Is This All of Our Futures?
It feels strange to have a devastating hurricane hit New York City. Actually, it feels a lot like September of 2001: a day of shock and fear followed by a long period without electricity, telephone, or subway service in a large area of Manhattan. It is strange–unprecedented–to have a “natural” disaster of this magnitude here. Hurricane Sandy caused a flood surge 14 feet high at the tip of Manhattan, flooding parts of the island from the rivers to the east and west in addition to the harbor. The water-damaged area is the heart of the financial district, as well as the location of housing, universities, and businesses. Three days later, electricity, drinking water, and transportation remain non-existent all the way up to 39th Street. Businesses and jobs have slammed to a halt for millions of people.
Americans tend to think of hurricanes as Third World events—the Caribbean, Southeast Asia—in which poor non-white people lose their fragile housing and their lives. That stereotype includes Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, because New Orleans seemed to many not really a part of the U.S., with its Creole culture and millions of poor non-white people in fragile housing.
New York is quite another matter, especially the prime real estate of Manhattan south of 39th Street, an area which three days later remains in darkness indefinitely, along with large sections of the “outer boroughs.” Nearly 2 million households in New York lost electricity, and entire streets ended up under water, as did seven subway tunnels. There remain a total of 5 million people in the states hit by the storm who are without electricity or heat. People are running out of food and drinking water. Those living in New York high-rises are unable to leave their apartments and get to stores. On and off throughout the city, cell phones and websites and ATMs don’t work because the infrastructures behind them are insufficient, or perhaps some ATMs were shut down because they couldn’t be secured. All subway service was out; now some is returning in the areas that are not blacked out.
What Manhattan is suffering pales compared to the devastated areas of other parts of New York City and, on a larger scale, the Jersey Shore, including a destroyed Atlantic City and several inland New Jersey towns that look like war zones. Breezy Point in Queens had 100 houses burn to the ground in the flooded streets, and the shore areas of Far Rockaway in Brooklyn are wrecked. Underground gas fires are popping up in New Jersey and elsewhere. Nothing close to this scale of destruction has happened before when hurricanes hit New York and New Jersey.
The New York Stock Exchange was closed for two days and then re-opened, using its emergency generators, while the rest of lower Manhattan remains without electricity, water, and phone service. Meanwhile, the emergency generators at two major hospitals failed and hundreds of patients had to be evacuated. The priorities of capitalism are transparent: according to the experts, closing the Stock Exchange for any longer than two days would have threatened the world financial system.
The storm raged up the coast from Maryland to Maine and westward to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and all the way to Illinois. Cold temperatures to the southwest resulted in snow storms in West Virginia and the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The scope of the monetary damage is unknown at this time, but could be 10 to 20 billion dollars. For vulgar materialists who think such destruction is a boost to the economy: be advised that the lost revenue caused by the storm may end up as much as ten times the spending that will be needed to rebuild.
Some 68 people are known dead in the U.S. (there were 1,833 deaths in New Orleans from Katrina; early predictions about Sandy and better services to the area allowed more preparation and evacuation). The human and financial tolls are still growing.
MHI received an e-mail from our friend in Nicaragua, who wrote to ask if we were all right. She revealed the trauma of living in a hurricane zone:
“We have had a lot of experience with hurricanes. I have the sound of the wind in my memory. When we expect a hurricane, I can hear its sound before it arrives. I am not afraid of the wind and the rain. When hurricanes come to Nicaragua, we know that they die on the mountains. We say the mountains stop the hurricanes. We think that a hurricane is like an animal that wants to die on land. My son and I talk about this a lot. My son says, ‘Mom, he only wants to die.’”
She also says: “The houses of poor people get damaged and it is very difficult for them to rebuild their houses.” In other words, they have no money and cannot rebuild, so the poor get poorer, sicker, die. This brings us back to the reality of the Third World: before Sandy reached the U.S., it hit the Caribbean. Early reports were that 130,000 housing units in Santiago Province in Cuba were damaged or destroyed, and close to 200,000 people were displaced again in Haiti, which still has not re-housed thousands of people displaced by a massive earthquake in January 2010. We don’t hear a lot about them.
We refer you to our analysis of “natural” disasters at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster following the earthquake in Japan in March 2011.
And we ask you:
Does Sandy indicate that global warming is causing an imminent danger to human survival (and all of life)? How much time do we have to change course, and is there any reason to think that capitalism will do so? Or will it take a revolution that overthrows the capitalist mode of production, which is “production for production’s sake,” in other words, capital’s inherent drive to expand profits without regard to life on the earth?
We are reminded of Lenin’s quip that the capitalists would sell the revolutionaries the rope to hang them with. The answer to our last question is that people who want a different future better get serious about what is needed for a thorough-going, sustainable, social-economic revolution, and soon.