because of its larger capacity and because it had already planned another event in the space for November. About 1,800 people attended, with several being turned away at the door.

In his talk, Chomsky described the uniqueness of current times and how humanity is on the cusp of extinction at its own hands. From U.S. corporations contributing to irreparable climate change to the continued political stalemates created in a nuclearly-armed world, the international community post-World War II may destroy itself, he said.

“That we have escaped from catastrophe for nearly 70 years is a miracle,” he said. “(But) miracles cannot be trusted to perpetuate.”

The event, co-sponsored by the Lannan Foundation and the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory, was part of a series of talks spread throughout the year to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Haymarket Books — a self-described non-profit, radical bookseller — Chomsky was selected as the first speaker for his cultural pertinence and alignment with Haymarket Books’ mission, said Behzad Raghian, financial director for the publisher.

SESP senior Georgia Pettibone, who attended the event, said Chomsky’s talk was both eye-opening and moving. After having seen the Facebook event for the talk, Pettibone traveled to UChicago specifically to see him speak.

“Despite all of the problems he talked about, he still thinks there’s so much room for people to do more and make the world better in different ways,” Pettibone said. “It’s important to see that side of the problems that are current and relevant. There is so much we can do to change.”

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