Harvey, Irma, Jose: Who’s Next?

by John Reimann, North Star editorial board member on September 11, 2017

Hurricane Harvey.
The first of how many more?

Reports are “flooding” in of bumper-to-bumper traffic of people trying to flee Hurricane Irma. But, as the Wall St. Journal reports, “Briana Beaty of North Palm Beach won’t have to contend with highway congestion… A private plane offered by a family friend will ferry her and her three daughters ages 1, 3 and 6, along with their nanny and her mother-in-law, to a resort in the north Georgia mountains where she said she booked the last three rooms.”

Meanwhile, the capitalist media focuses on the massive flooding in Texas caused by Harvey and what is coming from Irma, which is reported to be the largest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic. Ever. Just a few days earlier, Donald and Melania Trump arrived in Texas for a photo-op after Hurricane Harvey. Melania, never one to be caught up short, had an aide carry two Louis Vuitton suitcases aboard Air Force One for the day trip. She, after all, couldn’t be expected to carry the bags, not while she was wearing her black, stiletto spiked heels!

Melania and “The Donald” arrive in Houston while resident struggle to survive.

Hurricane Irma: Who Cares So Far?

But who cares? These people aren’t Americans and most of them aren’t even white.And Haiti, where the mayor of one city called Irma a “nuclear hurricane”? That only merits a footnote. As does the devastation on Barbuda, where 95% of the buildings are reported damaged. On St. Martin, it’s reported that “it’s like someone with a lawn mower from the sky has gone over the island.”

Although you’d never know it from listening to the news, everybody with a brain in their head knows what’s going on: When Bill Clinton first ran for president he famously taped a note on his bathroom mirror, “it’s the economy, stupid.” This time, “it’s global climate disruption, stupid.” It really is, although Trump and his millions are still in denial.

The devastation caused by Irma.
Top: Haiti; Bottom: Barbuda

“We Hate the Federal Government (until we need it)”
One thing they’re not in denial over: The role of the federal government. They want federal relief. And Trump, ever one to put popularity with his base first, is already asking congress for an initial $7.9 billion as a “down payment” for relief for victims of Harvey. One wonders how many of the Trump supporters in Texas (or, coming up, in Florida) will turn down federal aid based on their “political principles”. Well, maybe we don’t have to wonder, really.

Hurricanes Andrew (1992) and Irma (today).
These images show the monstrous size of Irma.

Science is real
But back to science, as inconvenient as our president and his followers (including the Christian fanatics) might find it: Hurricanes, 
which form over the ocean, gain their power from warm, moist air, and just like the atmosphere, ocean temperatures are rising, producing more powerful storms, just as those pesky scientists predicted. No one individual weather event can be laid to global climate change, but… if within a few days you get a hurricane that dumps water of “biblical proportions” (The Atlantic), a thousand year storm (meaning the chances of a storm of this magnitude in any one year is one in a thousand), and then a few days later you get the biggest storm ever recorded over the Atlantic…? (Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Bay area was recording record high temperatures.) And that’s not related to a general trend? Seriously?

 Capitalist Anarchy
There’s something else the capitalist-controlled news isn’t telling us: It’s not only climate disruption; it’s also a matter of the unplanned, anarchic nature of capitalist development. As that same article in The Atlantic explains, “
The reason cities flood isn’t because the water comes in, not exactly. It’s because the pavement of civilization forces the water to get back out again.” In US cities, up to 40% of the land is cement vs. soil on which trees and grass grows. As The Atlantic explains, “The natural system is very good at accepting rainfall. But when water hits pavement, it creates runoff immediately. That water has to go somewhere. So it flows wherever the grade takes it. To account for that runoff, people engineer systems to move the water away from where it is originally deposited, or to house it in situ, or even to reuse it. This process—the policy, planning, engineering, implementation, and maintenance of urban water systems—is called stormwater management.”

Most stormwater systems are designed to handle a rain storm that might come every 25 years maximum. But a 1000 year storm? No way.

On top of that is the extreme way that Houston developed – spread out over 600 square miles, meaning some 600 square miles that is largely cemented over. There are ways to better manage rain-induced flooding like what happened in and around Houston. This is through building cisterns to store the excess water, among other things. But this costs money, and who’s going to pay?

Robert Moses
His approach to “planning” gave “urban removal” the name of “negro removal”

Capitalist Planning
It is possible to do some planning, but the history of city planning is the history of capitalist development. Back in the 1950s, city planning was controlled by bureaucrats like  New York City’s Robert Moses, who was head of the Triborough Authority. This was the period of rapid suburbanization of urban areas, and “urban renewal” inside the cities. Inner city residents were saying that “urban renewal” really meant “Negro removal.”

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement, activists started to exert their influence, so city planning started to draw local residents into involvement. But guess what happened? Surprise, surprise: It was the wealthier suburbanites who really exerted influence , vetoing plans for low income housing in their neighborhoods, etc. Not for nothing did the NIMBY’s become the real influence.

Meanwhile, as far as development of cities in general, we all know who controlled that: The real estate developers.

As this is being written, Irma has rolled through the Caribbean Islands, headed for Florida, with Jose on Irma’s heels. Who – what – is next is anybody’s guess. But it won’t be pretty.

Welcome to 21st century capitalism.

Never was a real plan for economic development needed more. But it would have to be a plan overseen – controlled and managed – by the working class itself.

Never was the impossible dream of real socialism – not a “mixed economy” social democracy, but a totally revolutionized system – needed more.

Left to right: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma & Jose
How far down the alphabet will we go this season?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kenny October 11, 2017 at 4:30 pm

> There’s something else the capitalist-controlled news isn’t telling us: It’s not only climate disruption; it’s also a matter of the unplanned, anarchic nature of capitalist development. As that same article in The Atlantic explains …

This is confusing. Is not The Atlantic part of “the capitalist-controlled news”? And how is it that you’re complaining about that same group *not* telling you something that you’re quoting them as having written?

I have also read conflicting things about Houston and the stormwater system problems. For one, Houston isn’t supposedly “largely cemented over”.

Real socialism also won’t obviate the need to make hard decisions, i.e. among many tradeoffs, however poorly understood. How exactly would “the working class itself” do this and do it better than the people currently doing so (the ‘capitalists’?)? I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question; I’m genuinely curious how exactly you imagine working class people making these decisions. Are you just assuming that they’ll make better decisions? Or do you think there’s some kind of specific political organization that would greatly increase the quality of their decisions? Or is it just that, because they’re the working class, any decisions they make are good or best by definition?

> Most stormwater systems are designed to handle a rain storm that might come every 25 years maximum. But a 1000 year storm? No way.

I fear you shouldn’t be trusted even with the hard decisions required of a stormwater system if you think that the only thing preventing every stormwater system from being capable of handling a “1000 year” storm is capitalist greed or some combination of capitalist anarchy and capitalist planning. It seems pretty likely to me that being able to handle a 1,000-year storm might require more wealth than any community people might have or create for decades or centuries. Surely stormwater systems aren’t the only goods and services that people value. But why stop at 1,000-year storms? Shouldn’t ever city or town in the world be ready to weather an impact by a large asteroid too? There’s no *obvious* point at which anything is enough – that’s one of those hard decisions that someone has to make.

> a totally revolutionized system

I’m pretty sure a totally revolutionized system would do even worse. Because of course, after the global war that brings about the revolution, stormwater systems weathering 1,000 year storms will probably be far behind other concerns, like preventing people from starving, killing the lingering enemies of the working class, etc.

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