Nov 23, 2020
On October 31, Typhoon Goni made landfall in the Philippines with the strongest winds of any recorded tropical cyclone in history—195 miles per hour, sustained for a minute. The storm ripped the roofs off of evacuation shelters and damaged the electric power grid, homes, and crops.
Less than two weeks later, on November 12, Typhoon Vamco brought extremely heavy rains back to the Philippines. Water overflowed a major dam, causing the Cagayan River to overflow, sweeping away whole villages, leaving thousands homeless and killing about 100 people so far.
Halfway around the world in Central America, in early November, Hurricane Eta left hundreds of thousands of people without shelter. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Iota made landfall on November 17. Iota was the strongest storm ever to hit Nicaragua, according to that country’s government. It was the thirtieth named storm of this season—the most named storms ever. Now impoverished people in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are suffering through another round of misery as already-swollen rivers sweep away even more homes and belongings.
While none of these individual storms can be definitively attributed to climate change, the increasing intensity of major storms can be. Hurricanes and typhoons (the name for hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean) are produced by warm water. The warmer climate produces warmer water—and more energy for giant tropical storms like these.
Scientists know that the warming climate driving the increasingly destructive storms has been produced by human industrial activity. Power plants, factories, oil wells, industrial farms, airplanes, trucks, and cars produce emissions called greenhouse gases that get into the atmosphere and trap the sun’s heat. Since the industrial revolution began about 200 years ago, that industrial activity has been concentrated in just a few places: the United States has produced by far the most greenhouse gases of any country, and the U.S. and Europe combined have produced more than half.
Yet these are not the countries hardest hit by the latest tropical storms—the worst affected are countries that have long been dominated by the United States. The U.S. fought a long bloody war to conquer the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, before turning it into a colony for 50 years. U.S. forces have “intervened” there repeatedly since, most recently in 2017. And the U.S. has invaded or overthrown governments in the Central American countries of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador dozens of times over the same period—in all cases, to protect the interests of the big U.S. companies and banks that dominate these countries’ economies, keeping the majority of the population in poverty.
So for more than one hundred years, people in these countries have borne some of the worst consequences of the domination of the world by the capitalist class centered here in the U.S. And these storms made worse by climate change are inflicting damage on people in these same countries—once again, damage that was largely made in the U.S.A.
It is inevitable that more migrants from these countries will try to come here in order to escape the completely desperate situations produced by these storms—and future ones. These migrants will have been driven from their homes by the same capitalist system that drives so many workers to desperation here.