Hurricane Ian Destruction

Capitalist Catastrophe: Hurricane Ian Devastates Florida

On Wednesday, September 28, Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida’s Gulf Coast. The storm cut a devastating path across the peninsula, bringing storm surges of 12 feet or more, winds of over 150mph, and two feet of rain. The storm killed at least 100 people in Florida alone, leveled entire city blocks, and knocked out power to 3.5 million homes and businesses. Early estimates put the economic cost of the hurricane somewhere between $100 billion and $120 billion.

Hurricanes are not preventable. With present meteorological methods, they remain difficult to predict. But Hurricane Ian was no mere “natural disaster.” The effects of the storm were exacerbated by a most unnatural force: the capitalist system in terminal decline.

Hurricane Ian
The devastation caused by Hurricane Ian was exacerbated by the decline of the capitalist system. / Image: Florida Fish and Wildlife

Postcardmania, a company based in Clearwater, Florida is the latest poster child for the perfidy and greed of US capitalists after its CEO, Joy Gendusa, dismissed the hurricane as media “hype” and encouraged employees to report to work, with their children and pets, during the storm. But capitalism’s role in this catastrophe goes much deeper than one CEO’s stupidity and lack of concern for human life.

Warm seawater is the fuel that powers all tropical cyclones. Warm air helps to sustain them, since it can hold more moisture than cool air. For these reasons, global warming greatly increases the likelihood of strong hurricanes. Ian is only the latest in a long line of recent storms which rapidly intensified over the Gulf of Mexico’s warming waters. Since 2017, five other hurricanes in the Gulf—Harvey, Irma, Michael, Laura, and Ida—have all gained at least 35mph of wind speed in 24 hours or less.

The big energy monopolies knew about global warming as early as the 1970s. Instead of acting to combat climate change, they spent half a century denying the problem, while raking in untold billions from the production of the very fuels that cause it. Reckless pursuit of profits and the irrational anarchy of the capitalist market are the engines driving global warming. To fight it, control over energy production and use must be wrested away from these gangsters.

The technologies necessary to arrest climate change already exist, but it is not profitable for the capitalists to invest in them. Under a socialist plan of production, the working class will retool the economy and rapidly transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Moreover, the immense resources capitalists currently spend on political lobbying, climate-denialist propaganda, and geological surveys searching for new sources of oil and gas will be redirected to fund scientific research into mitigating climate change as well as the development of new, environmentally friendly production techniques.

Florida Mangrove Swamp
Since the 1950s, greedy property developers have drained the swamps and uprooted the trees that formed a protective barrier against storms like Ian. / Image Barbara Eckstein, Flickr

However, global warming is not the only factor behind this capitalist catastrophe. The profit-driven housing market also deserves its share of the blame.

Over the last 70 years, profit-hungry property developers have waged an unrelenting war on the wetlands of southwest Florida. They uprooted the mangroves and drained the swamps that once formed a protective barrier shielding inland populations from dangerous storms. Delicate ecosystems were destroyed without a second thought for the broader consequences. If that wasn’t bad enough, these same swindlers dredged swamps and rivers to create artificial land. This new coastal property was as dangerously exposed to hurricanes as it was lucrative to the profiteers.

Real-estate boomed throughout the region. Workers and retirees flocked to southwest Florida, largely unaware of how unsafe their new homes were. The population of Lee County—where Ian first made landfall in Florida—has doubled since 1990. Two other hard-hit counties, Osceola and Sumter, saw their populations triple over the same period. Real-estate developers, property speculators, and big banks made out like bandits. In Hurricane Ian’s wake, the boomtowns they created, like Cape Coral and Fort Myers, are in ruins and their mostly working-class residents are living a tragic nightmare.

This is no accident. The capitalist housing market can never deliver quality, safe, and affordable housing for everyone, because quality, safety, and affordability don’t factor into the calculations of the capitalists. Profitability is their sole concern. Only under a socialized plan will housing be produced and distributed to meet human needs.

Hurricane Ian proves once again, in a most dramatic fashion, the truth of Lenin’s maxim: “capitalist society is, and has always been, horror without end.” But across the US and around the world, the crisis of capitalism is preparing an even greater storm: the firestorm of class struggle and socialist revolution. With every disaster, every shock, every sharp and sudden turn, more workers and youth realize that relentless struggle against their class enemy is the only way to defend their lives and the very habitability of their planet. To succeed in this fight, they must be organized and armed with the theory and methods of Marxism.

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