Making the Transition to Sustainability

By Francis de Winter
September 8, 2000


As is well documented on this website, the existing energy establishment has managed to mislead the public on the dependability of future crude oil and natural gas supplies, by distorting the information the public gets from the company PR departments, from industry associations and institutions, from the media, and even from virtually all of the national and international government agencies. The world has been kept unaware of the fact that a forced transition to energy sustainability is imminent because of the depletion of petroleum and natural gas.

The energy establishment has also managed to line up enormous government subsidies for itself over the last 140 years or so, and it has such close relations with national and international government leaders that official energy policies tend to favor the energy establishment at the expense of the public, and especially at the expense of future generations. That is, of course, how the existing subsidies that currently distort the so-called "free market" were created in the first place.

For the next few decades humanity must work very hard to make a successful and peaceful transition from a fossil fuel powered economy to an economy based on sustainable energy. In the process, a new corporate landscape will emerge, in which some of the present companies and/or industries may shrink or disappear, and in which some new companies and industries will emerge, grow, and prosper. That is inevitable, yet it need not be disastrous for those companies that find themselves in an economic niche that is no longer profitable. Nothing except a lack of vision will prevent them from making a skillful transition to a new niche that is profitable, without the destruction of the company or a serious reduction of its profits.

The energy transition can only be made peacefully and successfully if government addresses the needs of the public, and is not excessively influenced by the demands of existing industry and commerce. If government tries to perpetuate private sector activities that society no longer needs, it can only lead to waste and misery. If the energy transition is mishandled, the outcome could be disastrous: it might well be the worst case "Olduvai Gorge" scenario of Dr. Richard Duncan, with ignorance, intolerance, terrorism, oil wars, destruction of civil liberties, epidemics, famine, population collapse, and environmental disaster. If things are done right, there is however every reason to believe that a sustainable world of the future can be better than the consumerist world we have now.

The first step is to recognize and understand the current situation: the degree to which some corporate interests have gained almost full control over US government power.


The Constitution of the USA is a much admired document, as are many of the other basic documents that were written by the founding fathers of the USA. Lech Walesa of Poland knew many of these documents virtually by heart. They provided much of the inspiration to his quest for Polish freedom, and they have been an inspiration to many others for several centuries.

In view of these basic documents, one might expect the USA to be a country in which freedom is a basic right and democracy is a reality, and which in its dealings with other countries and peoples also promotes freedom, tolerance, democracy, wellbeing, and equal rights and opportunities. In practice however the USA often supports (and even creates) extremely brutal, destructive, and corrupt dictatorships in other nations, and the only demands on the dictator seem to be that they be helpful to US financial interests and hostile to "the enemies" (i.e. the rivals) of the USA. On many occasions the USA has supplied such dictators with an endless stream of arms and of military and "intelligence" personnel, which the dictators were then free to use (or even required to use) to promote the alleged cause of "freedom, democracy, and justice" by brutalizing and killing many thousands of their own citizens. On many occasions the USA has seemed to be entirely committed to keeping the lower classes of other countries (and even of the USA itself) as poor and as miserable as possible. On many occasions other countries have been used primarily to provide profits for a few US companies, with no concern for the environment, the population, or the future. US Indian reservations and US government (BLM) areas in the USA have often been mismanaged in the same way.

This is not a recent development. When the US constitution was written, the authors included wealthy people who preserved the institution of slavery, and who inserted provisions that would help protect their own wealth and power. In the 19th century and early 20th century, the USA started its involvement in other parts of the world: in Mexico, the Philippines, Central America, China, Japan, Africa, and elsewhere. This involvement was often brutal and destructive right from the start. Already early in the 19th century, Simon Bolivar observed that: "the United States seems destined to plague and torment the continent in the name of freedom." Simon Bolivar lived in Colombia and is like a George Washington for Latin America - Bolivia is named in his honor. The USA has not been kind to Colombia. The USA took the province of Panama away from Colombia by force, and installed a puppet government so that the USA could build, own and operate the Panama Canal on US terms. Late in the 19th century, the then President (and dictator) of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, made a statement that has become legendary: "Pobre Mexico, tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos." (Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the USA.) Few have questioned his judgment in this statement.

Many are disappointed and/or surprised by the corrupt and destructive US government behavior, and many have developed a rabid anti-US attitude. By and large, the written material on US foreign policy is confusing, split into bland and uninformed and deceptive chauvinism on the one side, and rabid anti-US material on the other side. There are few providing an intelligent explanation of US behavior, and there are many quiet but very confused people, in the USA and abroad.

Corruption and viciousness is not unique to the modern USA. For many centuries, in many nations, government has been corrupted to preserve and further enrich the establishment or the upper classes, and to keep the rabble - the lower classes - in line. International relations have often been vicious in the past. In the Opium War started by the British Empire, England (and other European superpowers) invaded China and inflicted enormous damage to defend their own opium dealers - to force China to buy British opium. The colonial history of England, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Portugal involved relationships which were parasitic and destructive, as vicious as necessary to maintain control, and as hypocritical as necessary to hide the facts. Few realize that the number of people killed by these "civilized" European countries in their colonies exceeds, by very far, the number of people killed by Germany in Hitler's holocaust.

An Explanation

Prof. Noam Chomsky has for decades been a very perceptive and articulate critic of US foreign and economic policy. He has explained, time and again, with a myriad of examples, why and how the USA behaves the way it does. In essence, such behavior is almost inevitable for a superpower. The US government is able to blackmail or force almost any country in the world (including the USA itself) to behave in a way that will be profitable to some specific US company. Is it surprising that these companies find it very easy and profitable to bribe corrupt US politicians and bureaucrats to get their way? Is it surprising that they spend an enormous amount of money and effort to ensure the election or appointment of US civil servants that will be obedient to them? Is it surprising that they are very hypocritical and deceptive, and that Washington is just as deceptive and hypocritical? It would indeed be surprising if all of this were not the end result of the US superpower status.

Desirable Changes

In support of the fossil fuel industry, the US government has helped to addict society to fossil fuels, and has helped to keep the limitations of the fossil fuel resources a mystery. This is documented in detail in other parts of this website, and it is clear we must start the transition away from fossil fuels. This will lead to many changes. People and things are now being shipped large distances, in a transportation system almost totally dependent on fossil fuels. Much of the travel will be replaced with internet communications, agriculture will become more local, and food may become more seasonal. In a society with sustainable energy sources, much of the electricity and heating will come from rooftop solar collectors and from windfarms. Energy, agriculture, and politics are likely to become more decentralized, with local people playing a larger role. Many corporations will experience rapid growth, while others may have to struggle for survival. To move towards sustainability it will be essential for us to release the stranglehold that large corporations at present have on government, and Dr. Chomsky's writings provide the clearest view on the challenge we face in this. It is indeed likely that many readers in nations other than the USA will recognize in Dr. Chomsky's books the clues to the corrupt symbiotic relationship between their own government and those who are manipulating that government for their own benefit.

Read the material of Dr. Chomsky for more details, and remember that chauvinism and patriotism are not the same. It is indeed the utmost of patriotism to criticize government delinquency - to demand proper behavior of the government of one's own country, i.e. of one's own civil and military servants. It should be obvious that it does not benefit the USA to harm the populations of other nations, particularly when this is only done for the benefit of a few US companies that are unable or unwilling to behave properly, and that do not care.


Dr. Chomsky is Institute Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. He has made many interesting contributions to linguistics. He was the first to propose that young children learn their native language with such a surprising rapidity since the brain is custom-made (with language circuitry) for this task, and since all human languages are really quite similar. Language indeed probably simply reflects the power of the brain. Dr. Chomsky is also a persistent critic in domestic and international politics, being especially critical of the behavior of the USA and of Israel. Dr. Chomsky has been an extremely prolific writer and speaker for many years, and he has been interviewed very frequently. This has led to a large number of books (some only in paperback) from many publishers, and to many lectures and speeches which can be found on the internet or in short documents.

Dr. Chomsky wrote to me and expressed concern about being the only author mentioned in this material. He mentioned that there are many others who have written about these topics and who have publications worth reading, and that this is the reason he has used so many footnotes in his books. Most authors have however written about specific topics, like the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra scandal, the US secret war against Nicaragua, or other specific cases of US government corruption and criminality inside or outside of the USA. That is like writing about specific symptoms of a disease. Dr. Chomsky has for long been concerned about the disease, and in the process he has addressed many of the symptoms. The Chomsky diagnosis of the disease is quite conclusive, and if you start by reading the Chomsky material you will have no problem finding the other authors. There is indeed a very rich literature on this very painful topic.

It should be noted that this is a live website, and we will be happy to consider books that readers feel should be included. For the time being, I apologize to Dr. Chomsky for listing only his work.


Some of Dr. Chomsky's speeches and articles can be found on the internet. A list of some of his books is also given below. These can be ordered from our local independent Bookshop Santa Cruz by e-mail.

On this Website by or about Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky on the Middle East

Noam Chomsky on 911

Books Written by or about Noam Chomsky

A list of some of the books by or about Dr. Chomsky follows below. These can be ordered through Bookshop Santa Cruz by sending an e-mail to The Bookshop Santa Cruz website is <>. The Chomsky selections were mostly taken from the catalog of AK Press, which offers a fascinating collection of books on politics by Chomsky and others, and also offers books on many other topics. To request the AK Press catalog, send an e-mail to, and for general correspondence use


1. Noam Chomsky: "On Language."

A reprinting of two of the most popular and accessible of Chomsky's writings on language: Language and Responsibility, and Reflections on Language.

New Press, ISBN 1-56584-475-0, US$16.95, 1998.

2. Noam Chomsky: "Language and Problems of Knowledge - The Managua Lectures."

A number of very detailed discussions on language. It has many interesting examples, both in Spanish and English, illustrating the automatic way in which the human brain can construct expressions in language that make sense, and recognize expressions that do not make sense. It is primarily in the introduction that Chomsky brings up questions on government, mentioning the difficulty and the pain of being in Nicaragua, where the US government has misbehaved so badly and so often.

MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-53070, US$15.00, 1998.

3. Stephen Pinker: "The Language Instinct - How the Mind Creates Language."

A very stimulating book on the current understanding of language, with a thorough explanation of the Chomsky view that the human brain is custom-made or pre-wired for human language.

Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-06-097651-9, US$15.00, 1994.


1. David Barsamian: "Chronicles of Dissent."

A first rate collection of interviews with David Barsamian, furnishing an accessible overview of Chomsky's thought. Perhaps the best place to start for anyone coming to the politics of Chomsky for the first time (see also item 3).

Common Courage / AK Press, ISBN 0-9628838-8-3, US$16.95, 1992.

2. Robert F. Barsky: "Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent."

A useful and engaging biography. While hardly the definitive 'autobiography Chomsky may never write,' committed fans will appreciate the excerpts from unpublished correspondence, including the author's own long correspondence with Chomsky.

MIT Press, (ISBN 0-262-52255-1, US$14.00 Paperback), (ISBN 1-55022-2821, US$32.95 Hardcover), 1997.

3. James Peck (Editor): "The Chomsky Reader."

A large and representative collection of excerpts and items written by Chomsky. A few years ago, my Christmas present to my son.

Pantheos Books, ISBN 0-394-75173-6, US$18.00, 1987.

4. David Barsamian: "Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian."

Continuing his best-selling interviews with Barsamian, Chomsky provides a road map to the concentration of corporate power. Amidst a devastating sketch of the ongoing destruction of civil society, Class Warfare unearths a cause for optimism in the ongoing struggle for human freedom.

Common Courage, ISBN 1-56751-092-2, US$15.00, 1996.

5. Noam Chomsky: "Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies."

In practice, the media serves the interest of the state and corporate power. Here is how and why, in Chomsky's usual rigorously documented style.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-366-7, US$22.00, 1989.

6. Noam Chomsky: "Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda."

Beginning with a brief overview of the origins of propaganda in America, Chomsky examines the varieties of mind control and behavior modification that results when government and businesses use image manipulation and disinformation to influence events.

Seven Stories, ISBN 1-888363-49-5, US$5.95, 1997.

7. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky: "Manufacturing Consent."

This book is based on a film on the same topic. It has many photos and the complete transcript, plus Chomsky excerpts, correspondence and interviews, and Chomsky exchanges with critics.

Black Rose, ISBN 1-551640-02-3, US$24.99, 1988.

8. Noam Chomsky: "Deterring Democracy."

An overwhelming collection of well documented instances of US government brutality and misbehavior in other countries.

Hill and Wang, no ISBN number shown in the book, US$16.00, 1991.

9. Noam Chomsky: "Liberating Theory."

An alternative conceptual framework applied to questions of economics, gender, race, and culture.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-306-3, US$15.00, 1986.

10. Noam Chomsky: "Culture of Terrorism."

A scathing critique of the US political culture which has brought us Iran-Contra, the New World Order and so much more. A biting collection of essays.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-334-9, US$18.00, 1989.

11. Noam Chomsky: "Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World."

Essays on Western State terrorism, including excellent chapters on its effects in Libya and the Middle East.

Black Rose, ISBN 0-895431-20-4, US$19.99, 1996.

12. Noam Chomsky: "Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization."

Noam Chomsky in conversation on the Zapatistas, Cuba, Washington as the center of world terrorism, Panama, 1492, the Sandinistas, and more.

Ocean, ISBN 1-876175-13-3, US$15.95, 1999.

13. Noam Chomsky: "Year 501: The Conquest Continues."

A powerful and comprehensive discussion of the incredible injustices hidden in our history. There is little that escapes Chomsky's attention.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-444-2, US$19.00, 1993.

14. Noam Chomsky: "On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures."

Five lectures - delivered in Managua, Nicaragua - on US international and security policy. Vintage material.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-289 X, US$13.00, 1987.

15. Noam Chomsky: "World Orders Old and New."

Based on lectures given at Cairo University in Egypt, this is a fair summation of Chomsky's thoughts to date on the current state of the world, and America's role in it. From post-Cold War international relations, to Clinton's efforts at home, to the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Columbia Univ. Press, ISBN 0-231-10157-0, US$17.00, 1994.

16. Noam Chomsky: "Powers and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order."

His first collection in recent years to address questions of linguistics, philosophy, ethics, and international affairs. From language and human nature, to the Middle East and East Timor, supported by a wealth of disturbing details and facts, Chomsky provides a scathing critique of government policy and media complicity, while offering an inspirational view of the potential for true democracy worldwide.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-535 X, US$16.00, 1996.

17. Noam Chomsky: "Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order."

Instead of democratic social participation, Chomsky defines the prevailing political principles as Neoliberalism - policies that put profit over people. In a brand new (1998) collection of essays, Chomsky follows the path of 'Neoliberalism' from Adam Smith to the Clinton-era emergence of global economic and political order. In his inimitable style, he combines historical examples, no-holds barred criticism, and a sense of profound hope in social activism to redefine people as citizens rather than consumers, and democracy as a global movement rather than a global market.

Seven Stories, (ISBN 1-888363-82-7, US$15.95 Paperback), (ISBN 1-888363-89-4, US$32.00 Hardcover), 1998.

18. Noam Chomsky: "The Chomsky Trilogy."

A boxed set of Chomsky's three best-selling titles: What Uncle Sam Really Wants; The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many; and Secrets, Lies, and Democracy.

Odonian, ISBN 1 878825-07-0, US$20.00, 1998.

19. Noam Chomsky: "Rethinking Camelot: J. F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture."

A thorough analysis of JFK's role in the US invasion of Vietnam, and a probing and detailed insight into the elite political culture that is not made or broken by individual presidents, no matter how many pundits and film-makers would like to think so.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-458-2, US$14.00, 1993.

20. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman: "The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism."

First volume of The Political Economy of Human Rights - on the massive political repression inflicted by the CIA and its related services around the world.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-090-0, US$22.00, 1980.

21. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman: "After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology."

Second volume of the Political Economy of Human Rights. Chomsky was adamantly opposed to the US involvement in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from the beginning, and this book was written after the USA was finally forced to stop this war. It is a classic.

South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-100-1, US$18.00, 1979.