Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Tornado and Other Man-Made Disasters


The ancient Greeks attributed weather to the god Zeus; today we can safely attribute it to industrial capitalism and its voracious consumption of fossil fuels. The carnage left by a tornado in Oklahoma yesterday is just the latest in our economic system’s daunting body count. Other recent examples include the mass suicides of farmers in India, who because of drought are losing their crops and therefore their livelihoods (a foreshadowing of climate change’s impact on global agriculture); the deadly garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, about which fellow CounterPuncher Vijay Prashad wrote a fine piece; and the explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, due to lax regulatory agencies. Zeus’ lightning bolts seem quaint by comparison.

The mainstream media’s coverage of the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma will be predictable. Politicians will recite their liturgy of solemn condolences and deepest gratitudes. The more ostentatious ones will flatter the community of Moore with condescending talk about how tough they are and how they’ll move past this—as Obama did to Boston following the Marathon bombing. Amidst all these helpful remarks, no politician will discuss how to prevent future natural disasters.

At best there will be a critique of FEMA’s response to the tragedy. To be fair, critiques of this sort are not totally insignificant. Rigid, hierarchical relief organizations like FEMA perform far worse in crises compared with less authoritarian, horizontal approaches, like that of Occupy to Hurricane Sandy. In a recent book titled “Managing Crises: Responses to Large-Scale Emergencies,” two establishment Harvard professors concede that FEMA’s bureaucratic (i.e. hierarchical) structure was an important flaw causing its failed response to Hurricane Katrina.

Though disaster response may be discussed, disaster prevention will not. For the only known way to prevent extreme weather events is to prevent climate change, which is a taboo subject in mainstream media. I do not mean to say that these media forbid discussion of climate change, or even proposals of solutions. What are instead forbidden are serious solutions. One example of this would be reducing consumption, which is, of course, blasphemous to the establishment, because it’s incompatible with capitalism. Given our present system, growth (and hence consumption) is necessary for prosperity, or even subsistence. This would seem to be self-evidently problematic. To mainstream economists, however, it is the bedrock of their profession. It is all well and good to bombard ordinary Americans with tiresome iterations of how we must ‘live within our means’; the managers of the economy, on the other hand, are free to believe in the magic of infinite growth. Establishment economists essentially believe that they have discovered the first perpetual motion machine: the global economy.

The impact of increasing growth is remarkably evident, even by the crudest measures. Consider the EPA’s graph of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. From 1990 onward it increases with almost zero deviation—until 2007-8. The reason that emissions drop off so sharply here is because that was when the global financial crisis occurred. And the decline in carbon emissions was not limited to the U.S.: according to the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, emissions from heavy industry they analyzed fell 3.1 percent in 2008 compared with 2007. Their view, paraphrased by Reuters, is that “This was due to falling industrial output from the global economic slowdown.” Therefore, given the present configuration of the economy, what is good for the economy is bad for the environment.

Another example of a serious solution to climate change is installing a high-speed transit system, which did in fact exist in the U.S. for some time. The only reason it doesn’t exist in any serious measure today is because a bunch of corporations like GM, Firestone, Standard Oil Of California, and others got together and bought the existing streetcars and electric train systems, and junked them all. This monopolistic move was so flagrant that the corporations responsible were tried and sentenced for conspiracy. (Incidentally the paltry fine was not great enough to seriously hamper their efforts.) Now we have the interstate highway system, the construction and maintenance of which is extremely oil intensive. The much-romanticized ‘freeway’ (a nice Orwellian term) does leave those of us who can afford cars to drive however we please—well, within a few yards or so of the vehicles in front of and behind us.

Solutions like reducing consumption and installing high-speed transit systems would not only prevent extreme weather events like the tornado in Oklahoma, it would also diminish their severity. This was the conclusion of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In a recent interview with Scientific American about the tornado in Moore, he states that, while “the climate change effect is probably only a 5 to 10 percent effect in terms of the instability…it translates into up to a 33 percent effect in terms of damage.” In other words, under conditions of less carbon emissions, even if the tornado had still occurred, it would have been less likely to cause as much damage as it did. But don’t expect to hear that in the mainstream media: they are too busy emphasizing our helplessness in the face of such ‘acts of god’—a god whose supremacy was usurped by industrial capitalism years ago.

Ken Klippenstein lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where he edits the left issues website He can be reached at

Ken Klippenstein is an American journalist who can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or by email:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017