Puerto Rico is demonstrating yet again that capitalism cannot solve climate change.

I wrote a few days ago about the total failure of Puerto Rico’s privatized power grid under Hurricane Fiona. As of seven hours before writing, half the island is still without power. In case it’s unclear to anyone, this – both the failure of privatization and the arrival of another hurricane – was entirely predictable. That’s what makes it all the worse that it seems as though most or all of the rebuilding from that disaster was done without any attempt to guard against the next hurricane. Many of you may have seen this already, but the most dramatic example from Hurricane Fiona is this bridge that was build shortly after Maria:

A temporary metal bridge in Puerto Rico, built in the wake of Hurricane Maria, was swept away in the rushing floodwaters of Hurricane Fiona.

The bridge, over the Guaonica River in Utuado, was destroyed Sunday, the same day Fiona made landfall on the island, officials said at a news conference.

It’s been five years, and they still just had a temporary bridge. Why didn’t they build something sturdier, or something that could be lifted out of the way of entirely predictable floodwaters? How much damage did that bridge do on its way downstream?

To me, this is emblematic of the Age of Endless Recovery. Puerto Rico had not rebuilt from Maria before Fiona hit, and what rebuilding they did do seems to have been dragged down by the same kind of greed and corruption that plagues all the rest of the United States. We know that storms are going to be getting stronger. We know that Puerto Rico is in dire need of resilient infrastructure, as is most of the rest of the world. If we valued human life and wellbeing above profit, then we would prioritize infrastructure that won’t be destroyed by entirely predictable weather events.

This is one of the many reasons why I think capitalism is incompatible with real climate action, or with the long-term survival of humanity. From the perspective of a construction corporation, there’s more profit to be made in building the same bridge every few years, than in building one bridge that can actually meet the demands of its location, and last for decades with maintenance. Obviously, this is not a problem limited to Puerto Rico, but remember the fundamental rule of climate catastrophe in our society – it hits those at the bottom first and hardest. While there are a myriad of communities in the United States and its colo- sorry, territories – Puerto Rico is both a laboratory for disaster capitalism, and for the shambling, undead horror that is Reaganomics. You know how conservatives of both parties always talk about lowering taxes to attract rich people “because of all the prosperity that brings”?

Puerto Rico has done wonderfully at attracting rich people, and I hope it’s clear to all of you that doing so has not helped the people of that island. The defining trait of a rich person is their selfishness, and there is no reason whatsoever to assume that they will spend a cent on something that doesn’t benefit them personally. They moved there for tax purposes, because they don’t care about things like infrastructure. It’s far better for them to just leave the island until the peasantry has managed to pull it back together, and then they’ll move back.

Capitalists do not care about climate change, or about the billions of lives that are at risk. Capitalism means that the capitalist class has total freedom, paid for by the rest of us. They have open borders. They can go anywhere they want whenever they want.

Our entire society has been designed to reward greed and ruthlessness, and this is the result. Obviously it’s good to provide material help to those in need if you’re able, but if we want the world to get better, we need to change how people interact with politics, and build the collective power we need to actually topple the hierarchy that’s currently driving us towards extinction.


  1. beholder says

    If we valued human life and wellbeing above profit, then we would prioritize infrastructure that won’t be destroyed by entirely predictable weather events.

    Counterpoint: The Guantanamo Bay concentration camp has a hurricane-proof dining room. Congress doesn’t seem to mind reinforcing structures with the primary purpose of destroying human life and wellbeing.

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