Jul 16, 2012
Overnight, Friday, June 29, the eastern third of the country, running from Kentucky and Tennessee to the Atlantic Coast was hit by what the National Weather Service called a “derecho” storm. And two-thirds of the country was about to be ravaged by a 10-day super heat wave, unprecedented in length, this early in the summer.
The Friday night storm – a long-line of ferocious thunderstorms, producing a wide band of damaging winds, up to 90 miles per hour in some places – knocked out electrical service all up and down the East Coast. Amtrak service was suspended. Most airports had long delays. 911 service was shut down near D.C., and hospitals went onto emergency generators – taking only urgent cases. Millions of people lost electric service – in other words, their air conditioning and fans. A week later, some homes in the Baltimore-D.C. area were still without power.
And all of this as an oppressive heat wave began to break records. On Sunday, July 1, you could have driven from Denver to St. Louis to Washington, D.C., running into 100 degree plus temperatures everywhere. On Friday, July 6 more than 200 heat records were set in cities up and down the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. Saturday, that record was broken. St. Louis hit over 100 for ten straight days in a row.
Dozens of people died – no one even knows how many, since the Public Health Service, hit by “budget cuts” has eliminated much of its record keeping. Thousands more suffered illnesses caused by the heat.
None of that stopped businesses – where they had power – from working. Not so bad, if you worked in air-conditioning. But many offices were without, as authorities scrambled to “conserve” power. And factories, it goes without saying, were brutally hot – stealing how many days and weeks off each worker’s life just in that one hot stretch.
Heat, so they say, is a natural phenomenon. Nothing to be done about it, except live with it, grit your teeth and get through it. Not so!
Heat may be one of nature’s tricks – but nature is only one part of the problem, and the most benign part.
Summer heat, without a doubt, is a product of the natural environment, but yearly temperatures have been going up, decade after decade, and today are at their highest point since record-keeping began in the late 1800s – that is, about the point when human industrial activity began to help the globe heat up. Not only are temperatures going up, they are going up more rapidly now, than in the past.
Not that this activity necessarily would have created the hotbox we are now in. But left to their own devices, the captains of industry – capitalist to the core – pushed production to make the most profit possible, with the least expense for protecting the environment, not to mention for those who work.
The same ideology pervaded the electric companies, which have cut back and cut back on maintenance. When the storm hit, long-dead tree branches the companies no longer trimmed brought down the wires; workers the companies laid off were no longer there to make the repairs. When the heat shot up, outdated and overburdened generating equipment shut down. But boy, have the electric utilities made such a lot of profit setting us up for this calamity.
The same mentality pervades public officials who divert as much money as they can from public services, in order to give it to the capitalists who pull their strings. Air conditioning didn’t work on the subways and the buses – because maintenance had been cut back. Not enough pools and cooling centers were available, for the same reason. Who checked on the elderly who had no relatives nearby? The public health service doesn’t even keep a registry listing who those at-risk elderly are, and where they live.
Nature may have been playing a small trick on us – but capitalist organization of the whole society turned it into a catastrophe.
We don’t have to grit our teeth and bear that. This capitalist organization of the economy can be taken on, trumped, disposed of, replaced. Humanity – more exactly, the working class – has the power to do just that.