CA Drought

Capitalism Has Failed California

According to scientists, basing themselves on dendrochronology and sediment analysis, California currently faces the worst drought it has seen in over 1,000 years. News coverage ranges from highlighting the influence of global climate change on California water systems, the possible economic effects of the drought, why water use for agriculture is to blame, and the response of the Californian government. Like most problems working people face today, the drought in California inexorably knots many layers together, unified in liability.

CA DroughtHumans have inhabited California during an abnormally wet periodin the region’s climatic history. The early 20th century in western North America saw the wettest winter seasons on record. So although climate change certainly contributes to the drought by shifting precipitation patterns and raising the earth’s surface temperature, it is important to note that the wet period in California would have ended eventually with or without climate change. Knowledge of this exceptionally wet stage in California’s climate and the implications for the future could have been a basis for careful strategic management of California’s water resources, but under capitalism, this has not been the case.

An influx of people and the resultant development of urban areas has strained California’s already precarious water systems. As an example, Los Angeles, a city that outgrew its water supply, was infamously responsible for the heavy draining of Owens and Mono Lake. Urban areas leaching reservoirs dry is not the only water management problem in the state.

By percentage, the single largest use of water in California is for irrigation. On the face of it, irrigation sounds like a socially necessary water use, but this irrigation is in part used for crops like avocados and almonds, which demand large water input per unit output. From a water conservation perspective, planting almonds is not a rational choice.

However, we do not operate in a democratically planned economy, and almond farming added $5.8 billion dollars to California’s economy in 2013, with even higher projections for 2014. The high profitability of the industry and it subsequent political clout renders sustainable planning of water resources insignificant by comparison. This inattention to the constantly changing realities of nature may wreak havoc on the almond farming industry given the current drought.

Governor Brown’s response to his state’s drought demonstrates the inability of the current system to effectively address environmental issues. He has mandated a 25% reductionin urban water usage. As critical as it may seem to require Californians to stop watering their lawns during a drought, even total temporary cessation of municipal water usage cannot “fix” an environmental shift or repair decades of water mismanagement.

This classic impulse of the capitalist system to burden individual workers with the reparation of crisis conditions is observable across the board, but is particularly absurd in this instance. After a series of negligent management practices that entirely failed to address the climate of the region, the people of California are being asked to kindly turn off their sprinklers.

At every turn in California’s history, we can see how a planned economy and workers’ control of the means of production could have allowed for more sustainable management of a dwindling water supply.

Capitalism, driven by the need for the accumulation of capital alone, is impotent in matters related to the environment in a changing climate. Workers’ control of agriculture and crops being grown for the needs of people rather than profit would allow for resource management that integrates and responds to a changing system. A democratically planned economy would be able to use the existing knowledge of regional biological characteristics to determine where crops like almonds and avocados can be grown without unnecessarily straining water resources.

The poor planning in California and throughout its history is a perfect example of the limits of the private ownership of the means of production, the nation state, and even the federal structure of the US, as these problems do not limit themselves neatly to state lines. Only a rationally planned economy, administered by a workers’ government in California, the US, and throughout North America could begin to address these problems in a comprehensive and timely way.

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