Sep 14, 2020
Historic, record-breaking fires have swept through the entire West Coast of the United States, creating a 1,000 mile curtain of flames and thick smoke. As of this writing, fires have burned nearly five million acres, an area comparable to the size of the state of New Jersey. Entire towns, along with thousands of homes and businesses, have already gone up in flames.
The state of Oregon has been particularly hard hit, with 40,000 forced to evacuate and another half million people, 10% of the state’s population, in evacuation alert zones, ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Nobody knows yet how many people have died. But officials fear very high casualties.
These fires are not a surprise. Scientists have been warning that violent weather brought about by global warming would make disastrous wildfires inevitable. Global warming has meant that summers have become hotter for longer periods of time, drying out forests and underbrush, priming them to burn. At the same time, global warming is causing greater weather extremes, longer periods of drought followed by intense rains.
And the warming atmosphere has also created highly unusual lightning storms and strikes that set many of the fires, as well as the very high winds that spread the fires at such rapid rates.
Of course, scientists know what causes global warming: first of all, the burning of fossil fuels, oil and gas, which pumps planet-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And the ways of reducing those emissions have also been well-known for a very long time. These include revamping the entire electrical power system, getting rid of all decrepit, polluting and wasteful equipment and replacing it with new non-polluting power sources, along with a modern and much more efficient power grid. The same goes for industrial production, agricultural production, and the system of transportation. Homes and public buildings have to be upgraded.
Yet, almost none of this has been done. Almost no money has been invested to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases. This too is not an accident or mistake. This entire society is run for the private profit of the capitalist class, which historically has refused to make those kinds of big investments because they cut into their profits and wealth. That is why, for decades, many big oil companies and billionaires have paid for propaganda campaigns claiming that global warming is “fake news.”
As for government—not only doesn’t it stop companies from polluting and emitting greenhouse gases, it aids and supports them. It is a tool of the owners of the banks and big corporations, incapable of acting in the general interests of the population.
But that isn’t all. Neither private companies nor the government have taken other preventive measures that could have greatly reduced the intensity of the wildfires.
The U.S. Forest Service, for example, could have had systematic programs to thin out forests, removing dead trees and brush. But the U.S. Forest Service spends almost no money on these kinds of programs. And the money that it does spend is usually to support the efforts of big logging companies, rather than reducing fire risk.
And in California and other parts of the West, where fires are a part of the natural cycle of life, the authorities don’t carry out prescribed burns and managed burns in order to create a black-and-green checkerboard across the region. The black burned parcels would then provide a series of dampers and dead ends to keep the fire intensity lower when flames spark in hot, dry conditions.
Of course, the main reason for not doing this is that the government caters to the interests of the real estate developers and builders, who are increasingly constructing subdivisions and businesses in wild, fire-prone areas. So, because big business doesn’t want all the smoke and inconvenience that come with prescribed burns, the government lets all the dead vegetation just build up, providing ready fuel for the next fire.
For the tens of millions of people living on the West Coast, the acrid smoke and flame from these fires give a feeling of the apocalypse, especially when combined with the ongoing deadly pandemic and all the economic hardships. But scientists say that these kinds of fires are only the beginning, that because of global warming, wildfires will get even worse in the future!
No, these catastrophes are not the inevitable outcome of “human activity” or “overpopulation” as the news media usually says, but on the fact that decisions of how to run society are not made in the interests of the population, but only the interests of the capitalist class.
Only when the working class takes the power away from the capitalist class will humanity finally have a way to plan the running of society in a rational way—that is, according to the needs of everyone—while also taking into consideration the impact on the environment. After all, humanity is not separate from the environment, but a part of it. Only then will humanity have a chance to master the vast resources and technology that the working class has built up and created.