Friday, January 11, 2019

Climate Change Refugees and Devastation in Paradise

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Butte County CA

I decided to drive up north to Butte County and see the effects of the devastating fires we had up there last year. What is referred to as the “Camp Fire” is the largest fire in California history leaving at least 86 people dead and destroying nearly 19,000 structures. I also wanted to meet some of the people who were victims of this disaster. I had planned to stay in Chico the night and hopefully meet some of the survivors there today but could not find accommodation within a 50 mile radius so I had to drive the 200 miles back home.

Fortunately, I had read that there were some folks staying in Gridley, a small community south of the fire area off the 99 and stopped there on the way up. By chance I met the man in this video and took the opportunity to ask his thoughts about it. As an aside, I apologize for my lack of video skills, I had thought I had improved my skills considerably after struggling for a long time with I Movie and then they went and upgrading it and now I have to re-learn it again.

I should add that there are numerous factors that probably contribute to these type of fires and growth is likely one of them but not the only one. As is the case with most of these disasters, including the near catastrophe when the spillway at the Oroville dam, a few miles south of the Camp Fire area, overflowed, there were early warnings that could have prevented it. It turns out after the fact that a decade earlier experts warned about this dam and the danger of it rupturing if the natural spillway failed. That’s what eventually happened forcing the evacuation of some 200, 000 people.

I was reading in a local Chico paper about warnings of a major catastrophic fire on this ridge where Paradise sits back in the 1990’s after the great Oakland fire that destroyed some 4000 homes.  That the source of this warning was a conservative Butte County politician does not negate it. Access to communities, older structures and state forestry polices are included and there’s most likely some truth in all these observations.

But what is absent in the official analysis of environmental disasters is the issue of climate change. And naturally, it was not worth mentioning in the exchange in the early nineties, especially as the source was a self-described right wing conservative politician. We commented on this fire as it occurred last November, and it is very clear that climate change and the extreme changes in weather patterns whether hurricanes in the Atlantic, ice flows in the arctic or fires in California, climate change has to be at the center of it. As I wrote in the article I link to, “Paradise has had just 0.88 inches of rain since May 1, compared with a historical average of over 7 inches during the same period tweeted James Sinko a meteorologist at the Weather Channel. “If Northern California had received anywhere near the typical amount of autumn precipitation this year ... explosive fire behavior & stunning tragedy in #Paradise would almost certainly not have occurred,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist and researcher at UCLA wrote.

The truth is that these other factors are affected by climate change in a negative way; it compounds them. 

And even if we are talking about growth or publicly managed forestry practices or any other important public services, these are driven from without by the pressure of the private sector and the parasitic investment community that see public expenditure as money out, money that crowds out private capital from the marketplace and therefore undermines profits.  The propaganda about spending on social services and how inefficient and wasteful they are is intense. Think of how the USPS and those that work in it are demonized in the capitalist mass media. Yet the USPS is the most efficient service in the country. No matter where you live, on top of a mountain or in rural California, you get your mail. The private sector wants to get its grubby little hands on it just as they do education and any other important social need. If those whose life activity is living off the profit of capital get their hands on the USPS, the first thing they will do is close 4000 of them or more.  Profit should not enter in to social needs. Health care should not be a business and our private sector, for profit dominated health care is the worst of the advanced capitalist economies.

Yes there is corruption or waste, but it is driven by the power of capitalist interests on public life and discourse. The other important thing to remember, is the private sector has two parties, Republicans and Democrats that ensure that the interests of capital are foremost.  I was in New Orleans fighting evictions after Katrina displaced so many poor people and I wrote a fair bit about my experience. One example was that the garbage companies receiving FEMA (public) money to clean up the streets after Katrina had dropped 30 years of waste on them in four days, were found to be picking fridges and stoves and other type of debris up and simply dropping it off in another area and charging for it. The waste management facilities were not sufficient, plus, much of the debris required environmental facilities.

While I was up in the Paradise area I saw signs thanking firefighters and calling on the community to "Stay Strong".  The public sector, regardless of any failures, is far more efficient than the private, than so called free enterprise when it comes to the needs of society. Its failings are a result of having to function within the wider capitalist economy and the power of capital to dictate policy through their political representatives in the two parties they control. It is not really public in that sense as workers and consumers do not manage and control the process including capital allocation and it is working class (middle class in the US) and poor people that suffer the worst from political graft and waste so we have the strongest motive to stop it but we can't if we don't own it.

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