Pandemic and Disasters Part of Class War
The pandemic has killed over 200,000 Americans and 1 million people worldwide, yet our government continues to ensure the survival of giant corporations more than the health of its people. Meanwhile, disasters connected to climate change have added another layer of suffering. For example, in September, scientists declared that the wildfires raging near Portland, Oregon, had given the city the most unhealthy air on the planet.
By summer 2020, the federal government had declared the second most disasters of any year, with months of storms and wildfires still to come. Each massive mobilization of people and equipment to fight big disasters is called “a battle” by the media and government officials, part of an ongoing war of humans fighting Mother Nature for their survival. But the real war for human survival is against the ruling class hiding behind every disaster.
For the sake of profit, carbon-based production was allowed to intensify the process of climate change. To serve developers and bankers, housing construction targeted the affluent, driving the poorest workers into crowded, unsafe spaces or onto the streets, at the mercy of COVID-19. Others found housing on the fringes of wildfire zones or flood-threatened poor neighborhoods like those in New Orleans inundated by Hurricane Katrina.
Whole communities have become casualties of this class war. Over 8,000 wildfires have blazed across California so far this year, igniting more than 3.7 million acres, 7,000 structures, and killing 26 people. Of the six largest wildfires in the state’s history, five occurred since August. In the Northwestern states, fires burned 1.9 million acres and 4,256 structures by September. “This could be the greatest loss of human life and property due to wildfire in our state’s history,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced. Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee reported that over 24 hours, 330,000 acres burned, more than usually burns throughout the annual fire season.
Other regions await the next unnatural disasters spawned by the capitalists. Storm Beta poured rain onto Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, leading Gov. Greg Abbott to declare a disaster for 29 Texas counties. Areas of Alabama and Florida were just recovering from Hurricane Sally, whose landing on September 16 caused at least two deaths.
These disasters make it even harder to survive COVID-19. For example, the Oakmont Gardens facility for people at high risk of dying from the coronavirus, such as the aged and disabled, had to pile them into busses to escape the flames, as Napa County officials warned evacuees that “Individuals who are seeking shelter are reminded to bring a face covering, practice good hygiene habits and adhere to physical distancing.” But that is hard to do inside temporary shelters.
Disaster victims are often condemned for choosing to live where there’s a high risk of fire, flooding, or hurricanes. Little blame is directed at the elite class whose intertwining of the biggest corporations and the government produces these “choices” in our country. But their construction and gentrification policies produce highly-profitable homes for the affluent and a shortage of low- and middle-cost housing in population centers. That pushes development toward flood zones and Wildland-Urban Interface areas. Over eleven million Californians, almost one-third of its people, now live in the WUI. Nationally this has recently been “the fastest-growing land use type in the conterminous United States” (Vox, September 10, 2020). As Rally, Comrades! said one year ago, before the pandemic made these words even more true: “In all of these disasters the most impoverished section of the working class is hurt the most, and the ruling class and the government help them the least… A system that destroys the planet as the price for private profit must be replaced with a new economic system organized to meet the basic needs of humanity. (“Storms, Floods, and Fires Threaten Pursuit of Happiness,” September/October 2019).
Published: October 19, 2020
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