Will superstorm break the silence?

Workers World Party statement

Protest hits media, election silence on climate change, Times Square, Oct. 29.
Photo: Adam Welz/350.org

As of Nov. 2, the toll from Hurricane Sandy, the huge storm that ravaged the Caribbean and then cut a swath from the mid-Atlantic states all the way up into Canada, is reported to be 67 people killed in the Caribbean and 95 people dead in  the U.S., including 44 in the New York City area.

Millions are still without power, and the damage is reckoned at many tens of billions of dollars. No numbers have been put on personal losses of the masses of people in terms of their homes, cars, household possessions, lost wages, lost jobs, let alone irreplaceable personal items of precious, lifetime, sentimental value.

As bad as this storm has been, its devastation would have been immeasurably worse had it not been for the extraordinary accomplishments of modern meteorological science, which was able to warn public authorities and people about the timing, the path, the intensity and breadth of the storm with a remarkable degree of accuracy.

It is, however, a major contradiction that while the warnings of meteorological science about this extreme weather event saturated the media, not a word was said about the warnings made by climate scientists. Their voices, which grow ever more desperate, have been under attack by an array of the most powerful corporate polluters in the world.

Profit motive and climate science

This seeming contradiction can only be explained by the profit motive.

On the one hand, meteorological science is needed by agribusiness, shipping, maritime, airlines, off-shore oil drillers, power companies, insurance companies, the commodities markets, the tourist industry, and numerous other capitalist interests. All these parties need to know about the weather in order to maximize their profits and minimize their losses. This list should include the Pentagon, which has a strong military interest in climate prediction.

On the other hand, the vast majority of climate scientists around the world concur and have proven that climate change is produced by global warming, which in turn is caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The result is increasingly extreme weather events — like Hurricane Sandy.

Thus to deny the findings of climate science is in the interests of the oil and gas companies, the coal industry, the power-generating businesses, and other giant industrial polluters who profit from processes that spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They refuse to take measures to curb these emissions because that would eat into their profits.

Both the advancement of meteorological science and the denial of climate science can be traced directly to the profit interests of the biggest and most powerful capitalists. This illuminates the complete irrationality of the capitalist system.

Industry and ‘climate silence’

The words “climate change” were not mentioned once during the presidential debates or the entire campaign. In fact, the terms “climate change” and “global warming” have been virtually banned from corporate mass media news broadcasts.

During the three-month drought in the Midwest this summer, which damaged three quarters of the U.S. corn and grain crop, report after report on this drastic situation failed to mention climate change or global warming. Nor was it mentioned during the epidemic of wild fires which ravaged the Western states. The same “climate silence” has prevailed during the round-the-clock coverage of Hurricane Sandy.

Such is the power over the media and the politicians by the giant polluters, who include the most powerful sections of the ruling class of the U.S. They have spent untold millions to finance anti-scientific lobbyists, fund politicians who will vote against any attempt to make the polluters fix the problem or pay the bills, and fund corrupt scientists who will swear that all the findings of their tens of thousands of colleagues around the world are false.

The U.S. government has gone to international environmental conferences year after year and used its financial and political power to block any global consensus that would bind the giant transnational corporations to concrete steps to significantly reduce carbon emissions. The U.S. has still not ratified the original Kyoto accords on climate change. One president after another, from Clinton to Bush to Obama, has sabotaged the efforts by governments representing billions of people in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East  to force the major polluters to stop pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Global environmental crisis

The acute crisis caused by the dramatic wind and tidal events of Hurricane Sandy in the U.S. is only an intense manifestation of a much more widespread and gradually developing environmental crisis that is global in character. The same temperature rises that led to Sandy are melting glaciers and ice caps, raising the ocean levels and endangering island and coastal civilizations as well as inland rivers.

This, in turn, is part of an even more widespread process of environmental devastation poisoning the land, water and air caused by mining conglomerates, logging companies, agribusiness, oil corporations and so on, which are depleting or poisoning the aquifers, promoting the desertification of vast stretches of the earth’s territories, destroying the rain forests which are the lungs of the earth, and much more.

Wall Street suffered directly as a result of Hurricane Sandy. And capitalist interests have also suffered losses from the dislocation caused by the storm. This may cause a lot of hand wringing and reevaluation by the bosses themselves. But don’t count on them to combat climate change. There is too much profit involved. To paraphrase P.J. Dunning, quoted by Karl Marx in “Capital,” for a sufficient profit a capitalist will risk even death.

Means of pollution, means of production

The New York City capitalist government has files that contain reports written long ago warning of the imminence of  just such a crisis as the one presently caused by Hurricane Sandy and calling for measures to be taken before the crisis hits. These reports were ignored, just as warnings about Katrina were ignored for years. It is flagrant negligence on the part of the capitalist authorities, who knowingly failed to take preventive measures that could have kept this crisis from becoming so severe.

Progressive and revolutionary forces must help develop demands and on-the-ground struggles to reduce the suffering of the masses of people. They should include full restitution and compensation for both damage done and wages and jobs lost; jobs programs to rebuild; and making the insurance companies, the predatory polluters, the banks and the government pay the bills.

As one commentator said, referring to Sandy: We are having a once-in-a-hundred-year storm every two years now.

The only way to reduce disasters like hurricanes Sandy, Irene and Katrina is for the workers to take the means of pollution away from the polluters. But the means of pollution are actually the means of production under capitalism. It will take the destruction of the profit system itself to chart a new course that can save the environment by restructuring production to serve the people’s needs rather than capitalists’ profit greed.

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