Capitalism’s Wildfire Haze: A Sign of Things to Come

Millions of people across the eastern United States have suffered from extremely poor air quality over the past several days, caused by the record-setting wildfire season in Canada, which is starting earlier and developing more intensely than ever before.

On Wednesday, New York City had the worst air quality of any city in the entire world, with haunting scenes resembling the atmosphere on Mars. Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and the thousands of smaller cities and towns in the region were also affected. With the air quality index in the “hazardous” range, above 300, in some cases, tens of millions of residents across the region were advised to stay indoors, and in some cases school days and flights were canceled.

While air quality has improved in the Northeast for now, Southeasterners are now bearing the brunt, and the National Weather Service has warned that winds next week starting may bring smoke back into the Northeast. With 100 fires still raging in Quebec and Ontario, it cannot be ruled out that similar days are on the horizon. This is all a palpable reminder of the accelerating climate crisis, as previously unheard of weather events become ever more frequent.

On Wednesday, New York had the worst air quality of any city in the entire world, with haunting scenes resembling the atmosphere on Mars. / Image: Anthony Quintano, Flickr

Unprecedented weather patterns

Some who have lived their entire lives in the Northeastern United States have commented that they have never seen anything like this, while others remarked that life in New York City on Wednesday was somewhat akin to living in the world of Blade Runner. Such scenarios will only become more frequent in the coming decade, as scientists have long explained that as the climate crisis worsens, weather patterns will become increasingly erratic and unpredictable.

The Wall Street Journal explained: “Canada’s wildfire season is off to a blistering start this year, with more than 8.1 million acres of land already burned by early June, according to the country’s natural resources department. In a typical fire season, about 600,000 acres would have been burned by this point.”

Marxist philosophy explains that change and development—in nature, human society, and thought—occurs through both gradual transformation and sudden qualitative leaps and revolutions. What we are witnessing in recent years with regards to climate change is exactly that.

Capitalism is incapable of addressing the issue

Capitalism’s pollution of the air goes far beyond that caused by wildfires alone, encompassing wide swathes of industrial production and transportation. The World Health Organization has estimated that air pollution is responsible for seven million early deaths each year, and one out of every eight human deaths in total. It affects not only cardiovascular health, but also neurocognitive functioning and other aspects of human functioning. This is just one of the many horrible effects of worsening climate change we’ve witnessed in recent years.

Joe Biden and the Democrats have positioned themselves as the party that “takes climate change seriously.” During the 2020 electoral cycle, the liberal media was in a frenzy over the need to vote for Biden due to this question. But the problem is the capitalist system itself, which is predicated on private ownership of the means of production, and investment for profit in the anarchic, unplanned market economy. This is precisely the system unquestionably defended by Biden.

During the 2020 election, the liberal media was in a frenzy over the need to vote for Biden due to the climate issue. / Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

As part of his response to the air quality emergency, Biden assured the country that the US has dispatched 600 firefighting personnel to help the Canadian firefighters, while New York State Governor, Kathy Hochul, proclaimed that the state would provide free N-95 masks to deal with the smoke. But advanced workers and youth, aware of the total inadequacy of the Democrats’ program for climate change, can see right through these minimal, reactive, and performative antics.

Ironically, this weather event came just one month after the so-called progressive Democrats in the New York State “passed the Green New Deal.” After four years of lobbying and horse trading, some minor reforms were passed, with a goal of reaching 100% renewable energy in the state by 2030. These changes are fine as far as they go, but it does us no good to sugarcoat the extremely modest extent of these measures when contrasted with the full scope of the climate crisis, which is global in nature and requires a global solution.

We need a planned economy!

More environmental disruption is in store as the climate crisis deepens. The cumulative effect of this is sure to prompt more and more people—and youth in particular—to question the viability of capitalism itself. The millions of American and Canadian youth who already see communism as their ideal economic system understand the need for a complete break with chaos of capitalism.

What is needed is the urgent and total restructuring of the energy production and distribution system. Humanity possesses the wealth and technology to begin a transition to infinitely renewable energy, but these means are currently owned and controlled by the capitalists. By fighting to expropriate the energy companies and other major industries, to be incorporated into a democratically planned nationalized economy, we can prepare the basis for a collective and coordinated response to climate change.

It is evident that no capitalist party can resolve this problem. The struggle to successfully overcome the climate crisis is the struggle for the socialist revolution. Join us in this fight!

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