How do you see the global power dynamic in 2008?

Noam Chomsky: Well there are basically three major power systems, roughly speaking: North America, Europe and North East Asia, joined to Indian and South Asia and to South East Asia. There are lots of integration among them, they are not distinct, but they are identifiable power centers. Separate from them are the major oil producers, which have power, but have a lot of financial resources.

Europe and the United States are roughly comparable in every dimension except military force. The United States, its military spending now exceeds substantially that of the rest of the world combined, and nothing is even close.

The North East Asia is probably the most dynamic economic region in the world; China, Japan, North and South Korea. It has amassed enormous financial resources. In fact, Japan and China, and to some extent the oil producers, have been sustaining the U.S. economy. How long they will do it is unclear.

There’s plenty of violence all over the world, with the most extreme regions are the Middle East region, mainly because that’s the major energy sources of energy for the world. The U.S. invasion of Iraq is the central part of it, but not the only one. And it’s a very volatile area. There could be a confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, a U.S. attack on Iran, which one well known British military historian, Correlli Barnett, said that it would be world III. And he could be right.

There are other tendencies developing. South America, as you mentioned, is actually for the first time in its history since the Spanish invasion, is making significant moves towards integration. The society, countries have been very separate from one another. They have been ruled by tiny, wealthy, mostly Europeanized elites, related to the imperial societies, not to one another. And they are moving towards a degree of integration, its independence.

They are also beginning slowly to tackle some of their immense internal problems. There is a huge inequality. In fact some of the most exciting democratic experiments, may be the most exciting, are taking place right there, especially in Bolivia where the indigenous majority of the population has, for the first time, entered the political arena in a serious way, elected their own candidate from their own ranks. It’s leading to a possible threat of cessation by the white Europeanized elite, which has always around the country and has most of the resources. And there is plenty of sources of conflict there. An important development, in many ways the most exciting area of the world, I think.

There is the Bank of the South, which is broadly supported, could be an alternative development fund, just as the Asian Development Bank could be.

What happens in China and India will be no doubt be of enormous significance. They do have high growth rates. A lot of people have been taken out of poverty. It should be recalled that they have succeeded in doing this largely by violating the rules of game that the western powers have attempted to establish. That’s no surprise the economic historians, because it’s the way the developed countries got rich themselves. But they are now significant players around the world scene. Particularly China.

However, with extraordinary internal problems. Hundreds of millions of people either destitute or in serious economic problems, enormous ecological problems.

India which has developed significantly, starting in the 1980s, but particularly in the last 15 years, still ranks about 125th or so in the United Nation’s Human Development Index, has seen enormous poverty and destitution. But they have tremendous internal problems to deal with. They are nowhere near the level of the rich developed western European, North American countries. But shifting power in the world seems doubtless.

China happens to be the center of a developing strategic system. The Shanghai Corporation Organization, which is based in China, includes Russia with its quite enormous energy resources. India, Pakistan and Iran are associated, admitted observers. The central Asian states are part of it. The United States has sought observer status, but has been rejected. The organization has called on the U.S. to leave Central Asia and other regions. And this is slowly emerging power block that some regard as potentially a counterpart NATO, with substantial internal resources, Russian particularly, but if Iran joins in, even more. And they’re reaching out even towards Saudi Arabia, which is the jewel in the crown, as far as energy resources are concerned. So doubtless a source of enormous concern to the United States, which is trying pretty desperately to set up a Sunni counterforce and to somehow control Iraq, which has turned to total catastrophe. These are some, not all, of the major live issues on the global scene.

 

Recorded on: March 21, 2008

Chomsky talks about the three major world power systems: North America, Europe and Northeast Asia

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Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

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Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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