The Spark

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

Editorial:
A Polluted World, Thanks to Capitalism

May 12, 2014

This is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now. Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires – all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak.”

These are the words of President Barack Obama, sounding the alarm bells, and echoing the words of scientists in the latest government-sponsored report on climate change.

No one can say that any particular weather event was directly caused by climate change. But evidence of climate change is gathering. Heavy rains and floods on one side of the country, droughts and wildfires on the other. This is our reality, just as predicted by scientists for decades – and ignored for decades by public officials!

And ignored today still. Republicans pretend there is no problem. Democrats, who pretend to do something, offer only another weak law to regulate carbon dioxide emissions that will in fact allow more emissions.

But along with the big-scale, long-term threat of climate change, there is an immediate threat to working people in this country today – which scientists and politicians don’t even mention. It’s the everyday pollution – the constant poisoning of the soil, water and air around us. And government officials, Republican or Democrat, aid and abet those who poison us, that is, Big Business.

In recent decades, capitalists have been allowed to radically increase pollution levels. In the Chesapeake Bay area, for example, the state of Maryland ordered Bethlehem Steel in 1997 to stop releasing toxic chemicals into the soil and water, and to start to clean up. Ten years later, it was found that no cleanup whatsoever had been done – not by Bethlehem nor Severstal, the company that had bought the steel works later on. At one location near the Patapsco River, benzene, a carcinogen, was found in groundwater at levels 100,000 times the legal limit. And the state did nothing!

Speaking of limits, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is currently proposing to increase the existing air pollution limits, for some pollutants up to 50 and even 70 times, for the Dearborn steel mill operated by ... Severstal!

Dozens of other examples of severe pollution under the complicity of capitalists and government officials, both Republican and Democrat, can be found across the country.

These same politicians and officials try to use the threat of climate change to distract us. They blame us, the population, for increased carbon dioxide emissions. “You set your thermostat too low in the summer,” they admonish us with a wagging finger – when electricity grids collapse every summer because the utility companies have neglected maintenance for so long. “You drive too much” they say – when, in most big cities of this country, there simply is no decent public transportation system capable of taking a worker to work within a reasonable amount of time, and when it’s impossible for a worker to find any affordable housing near work.

When disaster hits, people are left alone to fend for themselves. There certainly were things government could have done – first and foremost, to reinforce the infrastructure – to help the population better deal with the effects of natural disasters such as storms and floods. But federal and state governments, under both parties’ direction, have done the opposite. They have allowed the existing infrastructure to crumble, while shoveling taxpayer money from their treasuries to private interests in the form of subsidies, overblown contracts, bailouts, etc. And they have allowed private companies to ignore infrastructure repairs.

In the climate report, scientists warn that within the next several decades millions of people may have to move inland to escape the effects of natural disasters. Will there be jobs for them? And housing, schools, basic infrastructure? If recent disasters are any measure, the answer is one big no – just look at the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and last year’s Superstorm Sandy.

Leaving the management of this problem in the hands of those who have been in charge – the Republican and Democratic Parties – means leaving it in the hands of the capitalist class, the bourgeoisie. And the bourgeoisie has proven, time and again, that it will let the worst disaster befall millions of people rather than give up one cent of its profits.

Allowing bourgeois politicians to tackle the problems of climate change and pollution is the surest way to condemn our children and grandchildren to an uninhabitable world.