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Proletarian issue 58 (February 2014)
Cuts, floods and climate change
Capitalist austerity is adding to capitalist-created climate change to bring fresh misery to workers, as the ability to resist freak weather conditions is being undermined just when we need it most.
Britain this winter suffered one if its worst weather spells in recent decades, with widespread flooding afflicting many parts of the country.

The torrential downpours and arctic winds disrupted the lives of millions, whilst tens of thousands were left without electricity or were forced out of their homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. To make matters worse, further storms then battered Britain and Ireland from the west, having already caused devastating, and in some cases deadly damage in Canada, the US and Mexico.

The abysmal conditions that have gripped Britain and elsewhere in recent months are yet further indication that our climate is changing in dramatic ways. Such potentially cataclysmic changes are largely caused by human activity – specifically by capitalism, with its capricious disdain for the environment due to its single-minded quest for maximum profit and its desperate attempts to overcome its inexorable crises.

Capitalism’s insatiable thirst for maximum profit allows for no exceptions. The logic of the system is such that the grave dangers of climate change cannot be allowed to stand in the way of profiteering, irrespective of the actual and potential impact on the lives of millions – and even of the future of the our whole species.

Such being the case, it is scarcely surprising that, so long as capitalism exists, the incidences of abnormal weather phenomena and even graver natural disasters continue to rise.

Britain

As early as the beginning of November, low-level flood warnings were issued across coastal parts of Norfolk and Suffolk. Only a month later, the east coast of Britain was struck by the worst tidal surge in 60 years, triggering over a hundred flood warnings, almost half of which were predicting the highest risk level of all: endangerment to life.

Also as a result of the surge, a reported 64,000 homes in Scotland, 6,000 homes in Cumbria and 1,400 homes in the north of Ireland were left without power in the first week of December.

The tides were not, however, the only cause of havoc. Adding to the power of the sea, high winds reached speeds of 80mph in northern England and much of Scotland, with a gale of 140mph recorded in the mountainous regions around Aberdeen and Inverness.

Tens of thousands of homes were left damaged or ruined by the floods, with residents forced to flee to nearby respite centres, or even to relocate further afield. Thousands or residents of Lincolnshire’s coastal parts evacuated to Scunthorpe, while in Norfolk, seven coastal homes were swept away by the sea.

The rest of December saw continuous bouts of rainfall and the relentless rise of water levels, causing misery to hundreds of thousands. Some 50,000 homes were left without electricity during the Christmas period. Thousands more remained totally flooded, and airports and transport networks were repeatedly brought to a standstill over the holiday period, causing widespread disruption.

And still the worst was yet to come. With the start of the new year, fresh flood warnings were issued upon the expected arrival of ‘winter storm Hercules’, which, having previously torn through the north American continent, was now working its way west. Having forced temperatures across the US down to as low as -40°C, it was evident that the climate crisis for millions was set to continue.

Severe flood warnings were repeatedly issued across those parts of Britain most vulnerable to tidal surges, severe downpours and harsh gusts of wind, while localised flood warnings remained in place, condemning thousands to their second consecutive month of systemic chaos, disruption to their daily lives, misery and material damage and loss.

EA – environmental austerity

Meanwhile, despite the substantial damage that much of Britain has so recently suffered, the Environment Agency has announced that some 1,500 jobs are to be axed as part of the current austerity measures targeting the public sector. Chief executive Paul Leinster stated: “We’re looking at a proportionate reduction in the number of people in flood-risk management.”

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has already had its budget slashed by £500m, with a further £300m to be cut by 2016. Such cuts can only mean that, faced with extreme weather or natural disasters, Britain will be less prepared and less able to deal with the tasks at hand, with working people inevitably hit hardest.

Fire services under the axe

Fire and rescue services have already faced the axe of austerity in recent years and are now facing further rounds of job cuts.

London Mayor Boris Johnson last August overruled the vote of the London Fire Authority (LFA) and enforced the closure of 10 fire stations across London. Seven London councils, appealing against the closures, subsequently lost High Court battles last December and the LFA Planning Authority gave its approval to the job cuts and closures.

A further three fire station closures and over 130 jobs have been threatened by similar budget cuts in Tyne and Weir. And 60 more jobs are due to be axed in Cleveland’s frontline services, with the possibility of another station completely closing.

Cumbria county council announced that five fire stations would each lose a fire engine, which brought hundreds of residents onto the streets in protest. Derbyshire fire service has also announced the closure of a third of its stations and a reduction by a quarter in full-time firefighters, prompting 40,000 signatures in support of a petition opposing the cuts.

Meanwhile, Suffolk fire service has raised the possibility of completely eradicating full-time positions in Felixstowe, one of the country’s major ports, proposing instead a frontline operation completely operated by part-time ‘on-call’ fire fighters assisted by back-up units from other stations. The proposal comes as part of the 12 percent cuts to the fire service put forward by the Conservative-led council across four years.

With such reductions in the services that are supposed to provide protection and security to the public, the lesson to be learned is clear: namely, that capitalism’s only interest lies in obtaining the maximum possible profits, without regard to the livelihood of working people, the safety of the general public or the state of the environment.

Climate change

Flying in the face of a great body of scientific opinion, the Met Office is still trying to claim that the connection between the incidences of extreme weather and climate change remains “unclear”.

However, it seems that only one alternative explanation has been put forward forward so far, that being the disgraceful outburst of United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Councillor David Silvester, who claimed – seriously, apparently – that, “large swathes of the nation have been afflicted by storms and floods” as a result of the legalisation of gay marriage, “following on from abortion laws, which he likened to the holocaust”, as the Guardian reported on 19 January.

Of course, such events are not controlled by an external, almighty’ entity. The recent winter storms represent precisely the kind of abrupt changes in weather patterns that result from qualitative changes to the environment occasioned by the environmental degradation to which the capitalist mode of production is sublimely indifferent.

Only the complete overthrow of the ruling class of exploiters and oppressors can bring an end to the global crisis of overproduction and thereby create the conditions in which society can start seriously to remedy the negative changes that capitalist society has made to our planet’s environment.
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