Hurricane Sandy & The Ecological Crisis of Capitalism

The writer grew up along the impacted coast of New Jersey. Most of his relatives still live there; most of them had to evacuate and lived without power for more than a week. One cousin lost her home in the devastation.

John Peter Daly

Capitalism is an irrational system of extremes. Big Oil and the Pentagon go to war without any care for the extreme cost—millions of lives, both for people in the Middle East as well as the U.S. soldiers sent to die. Overproduction is an extreme outcome of capitalism where 18.5 million homes sit empty since they cannot be sold for a profit while millions of people are homeless. Does extreme weather come from the extremes of capitalism? Did global warming cause Hurricane Sandy, which killed nearly 200 people in seven countries and devastated the lives of millions?

Hurricane Sandy

The storm system intensified in the western Caribbean, hitting Jamaica as a Category 1 hurricane. It then touched down through eastern Cuba as a Category 2 hurricane, continued through the Bahamas as a tropical storm and gained strength again hitting Atlantic City, N.J., as a Category 1 hurricane as it moved northwards creating the greatest devastation.

The impact of the storm was felt from the Caribbean to Canada and as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin. There is an initial estimate of $20 billion worth of damage as well as continued losses that could amount to tens of billions of dollars—this would make Sandy the second-most financially costly hurricane in history after Hurricane Katrina, which took place just seven years ago in New Orleans and the Gulf States, after hitting Florida.

Scientists the world over agree that climate change, a result of global warming, played a role in making Hurricane Sandy worse than it should have been. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a leading international organization hosted by the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, which assesses climate change, predicts that storm systems will become more intense. At the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in North Carolina, scientists echoed the same message. There is little debate among the world’s scientists on the role global warming has in the increase in extreme weather events.

The conditions existed in the Mid-Atlantic States that resulted in the storm’s intensity. Sea levels are estimated to be a foot or more higher in the greater New York area compared to 100 years ago, according to Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann and many other scientists. Temperatures are 5 degrees Fahrenheit above their historical levels, increasing the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which added to the flooding owing to the increase in rain during the hurricane.

The jet stream generally pushes hurricanes and other storms originating in the Atlantic Ocean eastward, preventing landfall on the U.S. East Coast. However in the case of Hurricane Sandy, warmer than usual temperatures in Greenland created a high-pressure system that blocked the storm from going out to sea, pushing it into one of the fourth most densely populated areas on the planet.

Warmer temperatures in Greenland and the Arctic in general come as a result of increased greenhouse gases. Even worse, as the permafrost melts, even more methane is released into the atmosphere, creating even more greenhouse gases and exacerbating the cycle of destruction of the planet.

Science posits questions in several ways, and if all questions lead to the same answer, then the evidence is all the more sound. Other scientists are looking at how climate change has affected the salinity of sea water around the world, which explains the changes in water cycles or paths in which water changes from vapor to liquid and solid. Therefore, increases in salinity also help to explain the more intense weather and increases in rains, droughts and floods around the world.

Capitalist production responsible

For the owners of banks and corporations and their representatives, the destruction of the planet is something they speak of in jest to help digest their food at dinner parties. At the Republican National Convention, the audience roared in laughter when Mitt Romney joked that Obama was unable “to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.” Discussion about this joke was the only time that the candidates of both parties of the rich ever mentioned the destructive forces of climate change.

Most often, the best-intentioned scientists are limited in how they describe climate change—they can focus on the effect, but when queried about cause they never cross the line to provide a class-based view, instead focusing their comments on causative factors of “human activity.” Human activity, however, is driven by the social relations of the productive forces of humans. As these forces are held in private hands—the 1 percent—the “human activity” referred to by scientists is the destructive force of the drive for profits.

The environment can only absorb about half of the atmospheric carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels. The use of fossil fuels generate greenhouse gases that lead to global warming and frequent extreme or severe weather formations that have rarely before been experienced. But under capitalism, a significant move away from the use of fossil fuels will never take place—fossil fuels are simply too profitable.

For example, fracking, or Induced Hydraulic Fracturing, is a technology that creates fractures in rock or shale to extract petroleum, or more commonly in the case of the United States—natural gas. Fracking, however, contaminates ground water and increases greenhouse gases. It is also the chosen method not because it is so effective but because it is so profitable for the capitalists—despite the environmental damage that leads to climate change.

The Wall Street Journal reported in April 2012 that the Environmental Protection Agency gave oil and gas companies until 2015 to comply with “green completions” or EPA standards for cleaning up the water used to fracture a well. This standard for which the oil and gas companies are now exempt would simply require them to remove the water used in fracking that is mixed or contaminated with gases from the ground.

Apache Corporation has been an oil and gas extraction company for the past 60 years. The company is looking at the opportunity for a massive expansion created by the suspension of fracking rules to continue its record profits from 2011. Some expect fracking to grow by 40 percent in 2012. According to Apache Corporation, a law that restrains the pollution of the environment increases their “operating and capital costs.” In other words, they love a political system that disregards environmental damage as long as the owners of the company get rich.

Due to the dominance of Big Oil in the global capitalist economy, the use of fossil fuels accounts for 86.4 percent of the energy used in the world. Thus, Big Oil is certainly the biggest culprit in the increase in the release of greenhouse gases. U.S. imperialism’s drive for world domination through its ongoing wars and occupations goes hand in hand with increasing private ownership of the world’s oil reserves.

Today, the Party for Socialism and Liberation stands with the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Along with our work in providing relief efforts, the PSL is calling for 100,000 unemployed workers to be hired for emergency and ongoing relief efforts. But as people continue to struggle for an environmentally sound planet, the reorganization of society is a necessity. Only then can a central economic plan be developed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and begin the building of a renewable energy system and a clean-up plan that employs millions of scientists, engineers, construction workers and others for the historic effort to save the planet.

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