San Francisco Bay Area's toxic smoke crisis and capitalism's mismanagement
'It's getting hard to breathe'
Rob Rooke, Socialist Alternative (US co-thinkers of the Socialist Party)
California is suffering a major environmental and health crisis that the authorities prepared no one for. It's exposing the complete failure of a profit-based economy to respond to the needs of the people.
The Butte County Camp Fire is now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. 85 people are confirmed dead, 249 are missing, and 19,000 buildings, mostly homes, were destroyed. The entire city of Paradise, home to 26,000 people, was burnt to the ground in one day.
A second disaster has now ensnared the San Francisco Bay Area, home to seven million people. Streets are empty as hazardous air quality breaks records and people stay in their homes.
Air quality index levels over 200 are considered dangerously high. San Francisco has recently recorded levels of up to 245. On one day the state capital of Sacramento recorded a 337, possibly the worst air quality index in the world for that day. The fire, although contained, continues to rage.
Bay Area school districts closed all schools on Friday 14 November. San Francisco's Department of Health urged people to stay indoors, with a warning of a future spike in cardio-pulmonary deaths. Being homeless on a day like Friday was the equivalent of smoking a half pack of cigarettes, according to environmental groups.
Bay Area people are angry. State and local government should have coordinated an ongoing, mass distribution of N95 face masks.
Large facilities with filtered air systems like museums, malls and movie theatres should have been identified and made free and open to the public.
Expert advice and supplies should have been widely disseminated on how to control air quality inside your home. Instead, people are calling around to multiple stores trying to find masks and relying on Facebook posts to jury-rig fans as air filters. This is not an organised response.
The full resources of the state must be mobilised to provide quality temporary shelter until permanent affordable housing can be built. This fire has further underlined the crisis of availability of housing in California. It has also highlighted the need for a high quality 'Medicare for All' health system.
People are angry at the privately owned public utility company, PG&E. Its poor electrical infrastructure maintenance record has been implicated in previous fires and it is under scrutiny for transmission line problems at the source of the Camp Fire.
For the past three years the hugely profitable company has been under a state investigation over its safety culture. On 15 November, after initial reports of the causes of the fire, PG&E stocks crashed 30%. This led state regulators to promise a bailout, which in turn, led to a rise in their stocks.
No matter how big PG&E's mistakes are, the government continues to bail this billion-dollar private company out and lets it continue to suck profits out of the California community.
President Trump, an advocate of privat-isation of public lands and escalating logging, cited California's poor forest management for the fire disasters. He did not mention the deepening of federal cuts that have undermined any ability to manage these lands. But climate change has also contributed to drier and hotter forests.
The privately owned fossil fuel companies continue to fund both the Republican and Democratic parties. A recent report in the Financial Times exposed that they are only spending 2% of their capital investments on renewable energy development. These companies are so short-sighted and profit-addicted that they cannot in any way be trusted with the power they have over this economy.
The governing party of the state, the Democratic Party, has the experts at hand that could have predicted this crisis: what it was lacking was the will to put the people first.
We need a party that will put our needs first and will be independent of what the utility, fossil fuel, and private healthcare companies demand. Ultimately we need to get rid of the entire system of capitalism that creates disasters like the Camp Fire and then is completely unable to respond to them.
- Full article on socialistalternative.org
In The Socialist 28 November 2018:
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