The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Weather Becomes More Extreme, But It’s Capitalism that Kills

Aug 1, 2022

In mid-July another week-long heat wave hit more than 100 million Americans. For more than 60 million people, thermometers rose above the 100-degree mark.

Barely a week after that heat wave, catastrophic floods caused by torrential rains hit areas as widespread as eastern Kentucky and Las Vegas, Nevada. Powerful flash floods swept everything, including cars and houses, before them, and killed 25 people in Kentucky’s Appalachian region, with at least 12 more people missing as of July 30. Las Vegas got an inch of rain in two hours on July 28, half the rainfall for the year in the area—an area that’s in the middle of a severe drought!

The drought itself is a historic one, plaguing nearly 20 U.S. states and covering close to half the land area of the continental U.S. The largest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Mead, is down to less than 30% of its capacity, the lowest it has ever been. This lake, created by the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, is a crucial source of water for 25 million people, as well as large agricultural regions.

Scientists had been warning for decades that increasing temperatures, what is known as global warming, would have such consequences: extreme weather events would become more frequent and more severe. The climate change scientists had been warning us about seems to be here already.

To slow down the effects of global warming, carbon dioxide emissions have to be reduced—which means using fewer fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) for energy, and building more fuel-efficient engines for vehicles. But big companies in the energy and auto manufacturing sectors, concerned about nothing but higher profits, put out a lot of propaganda disputing even obvious facts about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. They may have softened their tone by now, but they certainly have not reduced carbon dioxide emissions—quite the contrary.

But executives and big shareholders of these big companies are not the ones who suffer the consequences of the natural forces unleashed by a warmer climate. After a storm and a flood, it’s working-class people who lose their homes, livelihoods, their kids’ schools—and many of them lose these things for good. Many of them become permanent refugees, much like refugees fleeing a war zone.

As for heat waves, they kill people—a lot of people, in fact. It’s difficult to pinpoint how many, because death certificates often don’t state temperature as an underlying reason for death. A recent study estimated that, each year, as many as 20,000 deaths in the U.S. and Canada may be related to hot temperatures. And those who die are people who live in the hottest neighborhoods—working-class neighborhoods, that is—which have less green space and shade, and fewer trees than wealthier areas.

Large apartment complexes in working-class neighborhoods are heat traps, built of materials that absorb heat and release it only slowly back into the surroundings. These buildings typically don’t have air conditioning. But even those residents who have AC in their homes often don’t operate it because they can’t afford the high electricity bills.

Then there are the power outages that utility companies impose during heat waves to “pre-empt” upsurges in power usage that risk crashing the system. But that risk exists only because these same companies have been neglecting upgrades and maintenance necessary to ensure the electric grids can continue to provide adequate power. It’s a conscious choice by power companies, so they can hand out fatter dividends to their shareholders.

It’s one of the forms of class war that wealthy classes wage on the working class—a war with many casualties. Because if heat kills, heat without electricity kills even more people—people who are on medication that needs refrigeration or on dialysis machines and ventilators; people too old, too sick, or too poor to quickly go to a hospital.

That’s why, the solution for the problems caused by global warming and climate change—in addition to all the problems that this capitalist system imposes, day in, day out, on working people—have to be addressed within the larger context of a fight against the capitalist system, waged by an organized working class, defending its common interests.