The extreme weather and wildfires ripping through parts of the US show clearly why we need fundamental change to stop the climate crisis, argues Jamal Elaheebocus
This last week has seen some extraordinary and terrifying weather in the United States. Images have been spreading all over the news and social media of bright orange skies over California, as a plume of smoke from the wildfires descended over the region.
85 wildfires are currently burning across the West of the US. California has been worse hit; an estimated 2.5 million acres of land has been destroyed, compared to 118,000 acres this time last year. 14,000 firefighters are fighting twenty-eight blazes across the state. Eight people have been killed and Cal Fire, who are responsible for dealing with wildfires in the state, have said the fires are zero percent contained. Adding to the concerns are the fact that there are still four months left of the wildfire season.
California’s Independent System Operator has declared a Stage 2 state emergency and has declared that it can no longer provide its expected energy requirements. People in California are being asked to turn off lights and high-power appliances. This comes after millions of people in the States experienced two nights of blackouts in August.
The situation is just as bad in other states in the US. Washington has seen 330,000 acres burned down, already more than each of the last twelve years. 80% of the town of Malden has been burnt to the ground. 1,450 inmates from three prisons in Oregon have been evacuated, as wildfires rip through the state.
This is a result of an extraordinary heatwave, which has produced temperatures of 52oC, or 125o Fahrenheit, in California over the weekend. Meanwhile, Denver and Colorado, after experiencing the heatwave over the weekend, have faced one of the earliest snowstorms on record. Temperatures in Colorado dropped by 60o Fahrenheit in just 24 hours there were up to eight inches of snow in places.
This period of extreme weather comes in a year where the US has witnessed an extraordinary number of hurricanes, with the NOAA recording so many storms that they may soon have to turn to the Greek alphabet for naming them. Seven storms are currently on their radar with two, Paulette and Rene, set to attain hurricane status by early next week. While these are unlikely to cause any damage in the US, they are part of a packed hurricane season which we are only halfway through.
The fact that this weather is occurring in the US is extremely significant. The US has long been the imperial and industrial centre of the world and was responsible 5.41 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, 15% of worldwide emissions, in 2018. It is undoubtedly this deeply embedded industrial regime, so heavily reliant on fossil fuels, which has fuelled the climate crisis.
Of course the situation has been worsened by the fact that a climate denier has been President of the US for the last four years. Trump’s offers of extensive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement have shown his wilful ignorance of the climate emergency which threatens mankind. Investing in green energy or more sustainable industry have never been on the cards.
With the US heading to elections in November, the climate crisis should be at the top of the agenda, but Trump's Democractic opponent isn't offering anything close to a radical alternative. Biden's plans for reaching zero net emissions by 2050, developing regional climate resilience plans and standing up to fossil fuel companies simply do not go far enough for an economy which is so heavily dependant on those industries. A Green New Deal, as proposed by Sanders, AOC and others, is the only way in which the US will be able to begin adequately dealing with the crisis.
Of course the extreme weather is not limited to the US. Earlier this year, wildfires in Australia destroyed 37,500 square miles and killed an estimated one billion animals. Siberia has experienced a period of record-breaking temperatures, reaching 38o C in June.
As we see this extreme weather in the US, Extinction Rebellion are back on the streets of cities around the UK, calling on the government to finally take the climate crisis seriously and call an ecological emergency.
The protests are part of a ten-day rebellion, once again bringing attention to the existential crisis that is climate change. There have been some very effective acts of civil disobedience, most notably the shutting down of roads surrounding the printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK. The action sparked an onslaught of criticism from across the establishment, including from Keir Starmer who seems very keen to keep Murdoch on side, claiming it is an attack on the ‘free press’. Of course there is not a free press at all in Britain, with five billionaires owning 80% of online media in the UK.
However, the movement’s recent tweet, which makes clear that they are not a socialist movement, is a real disappointment. As the US situation is clearly showing, the climate crisis is a systemic issue and it is a product of how capitalism operates. The only way to avoid an even more severe climate crisis is to destroy the cause. It might be blunt to say socialism or extinction, but the only way to avoid a complete climate collapse is if the capitalist system is replaced by one which is not based on competition and profit, but on sustainability.
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