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The Burning Earth Bears Witness in California

Photo by Glenn Beltz | CC by 2.0

Watching the first ten minutes of the “Public” (Petroleum and/or Pentagon?) Broadcasting System (“P”BS)’s NewsHour two nights ago, I was overcome by a sense of the surreal. The first news item was the Insane Clown President’s (ICP) idiotic (if base-pleasing) announcement that the U.S. embassy in Israel will at some point be moved from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. NewsHour host and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) member Judy Woodruff announced a special segment on this story later in the broadcast.

The next story was the coming likely resignation of the centrist corporate-Democratic Party pain-in-the-ass Al Franken from the U.S. Senate in response to cascading allegations of sexual harassment and weirdness.  That too was to receive a special segment, the CFR’s Woodruff assured viewers.

Then came a brief yet hair-raising report showing homes burning and enflamed mountains looming over motorists in southern California, just outside Los Angeles.  The wildfire footage was breathtakingly dystopian.

There was no special segment scheduled for the pre-apocalyptic California wildfires, which were taking down mansions in opulent Bel Air and forcing tens of thousands to evacuate.

How, I wondered, was this not the top story?

A correspondent writes me from Central California today (Thursday morning):

‘Climate apocalypse’ is accurate. I live on California’s central coast. Ojai and Ventura surrounded by fires. Carpenteria being evacuated.  Lompoc and Santa Barbara covered in ash.  White ash floating everywhere in central California.”

In The New York Times today:

Southern California is fighting a renewed onslaught from the wildfires menacing greater Los Angeles, with emergency crews contending with brisk winds, steep terrain and fatigue from days of relentless work. Schools are closed, roadways are shut and nearly 200,000 people have been told to evacuate their homes. Winds were strengthening on Thursday, with warnings that gusts could reach 80 miles per hour. The four largest fires had scorched a combined 116,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties by Thursday morning, and none of those fires was close to being contained. ‘I’ve got to be honest, we’re concerned about everything,’ said Armando Hogan, an assistant Los Angeles fire chief. The unfavorable weather conditions have the region on edge, and brush fires broke out Thursday morning in Malibu, Oxnard and Huntington Beach, prompting a quick deployment of emergency crews.

I’m guessing the Los Angeles fires will be a top and full-segment item on the “P”BS NewsHour (where the Times tends to set the agenda most news days), even if one of the network’s top donors is the vanguard fossil fuel baron David Koch.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, an astonishing total of 8,756 fires have burned 1,156,914 acres in rain-starved California this year.

Like the wildfires that charred 20,000 acres, destroyed 3.500 structures, and killed at least 44 people in northern California last October, the southern California infernos are the outcome of excessive heat and drought resulting from the climate disruption caused by humanity’s excessive, capital-driven and United States-led extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

And, for what it’s worth – which may not be much in the homeland and headquarters of petro-capitalist climate denial – there is no bigger story in the world today than anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) global warming.  It’s the biggest issue of our or any time. Nothing in the news today comes close – not the pedophilia and (yet) forthcoming election (to the “upper chamber” of the U.S. Congress) of the Alabama super-freak Roy Moore, not the petulant creepiness of ex-Senator Stuart Smalley, not the twists and turns of Russiagate and the Mueller inquiry, not the arch-plutocratic Trump-GOP tax bill, not the imminent reversal of net neutrality, not even the terrible plights of the Rohingya, Yemen, the Congolese, the South Sudanese (among countless victims of horrific violence and oppression) or the insane game of thermonuclear chicken being played by the ICP in Washington and the Dear Leader in Pyongyang. This is for the simple reason that life itself is slated to become unsustainable on the planet in no short historical order if we do not act quickly and massively to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources and to fundamentally change our relationship with Earth’s natural systems and change our position in the global web of life.

Extreme weather is only the tip of the melting iceberg when it comes to what’s at stake.  The climate disruption that homo sapiens has wrought under the command of its capitalist class poses grave and frankly exterminist threats to the species’ ability to maintain access to basic requirements of biological existence: food, water, and cooling.  We are on pace for the “human” melting of the Antarctic, the murder of the planet’s basic life support systems, before the end of the current century – perhaps as soon as 2050 if not earlier. It’s a crime that will make the Nazis, Stalin, and Pol Pot et al. look like small-time criminals by comparison.

We have at most two decades to avert environmental catastrophe and sustain realistic hopes for a decent future. Failure on that score would mean that nothing else we care about and (on the left) fight for – democracy, social justice, peace, artistic expression, equality, and more – would matter all that much.  It’ll be about the best possible arrangement of chairs and drinks on the decks of a sinking ship.  We’ll just be fighting to turn a scorched world upside down – pushing for the more egalitarian slicing out of a poisoned pie.

The startling images of mansions burned and burning in posh Los Angeles suburbs and other aristocratic zip codes is reminder that no special caste or privileged class of humanity is ultimately exempt from the ecocidal and anthrosuicidal logic of contemporary carbon- and accumulation-addicted capitalism.  There’s no capitalist rate of profit (either declining or ascending), no “free market” utopia, no social democracy, no joyous reign of the “associated producers” (Marx’s phrase), no “storming heaven” (Marx’s praise for the Paris Communards) on a dead planet.

There’s no bigger story than the environmental crisis that lay behind this year’s California fires and the extremity of this year’s hurricane season – and so much else almost too terrible to mention.

It’s surreal to pretend otherwise.  The Earth is our witness.

Please help Paul keep writing here.

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Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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