Friday, November 2, 2012

Frankenstorm shakes up some big guns: A glimpse of what's to come

by Richard Mellor

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy the issue of climate change or the ecological effects of human society on the natural world has taken center stage in the US.  The subject of climate change was absent in the presidential debates and on the issue, Romney mocked Obama for promising to "slow the rise of the ocean and heal the planet" while he promises "to help you and your family."

But it's hard to deny that something is afoot in the wake of repeated natural disasters that once took place every century or so; in the real sense, they are not natural disasters but social ones, crises of capitalism. According to the German insurance company, Munich Re, the rate of severe or extreme weather events is rising and much more so in North America. As Business Week points out, their motive is not so much science or care for people but profits. Munich Re claims that in the last 30 years $1.06 trillion has been lost in weather related disasters and in North America, the number of such events rose five times over the same period.

Despite what we see on the US East Coast and in countries like Cuba and other areas damaged by such events, there are still those who deny that human activity has anything to do with these changes. 

Martin Hoerling, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said Sandy wasn’t boosted by global warming -- the storm merely revealed natural forces at work. “Great events can have little causes,” he told the New York Times. “In this case, the immediate cause is most likely little more that the coincidental alignment of a tropical storm with an extratropical storm.”*

Even if this is so, in this individual case, it doesn't explain the magnitude and rate of these eventsAnd he is denying that human activity can effect natural forces. Those sections of the capitalist class in energy and oil production that deny it deny it as a matter of self preservation, they are not willing to commit class suicide but I don't accept that they really believe their own claims.

NYC Subway
Hurricane Sandy has forced powerful representatives of the capitalist class to open up a debate on this issue of climate and the effects of human activity on the planet. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City and owner of Business Week endorsed Obama yesterday and has addressed the need to deal with climate change.  Bloomberg is worth some $20 billion dollars and has to react after 40 deaths, 8 million homes without power, hundreds of thousands evacuated and some $50 billion in damage.  This isn't the ninth ward in New Orleans, a city of 400,000 people, it is one of the financial hubs of global and US capitalism. Bloomberg has been joined by Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York who fears more storms like this one and is talking of new infrastructure projects including surge protectors and weatherproofing New York City's subway system. Governor Christie of New Jersey, a Republican and Romney supporter has been full of praise for Obama and his response to the disaster.

We will hear increased talk of "Green Jobs", wind, or solar power, taxing carbon emissions and other market oriented measures: "Conservatives champion market forces--- as do smart liberals---and financial incentives should be part of the climate agenda" Business Week writes.  Yet they know too well that they cannot rely on the private sector and challenge  the "big government" and Tea Bagger crowd with their calls for repairing infrastructure and expanding transportation, that the US "has allowed to grow obsolete" which , "..poses a threat not just to public safety but also to the nation's economic health." 

This influential journal of the big capitalists calls for a greater need to spend money for "disaster preparation and response"   mocking Romney for suggesting during the primary debates last year that FEMA's responsibilities should be handed over to the states, a suggestion designed to please the Tea Baggers.  Let the states fend for themselves? leave it to the private sector?  Not so says BW. "Pay as you go rooftop rescue service may appeal to plutocrats; when the flood waters are rising, ordinary folks welcome the national guard."  Here's Business week sounding like a bunch of commies. The events of the last week have had a powerful effect on whole sections of the capitalist class and the US population as a whole, much of it not yet fully absorbed.

All sorts of measures will be undertaken in order to lessen the effects of human activity on the environment but there is no solution to this problem on a capitalist basis. It is the system of production, the way we produce the necessities of life that is at the root of this crisis, not simply "human activity" in general. To blame human activity in the abstract rather than the way we produce (and consume) the necessities of life is somewhat like blaming overpopulation for the global ecological  crisis.  It is an excuse, a smoke screen to avoid dealing with the larger issue of production and the system itself.

Some alternative steps along the road to a healthy environment:

End Capitalism’s poverty and earth-destroying policies

Everybody in the world could have access to clean water, food, housing, health care and education for $80 billion per year, according to the UN. The world’s seven richest people have $1.54 trillion between them. (2007 figures) We believe in ending the private ownership of the world’s biggest corporations and developing systems of energy and goods production, housing, and transportation to end worldwide poverty and global warming. This can be done on a basis of a global community comprised of a federation of democratic socialist states.

Base new housing development on society’s needs and not on market speculation.
Immediately end unemployment
Reshape existing communities for more collective living by adding shared public space including community kitchens and laundries.

Agriculture and Food Production
Promote local, organic food production to decrease wasteful cross-continent and cross-hemisphere shipping. End the environmentally damaging practices of factory farms, mass cattle production, genetically modified foods and use of pesticides and hormones in food production. Increase focus on organic community gardens to provide fresh, healthy and local produce. Increase wages and the workforce on farms to offset the increased labor needed to produce healthy, organically grown food.

Take complete public control and management of the energy industry to develop cleaner power resources and distribute energy to the public without profits. End the environmentally damaging practices of factory

Create an efficient mass transit infrastructure of buses, trains, subways, and boats that provides

people with a feasible alternative to the inefficient auto. Give the public free access to this system
making private cars less desirable.

Emphasis on clean and renewable water sources.
Develop infrastructure to provide a safe water supply where needed.
Prohibit new development in areas without the water to support it. 
Eliminate unnecessary water uses and focus on recycling water as much as possible
Turn residential lawns into vegetable gardens and use household  runoff water for watering
Provide housing with the ability to catch and use rainwater  ( learn from the Mayan societies)

Many of the discussed changes would significantly decrease overall ongoing pollution.
Put resources in to environmental cleanup
Focus on the need for eliminating landfills by using recyclable materials and implementing mass scale composting and recycling programs
Establish community based libraries and circulation centers for things such as furniture, household items, tools, clothes and toys
These are just a few ideas that Facts For Working People laid out a few years ago. The ongoing damage our system of production is causing to our environment calls for much more intensive discussion and new ideas to deal with the immediate effects.   What is absolutely clear is that all the tinkering of the market that will be offered as solutions to what is a looming environmental catastrophe will not prevent us reaching the point of no return.  Capitalism is poisoning the rivers and oceans, the air we breathe and the bodies we inhabit. Transforming the way we produce our needs as well as  the methods of distributing and consuming them can begin to reverse the damage already done by a market system that produces for profit. But time is of the essence. This has to be done on a global basis, no nation can solve this crisis independently.

If we want to preserve life on this planet we can do that, but we can't continue to live the way we do, the planet can't support it forever.

*Thanks to Tom Savoca for that bit of information

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