The death toll from the storms and flooding in California and parts of Arizona, Nevada and Oregon rose to at least 18 on Wednesday. The most recent death was that of a 43-year-old woman who drowned when her car was submerged 2.5 meters under water. Two more deaths reported by the California Governor’s Office of Emergencies are suspected to be related to the storms and the death toll is expected to rise as flooding continues and the extent of the damage is discovered.
Hundreds more had to be rescued as they traveled during and after the Christmas holidays and found themselves hampered and threatened by flooded roads. Thousands have lost their homes and hundreds of thousands more have experienced intermittent power outages over the past two weeks. About 4.5 million people remain on flood watch, compared to 20 million on Tuesday, and damage is estimated at $1 billion.
The storm system began on December 26 when a wave of seven so-called atmospheric rivers — that is, massive bands of moisture formed over the oceans that can travel thousands of kilometers before discharging that accumulated water on land — reached the West Coast. The flooding began Dec. 31 after record rainfall across the state, including the second wettest day on record in San Francisco and the wettest in Oakland, inundating the plains and turning entire neighborhoods into lakes.
As with every storm in the United States, there is virtually no financial support for those who need to evacuate, including the poor, the elderly, and the homeless. Millions have been left to fend for themselves, forced to climb onto their attics and roofs to escape the floods and survive however they could.
The Californian floods are just one of many extreme weather events that have caused mass death and destruction in recent years across the country. A winter storm from December 21 to 26 produced blizzards in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as Ontario, Canada. The storm and associated low temperatures killed at least 98 people, including 41 in Buffalo, New York alone, which suffered 56 inches of snow in five days.
Flooding is expected to continue. Atmospheric rivers are forecast to continue over California through at least January 23. Yet while California Governor Gavin Newsom and US President Joe Biden have declared emergencies in the hardest-hit regions, neither has ordered the evacuation of those hit for the first or second time by the storms or offered financial aid for those who lost their homes and livelihoods. All Newsom offered was a warning to Californians to be “hyper vigilant” and the opening of 11 shelters statewide with 20 more on hold. For his part, Biden authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer assistance for storm damage control efforts.
Newsom’s and Biden’s indifference to the lives of those impacted by the storm reflects the more general attitude of the American ruling elite to human life in general. As with its response to the coronavirus pandemic that has caused more than a million deaths in the US alone, predictable and anticipated weather disasters are allowed to wreak havoc while residents are left to fend for themselves.
Such incidents also highlight the enormous wealth inequality between the working class and the corporate oligarchy in the United States, particularly in California. The state is home to 186 billionaires and will possibly surpass Germany’s gross domestic product by 2022, making it the world’s fourth-largest economy, following Japan, China and the United States. At the same time, the state budget only proposes $202 million for flood prevention and existing infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate for decades.
Nor has there been any genuine attempt to mitigate climate change, which is the main driver of such floods. A report published on Tuesday by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) showed that 2022 was the fifth hottest year on record and that all of the past eight years have seen global average temperatures more than one degree Celsius. above the pre-industrial average.
In other words, every year since the supposedly “historic” 2015 Paris Agreements to combat climate change have demonstrated the empty nature of such agreements between capitalist powers. The empty rhetoric was again evident at the COP27 summit last year, where the call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, a limit considered the “breaking point,” was almost abandoned. of no return” for the climate crisis.
There is an even more sinister aspect to the inaction of the major imperialist powers in the face of the dangers of climate change: the need for fossil fuels for warfare. The US military is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Their tanks, ships, planes and other vehicles are deployed all over the world to subdue and slaughter. In themselves, wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq seek to guarantee control of certain oil and natural gas deposits in the hands of US companies.
COP27 itself was overshadowed by the US-NATO war against Russia in Ukraine, which was in part provoked to force Europe – particularly Germany – to rely on US natural gas. Germany has also reinvigorated its coal industry and largely abandoned its commitments to complete a transition to renewables. The forced increase in emissions from the use of fossil fuels has become intertwined with the imperialist interests of the US government.
Today, Vice President Kamala Harris will give a speech at the University of Michigan to boast, according to the White House, “the historic and ongoing work of the Biden-Harris Government in combating the climate crisis”:
If that were true, the hundreds of billions of dollars squandered by the White House to stoke war in Eastern Europe would be redirected to ending global warming and tackling ongoing and impending climate catastrophes. In fact, Harris, Biden and company are engaged in the “historic and ongoing work” of starting a World War III.
Ultimately, the California floods are a stunning example of the incompatibility of the needs of society with capitalism.
Coping with the dangers posed by climate change demands a global solution. But it is not possible to carry it out under the capitalist system, which is rooted in the nation states and in the organization of society at the mercy of the selfish enrichment of the financial oligarchy.
To prevent more people from dying from floods, wildfires, snowstorms, hurricanes and other extreme weather events that climate change has exacerbated, the international working class must sweep away this outdated capitalist social order and reorganize world society. on a scientific, humanitarian, global and socialist basis.
(Originally published in English on January 11, 2023)