California wildfires: A socialist perspective

By Elliot Bartz, Socialist Alternative USA

Remembering one’s experience of a wildfire is like assembling a series of fragments from a broken picture: Startled awake at 3am to an unprecedented dry lightning storm. Lightning illuminates the sky and thunder rumbles nearby. A sense of foreboding rises in our stomachs. This weather belongs in the midwest, not coastal California.

2pm the next day: evacuation warning. Pack everything now! The Tubbs Fire nightmare in Santa Rosa dances in our mind – of innocent people immolated in their homes by fires moving at hurricane speeds. We fly through the house. Start the car. Rip off the flammable window coverings and throw clothes and keepsakes into bags. Then comes the official order to evacuate. Get out now!

As we depart, we observe the fire: columns of flame extend up to 50 feet in the air as redwoods are consumed. The fire is creeping down the hill towards our house as smoke billows upwards; time to go for real.

This is the new reality as climate change takes hold. The Democratic “super majority” who run California know that wildfire season comes every year, yet they leave our fire protection services chronically underfunded and forced to rely largely on volunteers and prison labor.

The New Normal of Climate Change

Over one million acres of California caught fire last week, dwarfing all previous records almost a month earlier than when our fire season traditionally starts. Two of the biggest fires now burning number in the top three biggest fires in California history! Hundreds of thousands are fleeing not just the fires but the toxic smoke that has engulfed the Bay Area, which has compounded the COVID-19 crisis by causing serious lung damage. Tens of thousands of people directly fled the fires after being forced to the periphery of the Bay Area by some of the highest housing prices in the world.

As temperatures broke world records in our state, we now feel the brunt of the years of chronic underfunding for safety and public services wrought by the capitalist class. When wildfire strikes, we are helpless to control it. In this land of unspeakable inequality, Senator Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and California Governor Gavin Newsom, all supposedly “green” politicians, have left our fire suppression resources to rot knowing full well that people will die as a result. Democratic politicians in California need to be held to account for their criminal unpreparedness!

Blame Rests with Silicon Valley Corporations!

Amazon, Google and Apple have all made billions helping provide tech infrastructure for the oil and gas industry. Despite their propagandistic “commitments” to cut emissions, some companies such as Amazon continue to increase their own carbon footprint while providing critical logistical support to corporations that are directly driving the climate crisis. Meanwhile, Apple pays a negligible tax rate as their wealth balloons to $2 trillion, a value that already matches two-thirds of California’s GDP.

These companies have made billions by avoiding taxes through various loopholes and offshore havens, simultaneously benefitting from their monopoly position in the global and US tech sectors. A modest tax on these corporations – many of whom call the Bay Area home – to recoup some of our lost tax revenue could be used to fully fund and overhaul emergency services, allowing us to be prepared for next year’s inevitable wildfire season.

The Democrats Have Left Us Totally Unprepared

Trump represents a tremendous threat to the planet. His staunch denial of the climate crisis and commitment to ripping up environmental regulations will have deadly consequences. His commentary on the California wildfires is: “You gotta clean your floors.” He has threatened year after year to withhold federal aid to California to fight the fires, though has ultimately caved on this threat. While Trump’s environmental policy reads like incoherent babbling, opposite him is a series of half-promises from the Democratic Party.

What we need is a socialist Green New Deal where polluting industries are brought into democratic public ownership and rapidly retooled on a green basis. However, this is not the ambition of the Democratic Party.

The meak, anti-spectacle of the Democratic National Convention set an appropriate backdrop for this phase of capitalist crisis. Their callous lack of empathy for working people and the planet is best shown on the faces of California parents deciding whether to choose death by COVID-19, poverty, or fire.

In the world’s 5th largest economy, California begs other states and countries for firefighting assets that we can easily afford ourselves. We wait for weeks as they trickle in from all over the country and the world. Meanwhile, if the Democrats fought for even a one time emergency tax on big business to fund the fire service, we would be in far better shape.

Cal Fire’s reliance on coerced prison labor has left us with a massive firefighter shortage in light of the COVID-19 crisis wreaking havoc throughout CA prisons. Just as they failed to protect us from COVID-19 by upholding for-profit healthcare, the Democrats now fail to address an even more predictable effect of the climate crisis. Here in California we live in a state of unmet basic human need for the masses while the richest few and their governmental lackeys inhabit an insular world of unfathomable wealth and self-aggrandizement.

Make no mistake: our capitalist politicians would rather let our tax revenue sit in the private coffers of Silicon Valley while our homes burn. Kamala Harris is far too busy enjoying the spotlight that her years of self interested ladder climbing has earned her. Despite what the Democrats tell you: it’s’ not just Trump that fiddles while we burn, it’s the entire corrupt Democrat establishment that has taken only meager half-measures to address the dire climate crisis.

We Need Action on Climate Fires Now!!

Emerging from the ashes of this latest wildfire catastrophe, one thing is certain. We cannot sit idly by while the capitalist corporate state robs us blind and leaves our homes to burn during a viral pandemic and a massive economic depression. We must organize effectively to demand redistribution of OUR wealth out of the pockets of Silicon Valley corporations and executives and back into our communities to restore them, prepare for future wildfires and ensure adequate fire fighting capacity for Cal Fire and local fire departments in the future. We know for a fact that this will not happen if we don’t organize and fight.

The Democratic Party will continue to mirror the tactics of the Republicans by gaslighting our communities into believing that we brought this on ourselves, that this could not have been avoided, that it is therefore on us and us alone to rebuild. This biased, manufactured reality could not be further from the truth.

The causes of climate change challenge us directly. The California Legislature’s decision this week not to restore the unemployment top-up and to fund recycling facilities to combat climate change, are both tragic and criminal. Gavin Newsom continues to refuse to ban fracking in California. He refuses to take a stand against oil extraction generally. Silicon Valley tech firms are permitted to directly support the oil and gas industry for their own profit. Biden and Harris continue to ignore the Democrat’s role in the wildfire fiasco in favor of their insulated, self-serving recollection of events.

Democrats and Silicon Valley bosses must not be allowed to get away with starving working people of desperately needed services while the state burns. Climate crisis is the new normal, be it hurricanes, floods, COVID-19 or wildfire. Together we must demand that our stolen wealth be restored to the community so that we can prepare for and mitigate the climate disaster.

  • Never a moment of respite for Democrats that fail to take serious action against wildfires. Kick them out!
  • Demand a major tax on Silicon Valley Billionaires and their Trillion Dollar Corporations. They’ve stolen our tax revenue for long enough!
  • Living Stipends for all Families affected by Wildfires paid for directly by Silicon Valley Tax Revenues!
  • End Fossil Fuel Extraction Now! We cannot afford another minute of carbon burning. Bring all oil and gas infrastructure into public ownership immediately, to take these decisions out of the hands of profiteers!
  • Bring PG&E into public ownership and fix the energy infrastructure. End the outrageous rolling blackouts and PG&E caused wildfires now! No more private utilities in California!
  • Reinvest heavily into our firefighters; expand battalion strength locally and at the state level. Further develop air assets for inevitable wildfires and reinvest heavily into local community fire prevention and assistance
  • No more exploitation of prison labor to fight fires! Prisoners who gained experience in firefighting should be allowed to work as firefighters after their release.
  • Demand that the Department of Insurance be audited for corrupt industry ties and dealings. All private insurance negotiations must be made public and fully transparent, now. We won’t let them screw us again when we rebuild!
  • Develop neighborhood and community bonds now, before they become necessary.
  • Develop independent, robust, locally controlled communications, including encrypted social media to plan ahead for fire prevention and evacuations.
  • Medical for All! Housing for All! Green New Deal, Immediately!
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