Capitalism Teamed Up With Global Warming To Increase Rent

Last week, I talked about what “collapse” looks like in something as complex and dynamic as an ecosystem. A change in one part of the system ripples outward as all the connected parts adjust in response, triggering changes in their connected parts. Rather than the system simply falling like a Jenga tower, it changes shape, shrinking to fill vacuums. As far as I can tell, this is a property of any dynamic systems, and that includes our political, economic, and social systems.

For all of the years that I’ve been writing about climate change, one of the most consistent predictions has been that the worst harm will fall disproportionately on the poorest people. Most of the time the examples given have been poor nations, mostly former colonies, with some focus on poor communities within rich nations, like the minority communities hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This makes perfect sense. Poor people and poor nations have fewer material resources with which to prepare for or recover from disasters, or with which to move away from high-risk areas. This has always been the case, which is why you’ll find people living in so-called “sacrifice zones“, where they are routinely poisoned by industrial waste of various sorts. The status quo, absent climate change, already made life more dangerous for poor people, and climate change just adds to the pile. In fact, climate change can multiply those dangers. Flood waters can carry stored chemicals throughout a region, wildfires can fill the air with poison, and poorly stored materials can poison drinking water.

Today, however, I want to talk about a different way that climate change affects people at the lower end of the income range, at least in the United States: access to housing.

While I still hope to own my own home some day, I have to admit that it feels less attainable every year. Having rented since I left college, I’ve seen rent skyrocket, and have had to move several times just because the landlord decided they wanted to charge more, a pattern that’s likely to continue for the rest of my life. Every time I have to move, it requires another big chunk of money beyond rent, and the new place is likely to be charging as much as the old place before long. The whole process might as well be designed to prevent renters from building up enough wealth to buy their own home, without even touching how big landlords use their wealth to buy more homes, driving up prices.

So what happens when we add in the effects of a rapidly warming planet? What happens when a hurricane hits a city? Buildings are damaged, and some homes are rendered uninhabitable, and in need of repair or rebuilding. And the renter? Well, they’re left to find another place if they can, or to live in a hotel. If they’re lucky, federal disaster relief can cover those costs, but that only goes so far, and in the meantime that damage means that rental stock has gone down, and landlords’ expenses have gone up.

So the rent goes up too.

Dr. Kelsea Best of The Ohio State University and her colleagues analyzed how the frequency and intensity of a hurricane correspond to changes in median rent and rental housing affordability over time. They found that median rents rise in the year following more intense hurricanes due to declines in housing availability. Their results also suggest that the occurrence of a hurricane in any given year (or in the previous year) reduces affordable rental housing. This was especially true for counties with a higher percentage of renters and people of color.

More than one-third of the American population (44 million households) live in rental dwellings. Renters have less access to post-disaster government aid programs and to benefits from federal mitigation programs such as home buyouts. In addition, people of renter status are more likely to be underinsured, with only 57% having insurance policies as of 2022 (Insurance Information Institute). “Most federal post-disaster assistance programs are targeted to homeowners,” says Best. “Our study shows that deliberate attention must be given to renters – especially low-income and minority renters – in recovery efforts immediately following a disaster event and in subsequent years.”

She suggests that future local, state, and federal policies should provide explicit protections and support to renters after disasters. These could include eviction moratoria, limiting late fees on rent payments, increasing access to emergency rental assistance, and freezing rent increases. Additionally, efforts that prioritize affordable and stable housing supply with up-to-date market rent price monitoring could provide a critical reference for policymakers to understand and respond to renters’ struggles, especially during post-disaster periods.

“Without such deliberate consideration of rent and renters, disaster recovery risks exacerbate the affordable housing crisis for some of the most vulnerable populations,” says Best.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. See, hurricanes don’t just hurt infrastructure, they hurt businesses. They close for repairs, or they can’t get customers because of infrastructure damage, and so what do they do? Same thing they did during the pandemic – they cut costs by laying people off. Suddenly, because of a disaster beyond their control, there’s a group of people who no longer have the money to pay rent, and so evictions go up.

Another threat that renters may face following a disaster is eviction due to either loss of income or the lack of effective rental assistance when the housing supply tightens during the recovery phase.
Dr. Qian He of Rowan University and her colleagues investigated how disasters and post-disaster federal aid contribute to renters’ eviction risks. They found that hurricanes corresponded to higher eviction filings and eviction threats by inflating market rent the year of and one year after the hurricane. Counties receiving higher amounts of aggregated federal aid (both post-disaster and hazard mitigation aid) were associated with lower eviction filings and eviction threats two years after the disaster.

Because remember – the point of the housing market, in the US at least, is to make money, not to house people. Coming back to the collapse of dynamic systems, the motives involved matter. In an ecosystem, everybody’s just trying to survive, so the system as a whole changes based on what organisms do in pursuit of survival and reproduction. Our system revolves around the desires of a tiny minority of people, whose ability to think clearly has been severely compromised by their own extreme wealth and power.

This is part of the feedback loop I’ve dubbed the Age of Endless Recovery, in which we’re caught spending more and more money trying to recover for disasters that keep getting worse as the planet warms. Those at the top are insulated from the damage, and those further down in the hierarchy are forced to pay even more of their hard-earned money to people wealthier than themselves, thanks to the way those at the very top have fought to prevent any real climate action.

Rent keeps going up for a lot of reasons, but if you actually trace them, it all comes back to rich people putting their own misguided interests ahead of the entire species. As the study’s authors say, the problems they outline can be addressed with things like better government support for renters, when disaster strikes, but fundamentally, the problem will not go away until the point of our housing system is to house people, rather than making money off of people’s need for housing.

Déjà Vu Isn’t a Glitch, It’s the Matrix Working as Designed

So, in pursuit of posting something weekly, I started writing about a recently published study on Greenland’s glaciers. The main take-away is that over the last twenty years, they’ve doubled their rate of retreat, with a couple possible exceptions in the far north. This was expected. Greenhouse gas emissions have not meaningfully decreased, and so their concentration in the atmosphere has continued to rise. The mechanism by which the planet is heating has increased, so of course the rate of warming has increased. The temperature has increased, so of course the rate of ice melt has increased. That’s all there really is to say about it, and it’s not really news to anyone reading this blog.

It’s the same sort of thing that’s been written countless times by countless people all around the world, and still, nothing meaningful is being done. There’s widespread support around the world for doing something about it and there has been for ages, and still, nothing meaningful is being done.

The politicians that claim to be the ones who accept the seriousness of the problem very clearly do not, as they continue supporting new fossil fuel extraction, and they keep increasing the budget of the US military, one of the biggest polluters on the planet. It seems pretty clear, from their actions, that the goal of the rich and powerful is to stay the course, and use violence to suppress any effort to steer us away from the cliff. They seem to actively want to make the world as uninhabitable and chaotic as they can, while holding on to their wealth and power. Looking at their actions, it’s hard to see anything other than murderous intent.

Elon Musk is increasingly displaying his own white supremacist beliefs, for example, even supporting the message of the Illinois Nazis from the Blues Brothers, and it’s increasingly clear that he’s far from alone in that belief, within his class. Wherever there’s a change that would benefit most of humanity, you will find billionaires spending their obscene wealth to create opposition to it, and to demonize those supporting it. If you want a cease-fire in Palestine, that means you’re antisemitic, even if you’re Jewish. If you want to end fossil fuel use, that clearly means that you want to keep the world’s poor in their poverty by denying them coal-generated electricity, even though those at the bottom are the hardest-hit by the warming climate, and the least able to withstand those blows.

It’s probably pretty easy to develop bigoted views about those “beneath” you, when you’re part of a class that’s wholly detached from human concerns. Many of them have never worried about having enough to survive in their lives, and it’s far easier to blame those who do struggle, than to actually face the injustice built into their luxurious and destructive lifestyles.

So, in pursuit of posting every week, I started writing about the growing gap in wealth, power, and life experience between the rich, and everyone else, and how wealth and privilege twist the human mind in ways that virtually guarantee this outcome. It’s the same sort of thing that’s been written countless times, by countless people, and yet the problem keeps getting worse. Rents keep rising, along with other expenses, even though there’s plenty of everything to go around.

So, I started writing about organizing – a topic on which I’m still fairly ignorant, because its the one area where I can find at least a little hope. Interest in unions has risen dramatically in the last three years, and major strike actions have proven successful, as workers and bosses both realize the power that the workers have, when united.

This hasn’t resulted in real climate action, or real change to the political/economic system that has brought us to this point, but in a capitalist society, where money is power, the ability for workers to claw back even a little of the wealth that they generate with their labor is far from nothing. Less material desperation means more time and energy for living life, and for further collective action. These wins also act as a proof of concept – nonviolent collective action, aimed at the flow of money, can get real results.

The question is, how far does that go? How much are unions able to do to repair systemic harm? How much can we claw back before the powerful turn to violence to keep the rabble in their place? I don’t see a way around finding out, because as I’ve said many times, those at the top are clearly willing to let the world burn, if they get to rule the ashes. Hell, I think some of them want the world to burn, because they know that increased desperation at the bottom makes their exploitation much easier. If you look at the edges, like the effort to stop Atlanta’s “cop city”, you begin see the violence inherent in the system. Look past the borders, at the bottom of the global economic system, and you will find a level of violence that we in the rich nations of the world were taught had been left behind. You’ll discover that that violence has always been an integral part of the system. From there, it’s not exactly hard to believe that those whose billions stem from that violence would be willing to turn it on their subjects in wealthy nations, if that’s what it took to protect their power.

There’s no easy way out of this, from what I can tell. There’s no point at which those in power will say, “Ok, we’ve clearly messed up, let’s try actual democracy for a change”. They’re convinced that the only reason things are bad anywhere, is that they don’t have enough power. They’re a class of would-be dictators or oligarchs, who all think that they would be the kind of ruler the world needs, and any effort to empower those at the bottom just proves that the rabble need to be ruled.

I think that things like unions, strikes, and direct action are our best path forward, and I think that the world as a whole urgently needs these things to happen in rich and powerful nations. Time and time again, efforts at systemic change in the former colonies have been met with genocidal violence, backed by wealthy nations that know they’re safe from any retaliation. There’s no reason for the rulers of those nations to stop doing that, unless the people of those nations take action to make them stop. We are inside the fortress, in a manner of speaking, which means that we have the ability to change things here, without having to get past the walls and armaments. I sometimes wonder if that is why there’s so much effort to demonize immigrants, and to create and maintain societal segregation between groups. It keeps people from working together, and it keeps the citizenry of wealthy nations from understanding how the world works, and how their own problems are part of the same system that’s causing so much death and misery “over there”.

This isn’t a guaranteed victory. The people, united, can still fuck up. We can still perpetuate bigotry, and maintain injustice. There’s no guarantee of victory, but I think it’s fair to say, at this point, that without revolutionary change, there is a guarantee of defeat, for humanity as a whole.

Huge Study Shows Importance of Diversity in Ecosystem Restoration

Over the last few years, it has seemed like the idea of planting trees to fight climate change has been gaining in popularity, particularly among those who want to avoid any real systemic change. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if they do get around to any tree-planting, their goal will be to plant large numbers of whatever is cheapest. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to actually help an ecosystem recover, that’s very slow, inefficient way to go about it. It’s depressingly clear that some people will never accept this message, but diversity really is better:

One of the world’s biggest ecological experiments, co-led by the University of Oxford on the island of Borneo, has revealed that replanting logged tropical forests with diverse mixtures of seedlings can significantly accelerate their recovery. The findings, published today in the journal Science Advances, emphasise the importance of preserving biodiversity in pristine forests and restoring it in recovering logged forest.

The experiment was set up by the University of Oxford’s Professor Andy Hector and colleagues over 20 years ago, as part of the SE Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP). This assessed the recovery of 125 different plots in an area of logged tropical forest that were sown with different combinations of tree species. The results revealed plots replanted with a mixture of 16 native tree species showed faster recovery of canopy area and total tree biomass, compared to plots replanted with four or just one species. However, even plots that had been replanted with one tree species, were recovering more quickly than those left to restore naturally.

Professor Hector, the lead scientist of the study, said, ‘Our new study demonstrates that replanting logged tropical forests with diverse mixtures of native tree species achieves multiple wins, accelerating the restoration of tree cover, biodiversity, and important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration.’

According to the researchers, a likely reason behind the result is that different tree species occupy different positions, or ‘niches’, within an ecosystem. This includes both the physical and environmental conditions to which the species is adapted, and how it interacts with other organisms. As a result, diverse mixtures complement each other to increase overall functioning and stability of the ecosystem. For instance, some tropical tree species are more tolerant of drought because they produce a greater amount of protective chemicals, giving the forest resilience to periodic times of low rainfall. Professor Hector added, ‘Having diversity in a tropical forest can be likened to an insurance effect, similar to having a financial strategy of diverse investment portfolios.’

Well, putting it in financial terms does seem like one way to get them to see the value of diversity. Well played, Professor Hector.

Beyond reinforcing what ecologists have long known about the importance of biodiversity, this study shows that we absolutely can intervene to help ecosystems recover more quickly. Doing so is not going to be enough by itself – we need to end fossil fuel use or it’s pointless – but in addition to having the tools to do that, we also have the tools to make real progress on repairing the damage we’ve done to the world’s ecosystems. Unfortunately, we can’t really get to work on that until we stop doing that damage in the first place. No amount of forest restoration work will help us, if old forests are still being destroyed to make way for oil palm plantations.

Things like this are why I think systemic change is necessary – because our system is set up in such a way that it can’t really promote or protect things that don’t have a monetary value. We know that we need healthy forests, for our own sake, but we keep destroying them anyway, and restoration is generally more of an afterthought. I suppose if I’m keeping to the theme of this post, then I would say that we need to “diversify” our political and economic systems, so that they can allow for healthy ecosystems, human flourishing, and progress, without all the destructive overproduction.

A Month Later, Maui Still Needs Help

I meant to write about the Maui fire around a month ago, but I got distracted by other things. That means that I am now, totally intentionally, doing my part to ensure that Maui is not forgotten now that the news cycle has moved on. Hawai’i, for all it’s a state, is also very much a colony in a number of ways, and Native Hawaiians have been living under various forms of occupation since the US took it over. Colonial rule and capitalist extraction also played a role in the severity of last month’s fire, thanks to invasive grasses originally planted to feed livestock, and then allowed to grow wild long after the ranches were abandoned, and that’s not even touching who’s at fault for global warming.

Unfortunately, the fire has brought in the next round of ruthless exploitation, as disaster capitalists swoop in to take advantage of the fact that those in the path of the fire lost what little they had. For those who’re unclear on the concept, I recommend this Teen Vogue article for the short version, and The Shock Doctrine for the long version. For a one-sentence summary, “disaster capitalism” describes the way capitalists descend on disaster areas to take advantage of desperation, chaos, and confusion. In the case of Maui, that means capitalists trying to buy up those few scraps of land still owned by Native Hawaiians.

Days after the blaze began, survivors started reporting cold calls from out-of-state investors hoping to scoop up their property for bargain bin prices. On one Facebook thread, several Maui realtors described receiving similar calls. One of them told Jacobin that he received a call on August 9, just one day after the fires began.

Like most locals in the close-knit Maui community, the realtor was disgusted by the opportunism.“It’s been bottom-feeders calling us, asking about what kinds of lands we have available,” he said. “This is not the time. It’s unfathomable what people are going through with loss of life, that they would be calling. But I guess that’s America.”

Land speculation in the wake of natural disasters is hardly unique to Maui. In the months after Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida Panhandle in 2019, home sales rose by double digits in the county most affected. After the 2017 fire in Santa Rosa, California, sales jumped 17 percent. Every time a town is destroyed, the buy-low mentality that drives investment kicks in.

Doing right by Native Hawaiians would defeat the purpose of colonizing the islands in the first place, but what the government should do is offer a blank check to everyone who lost their home, for whatever it takes to rebuild up to modern standards, along with any investment needed for infrastructure. That would be a good start. I don’t want to give the impression that there’s no help – contrary to misconceptions floating around the internet, there’s more help available than just $700 per person, but I don’t know how well the help that does exist will protect people against the pressure to sell.

Recovering from a disaster like this takes years. Biden has committed $95 million to rebuilding, but people there are worried about being forgotten, and about having promised help never show up:

Across Maui, many residents are worried about being abandoned this week as the island marks one month since the deadliest wildfires in the United States in more than a century. The fires killed at least 115 people, destroyed more than 2,200 structures and caused an estimated tens of billions of dollars in damage. An investigation is underway to determine what initially sparked the wildfires.
Maui County filed a lawsuit against utility Hawaiian Electric Company alleging the company’s failure to shut off power, despite weather service warnings, contributed to the catastrophe. The tragedy’s aftermath is further compounded as authorities in Maui are near completion of the search and recovery phase.

“I think the fear right now is when all of this attention goes away, the big question becomes, ‘What happens next?'” said Hawaii state Sen. Angus McKelvey whose district includes West Maui and Lahaina. “Will all of those commitments and public promises be kept?”

As donations ranging from clothes to food continue to arrive in Maui, Sne Patel, who manages vacation rentals around the town of Lahaina, which suffered the most fire damage, said residents want a more tangible item. Patel leads the LahainaTown Action Committee, an advocacy group of 110 local businesses, many of which saw their properties gutted.

“It’s money that our residents need,” said Patel. “We’re so grateful that there’s a lot of stuff sent early on, but we don’t need that as much. We need more financial, fiscal support.”

Ani said Americans must be generous.

“We need cash in hands. Now,” said Ani, who expressed hope people would give to verified nonprofits including Maui Rapid Response, ‘Aina Momona and the Hawaii Community Foundation.

“Because the truth is, there’s still a lot of uncertainty and a lot of people want to be in a position to lift some of their financial burdens as best as they can,” Ani continued. “For those who want to help, send gift cards. Send money, and let the people decide what they need to empower themselves financially.”

This is honestly what it all comes down to. Cash is what matters, in a capitalist society. They say money doesn’t buy happiness, but it absolutely does buy everything you need to have the ability to pursue happiness, rather than mere survival. Right now, however, survival – and avoiding exploitation – are at the forefront. In addition to the links in the quoted article, I’ve also been pointed to the Hawai’i Peoples’ Fund and Kākoʻo Maui. If you have money set aside to help others, this is something worth giving to.

More than that, this is a way that you can directly combat the capitalist concentration of wealth and power, by helping to deny them the profits they hope to make off of human suffering. Obviously this is true for Maui, but it’s also true for every other disaster, and for life outside of disasters, insofar as that exists anymore. The more we uplift and directly empower those who need it, the more they are able to do the same for others, and the more all of us are able to invest time, energy, and resources in the fight for systemic change.

Global Warming, School Buses, and the Attainability of Climate Action

When I talk about not being ready for global warming, it’s often about infrastructure, and city-threatening events like floods and fires. The scale of the problem and the solutions makes both daunting. These “big” things are generally made up of smaller things, which tend to be a lot closer to our own experience of the world. I never commuted to school by bus, but I did travel by school bus to certain events, and I remember how hot those could get on a sunny day, and that was over 20 years ago. These days, it seems to be getting worse, from Baton Rouge, LA:

The Ascension Parish elementary and middle school kids riding on Renee Bihm’s school bus have been leaving red-faced or even had to be awakened from what appeared to be heat-induced sleep during afternoon bus rides home this year.

A bus driver in Ascension public schools for 25 years, Bihm said the heat was bad last year but the record temperatures have made this year “horrible.” Water bottles the school system is providing aren’t enough to compensate for broiling temperatures in un-airconditioned buses that Bihm compared to riding in a “tin can.”

“Yesterday was bad. I thought I was going to die yesterday. I could hardly walk to get off the bus. It was that bad,” she said in an interview Saturday.

She recently recorded a temperature of 125 degrees inside her bus.

That is not safe for children. Honestly, it’s not safe for anyone, but children can’t regulate their temperature as well as adults, and so they are more at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. This is one way in which the under-funding of education in the US manifests – bus drivers are underpaid, too few of them are hired, and money is generally not spent upgrading bus fleets. The result is more difficult and dangerous conditions for children, families, and bus drivers.

Retrofitting buses with air conditioners isn’t all that difficult or expensive, but with school funding based on property values, most districts don’t have much money to spend on that. At the same time, while adding on AC is important for adapting to global warming, it would also be a good idea to swap the buses out for electric models. That’s more expensive, but still very much within the reach of the wealthiest nation on Earth, right?

There are a myriad of small things that make up the intimidating task of confronting climate change. Some of it is just “big stuff” that will require a great deal of investment and political campaigning to make it happen. Nuclear, wind, and solar power all tend to face well-funded opposition from NIMBYs and fossil fuel interests, and a lot of that opposition comes from within the halls of power, meaning that political change is a necessary prerequisite to a lot of the large-scale stuff that we need.

But it seems like the smaller stuff, like replacing schoolbuses, ought to be easier. Thankfully, it is easier, and while I want it to be happening faster, the bus swap is starting to happen:

“School buses make lots of stops, and whenever the driver of a diesel bus puts their foot on the gas, you get that big cloud of black smoke,” Arthur Wheaton, the director of labor studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Insider. “Same thing when all these buses are idling in front of schools and pumping out fumes. All of that goes away with electric.”

The Environmental Protection Agency doled out nearly $900 million for 2,424 clean school buses during the first year of a program authorized by the Biden administration’s infrastructure law. Thousands more should be paid for as the program continues through fiscal year 2026.

Some states have their own funding for electric school buses, as well, pushing the total number on the road even higher — though still a fraction of the nationwide fleet of 500,000 school buses.

The EPA funding came from the “bipartisan infrastructure law” that Biden signed in 2021. As with everything the US government does to help the people, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Funding a full replacement for the entire nation’s fleet would, at that price, cost around $185 billion, but I’m willing to bet that at that scale, the government could negotiate a better deal, if Congress decided that they care more about keeping the cost down, than about corporate profits.

This is also one example of how responding to climate change could be done under a more Keynsian framework of capitalism, which lacks the neoliberal hatred of (non-military) government spending. Things like building efficiency, solar panels on rooftops and parking lots, and even big infrastructure projects do happen under capitalism, it’s just that in the US, at least, every such project faces rabid opposition, both from right-wing ideologues, and from some of the most powerful corporations and individuals on the planet.

That’s why I tend to focus on building collective power through workplace and community organizing. It’s pretty well-known, at this point, how disfunctional the US government is, when it comes to dealing with real problems. We get small wins here and there, but it’s always a fraction of what we need, and it always seems to come with a massive loss, like the approval of new fossil fuel extraction. It is going to take sustained political pressure to get the scale of change that we need, at the speed that we need, and to me it seems obvious that it’s going to take more pressure than has been applied thus far.

It’s frustrating to see tiny steps being taken, that demonstrate that we absolutely do know how to solve a lot of these problems. I hear about a school bus hitting 125F, and I see an entirely preventable tragedy in the making. My fear is that for each of these smaller “fixes”, no matter how easy they are, it will take a tragedy to force the change. Honestly, given the way school shootings have been normalized, I fear that for the US, tragedy may not be enough. To whatever degree a capitalist society can respond to climate change, I think it will still take a mass movement both to make that response happen, and to have even a hope of ensuring that it does not leave poor people and minorities behind.

Organizing is hard work, on top of the work that people already do, and I am absolutely not leading by example here. What makes that work possible, is the belief that with the collective power built through that hard work, material improvement can be achieved. Recent victories by unions have demonstrated that potential in the economic arena, and I think examples like the school buses can serve that purpose for climate action.

Nowhere on Earth Is Safe: City of Yellowknife Evacuated

This year’s fire season has been rough on Canada, helping to make the point that with the entire planet warming, we can’t simply move everyone north, and expect the weather to move with us like a neat map of horticultural growth zones. For average temperatures, that’s a fine way to show things, but the reality is that we don’t really get to have average temperatures, or “normal conditions” anymore. With global air and water currents changing, we can see temperatures of over 100F/38C in the Arctic Circle, and that tends to come with fires. This year, for the first time, the entire city of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, has been evacuated. This is the northern-most city in Canada, in a landscape covered with lakes, streams and ponds, but that seems to offer little protection. Fire season has always been a thing in Canada, but never like this. Over 20,000 residents have been given till this weekend to leave the city, ahead of an advancing fire that’s deemed likely to cut off the only road out.

More than 20,000 residents – the entire population – have been given until noon on Friday to leave their homes, as water bombers flew throughout the night and authorities warned that the fire could reach the city by the weekend.

Evacuation flights are also due to begin on Thursday afternoon, and will continue until the entire population has safely left the city, said the Yellowknife mayor, Rebecca Alty. She warned residents to bring water and food with them to the city’s airport as they could face long waits to get on a flight.

The out-of-control wildfire – which was least measured at 163,000 hectares wide (402,000 acres) – is currently 16km from Yellowknife, the capital of the vast and sparsely populated Northwest Territories. The city lies roughly 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Canada is enduring its worst wildfire season, with more than 1,000 active fires burning across the country, including 236 in the Northwest Territories.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was due to convene a meeting of the Incident Response Group, a group of ministers and senior officials and ministers which meets in moments of crisis.

The blaze near Yellowknife has also prompted the evacuation of several other nearby towns, including the Dene First Nation communities of N’dilo and Dettah.

“The reality is we’ve been fighting this fire for over a month. This fire has burned deep, this fire has burned hot, and it has found ways through multiple different sets of established [control] lines,” said the Northwest Territories fire information officer Mike Westwick.

As thick smoke blanketed the city, traffic backed up the main road leading towards the town of Fort Providence, where hundreds of people spent the night sleeping in their cars in the parking lot of a service station.

Linda Croft, the manager of the Big River service station, said that traffic had been heavy since Wednesday morning as people attempted to escape. “It’s lined up right back along the highway, no end in sight,” she said.

More than 2m hectares of the territory have been burned this season, and more than half of its population is now under evacuation order. Roads out of the region also pass through areas with active fires.

On the other side of Great Slave Lake, residents of the village of Hay River were told to leave Sunday.

Garth Carman, who drove out with his 16 cats, described witnessing scenes like “the apocalypse”, with bears and other wild animals burned alive on the roadside.

“A wall of flames just washed over the highway and trees just began exploding in the fire – poof, poof, poof – one after the other, coming towards us. It was hell driving through this,” he told CBC.

About 39km south of Hay River, the town of Enterprise has been 90% destroyed by fire.

Nowhere is safe.

Global warming is not a problem that can simply be avoided by stepping out of its way, because there is no “out of its way” on this planet. It’s a problem that must be directly confronted.

Evacuating people ahead of an advancing fire or storm is a very good thing, but I think it’s obvious that literally dodging disasters isn’t a sustainable response. We have to end fossil fuel use, and because corporate greed has delayed action for so long, we have to undertake that monumental task, while dodging disasters. This is not a good position to be in, regardless of political or economic system, but I think it’s made much, much worse by the fact that we are burdened by a parasitic capitalist class, which values its wealth and power over all life on this planet. I say “parasitic”, but really, they are parasitoids – feeding off all of us until there’s nothing left but withered corpses.

With luck, and the efforts of firefighters, these people will be able to return to smoke-damaged homes by winter. Fire season tapers off as the weather cools, and despite this year looking like yet another “hottest on record”, less sunlight still means the temperature drops, so we’ve got that going for us. The problem is that this doesn’t end until greenhouse gas levels are lower than they were a decade ago, and right now, they’re still climbing fast. We’re running short on time, and thanks to capitalism, we’re also needlessly short on resources to spend on mitigation or adaptation.

Montana Court Upholds Right to Clean and Healthful Environment.

Growing up, I was exposed to a great deal of U.S. patriotism, in the form of songs, fictionalized propaganda like Little House on the Prairie, and Fourth of July parades. After 9/11, it all became much more about the US armed forces (which is actually very appropriate, given US history), but what sticks with me is the focus on the landscape. The landscape was a revelation for the Europeans who created the United States, despite the fact that they murdered the people who had shaped and maintained that landscape, and set about trying to turn it into a version of the European terrain they’d left behind by clear-cutting, straightening rivers, building cities and monoculture farms, and wiping out species they viewed as bad. Still, much of the landscape remains beautiful, and a lot of American pride remains tied to that beauty. It’s not surprising, then, that the state constitution of Montana, home of Yellowstone National Park (along with Idaho and Wyoming) guarantees a right to a “clean and healthful environment”. The only problem is that, as with democracy, this noble principle is incompatible with capitalism, so oil companies have largely had their way.

Until now.

In Held v. State of Montana, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that rights of the plaintiffs—who range in age from 5 to 22— have been violated by the Montana Environmental Policy Act because the law has prevented the state from assessing the climate impacts of mining projects.

Fossil fuel emissions including Montana’s “have been proven to be a substantial factor” in heating the planet and causing pollution, Seeley said in the nation’s first ruling on a constitutional, youth-led lawsuit regarding the climate.

Because the Montana Constitution guarantees residents a “clean and healthful environment,” the state’s environmental policy law violates the document, said Seeley.

“This is HUGE,” said meteorologist Eric Holthaus.

It is huge. The cynical part of me says I’ll believe it when I see real change from it, but this is absolutely a win, not just because of changes to policy in Montana because of it, but because this lawsuit is far from alone, and this ruling sets a precedent that will be very helpful going forward:

As Common Dreams reported last month, lawsuits around the world have emerged as a key driver of climate action as a wide range of plaintiffs—from children in the U.S. to senior citizens in Switzerland—have argued that their human rights have been violated by the companies and lawmakers that have promoted fossil fuel production despite scientific evidence of the danger it poses.

Out of approximately 2,200 worldwide climate cases, about three-quarters have been filed in the United States, according to the United Nations Environment Program and the Sabin Center, and the number of legal challenges has more than doubled since 2017.

The outcome of the Montana case could “open up the floodgates for more climate lawsuits,” said Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media.

I talk a lot about the ways in which our government and “justice” system are corrupt and illegitimate, but there is no questioning their power, and there are many within those institutions who take them seriously. I think it’ll be some time before we can actually see the material effects of this ruling, but it seems like this isn’t just going to go away.

This is also one reason why it’s better to have the corrupt, illegitimate system we know, than the corrupt, illegitimate system that the fascists running the GOP intend to create, if they manage to finish destroying the laws and institutions that protect what democracy we do have, and that protect the working classes from absolute rule by capitalists. Workplace and community organizing remain essential, but it’s a very good thing that people are fighting for change in the courts, as well. In my more cynical moments, I tend to view court cases and electoral campaigns as the things we have to do to demonstrate the need for action outside the official channels. It’s nice to have a reminder that it really is fighting this battle on all fronts, because there is victory to be found.

Climate Disasters, Mutual Aid, and Fighting Fascism With Solidarity

Once upon a time, when I was but a lad, I had the fairly naïve notion that New England, being The North, naturally wouldn’t have anything like members of the KKK. In high school, I and some other members of my school’s naturalist program spent a week in the Smokey Mountains. It was a fun and interesting trip, but what’s relevant for today is that when we emerged from the woods, and descended upon a diner that served breakfast all day, we found ourselves witness to some sort of hot-rod competition. If memory serves, we were in or near Dollywood, and there was a long line of souped-up cars slowly parading down one side of the road, and then showing off their speed down the other. In amongst it all, there were a couple pickup trucks, packed with big white dudes, and covered with confederate flags. This would have been around 2001 or 2002, and in the moment I was immediately reminded of the part of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which Indy and his father go to Berlin to retrieve the grail diary; “We’re pilgrims in an unholy land.” At the time, I was a pretty devout Quaker, and I’d grown up learning about my religion’s role in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. Seeing those flags felt very uncomfortable.

Many years later, driving to the CSA near my old school, I saw a confederate flag in someone’s window in New Hampshire, which was also a surprise. I know better, now. Last I checked, the Klan had chapters in most states in the US, including every state in New England. That may have changed, but if it has, it’s only because there are other organizations furthering the same hate more effectively. Today’s example of that, from Tess Owen of Vice, is a group calling themselves the People’s Initiative of New England, or PINE. They’ve taken a leaf from the anarchist playbook, but rather than helping out to build community resilience and improve peoples’ lives, they’re doing it to build support, or at least sympathy, for the genocidal project of New England as a white ethnostate. I wish I was joking.

PINE describes itself as a “grassroots effort founded to advocate for and advance the interests of New Englanders,” which sounds innocuous enough—and that’s by design. But PINE is a new front for the neo-Nazi street gang NSC-131, which formed in 2019 and has chapters across New England. While NSC-131 brazenly touts Nazi symbols and throws up Hitler salutes during public appearances, PINE is intended as a softer, more socially acceptable mask. The goal of this is for NSC-131 to broaden their appeal, especially to those who agree with their messaging but may not want to publicly affiliate with an explicitly neo-Nazi organization.

In a recently released manifesto, first reported by Rolling Stone, PINE calls for New England to secede from the U.S. and establish a white ethnostate. And they think they can do that by drumming up local support, through “activism and community outreach.”

Hence: their flood relief efforts.

Extremists around the world typically seek to exploit moments of instability or chaos for their own gain, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of natural disasters. 

Weak or muddled government responses to hurricanes, flooding or wildfires have previously created windows of opportunity for extremists to position themselves as reliable, trusted sources of aid—and show government agencies to be useless in a moment of crisis.

And, by ingratiating themselves in impacted communities, extremists are able to reach into a larger pool of prospective recruits.

This is a trend that experts say they expect to see more of in the coming years. As the effects of climate change grow more severe, communities that have been destabilized by natural disasters may increasingly find themselves leaning on wolves in sheeps clothing— extremists dressed up as good samaritans.

This is worrisome on two fronts. The first is the obvious – fascist groups recruiting and building support is a bad thing. The second is something that a lot of people have been worried about for a long time – the rise of ecofascism. While fascism in the United States is currently associated with a hatred of environmentalism, there’s plenty of room for the fascist version of environmentalism, which blames pollution and “filth” on minorities, and frames nature as a birthright stolen from their white audience. The more the climate destabilizes, and the more capitalism pushes people towards poverty, the more people will resonate with the idea that things used to be better, and maybe we really do need a strong authority to make the drastic changes we need, to reclaim what we once had.

What’s more, the message isn’t coming from some screaming bigot, it’s coming from a guy who you met because he gave your family a case of water, or helped clear a fallen tree out of your driveway. Like I said, anarchists – who are often considered extremists – often take a similar approach, but with the goal of making a better world for everyone, not just the tiny fragment of humanity that Nazis consider to be people.

As the Vice article says, this tactic isn’t unique to PINE/NSC-131 (“NSC” stands for National Socialist Club, in case you were wondering), and it’s something we should expect to see more of. Leaving aside the climate crisis for a moment, conservatives have a long record of running against government corruption and incompetence, and then using their power to increase both, while continuing to run against corruption and incompetence. One desired effect of this, is that the government is increasingly unable to help in times of need, which encourages people to vote for those who run against government corruption and incompetence. It’s a win-win situation, as long as you’re either indifferent to human suffering, or you actively enjoy it. It also means that people are open to new ideas, like not having governments or corporations, or – in the case of the Nazis, like seceding to form your own government, where this time you’re sure to get rid of all that corruption and incompetence!

It’s a con, like most fascist promises, but I think it has the advantage of feeling more familiar and safe than what anarchists tend to want. It’s easier for most people to imagine forming a new nation – we’re already familiar with what that looks like. A society without hierarchies, while a good idea (in my opinion), is something very different from the world anyone knows, and much harder to imagine, from within society as it exists.

So what can we do about this? Well, I suppose you could work to make sure that everyone knows who their local fascists are, but if those fascists are actively helping people, and you’re not, then all you’re really doing is telling people that they shouldn’t like the guys helping them when they need it. You could try to win elections and improve government response, but the deck is very much stacked against you on that, as it’s far easier to break societal infrastructure than it is to build it, and the capitalists don’t really want a government that works for the people.

Of course I don’t have anything that’s guaranteed to work, but to me it seems that your best bet, for individual action, is to provide aid without the side-helping of fascism. There may be fascists in your area, or there may not be, but in either case, helping out is probably the most effective thing you can do. Offer people a better vision for the future, but do it while attending to their needs in the present. Our best defense against fascism, and our best defense against climate change, is to build collective power through solidarity (not charity). Look for local mutual aid networks, or look into starting one yourself. There are times for fighting fascists directly, but none of that will matter, if we’re not also strengthening and uplifting our communities at the same time.

Building Community Is Climate Action

I like, as a news source. They have an unabashedly progressive bias, and they do a decent job in finding a balance as they cover the climate crisis, as we’re about to see. Back in April, I wrote about an unexplained and unprecedented spike in ocean temperatures, that was happening ahead of the impending El Niño. Well, that scary situation has only gotten scarier in the months since, as Antarctic winter sea ice is at its lowest peak on record, and the water just keeps getting hotter:

Climate scientists on Friday said the rapidly rising temperature of the planet’s oceans is cause for major concern, particularly as policymakers in the top fossil fuel emissions-producing countries show no sign of ending planet-heating oil and gas extraction.

The European Union’s climate agency, Copernicus Climate Change Service, reported this week that the average daily global ocean surface temperature across the planet reached 20.96°C (69.7°F), breaking the record of 20.95°C that was previously set in 2016.

The record set in 2016 was reported during an El Niño event, a naturally occurring phenomenon which causes warm water to rise to the surface off the western coast of South America. The weather pattern was at its strongest when the high ocean temperature was recorded that year.

El Niño is forming this year as well, but has not yet reached its strongest point—suggesting new records for ocean heat will be set in the coming months and potentially wreak havoc in the world’s marine ecosystems.

Samantha Burgess, deputy director of Copernicus, told the BBC that March is typically when the oceans are at their hottest.

“The fact that we’ve seen the record now makes me nervous about how much warmer the ocean may get between now and next March,” she told the outlet.

The warming oceans are part of a feedback loop that’s developed as fossil fuel emissions have increasingly trapped heat in the atmosphere.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are warming the oceans, leaving them less able to absorb the emissions and contributing to intensifying weather patterns.

“Warmer sea surface temperatures lead to a warmer atmosphere and more evaporation, and both of these lead to more moisture in the atmosphere which can also lead to more intense rainfall events,” Burgess told “Today” on BBC Radio 4. “And warmer sea surface temperatures may also lead to more energy being available for hurricanes.”

The warming ocean could have cascading effects on the world’s ecosystems and economies, reducing fish stocks as marine species migrate to find cooler waters.

“We are seeing changes already in terms of species distributions, prevalence of harmful algae blooms popping up maybe where we would not necessarily expect them, and the species shifting from warmer southern locations up into the colder regions as well which is quite worrying,” Helen Findlay, a biological oceanographer at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the United Kingdom, told The Evening Standard.

“We are also seeing more species coming up from the south, things like European anchovy or recently examples of Mediterranean octopus coming up into our waters and that is having a knock-on impact for the fish that we catch, and consequences of economics,” she added.

Certain parts of the world’s oceans provoked particular alarm among scientists in recent days, with water off the coast of Florida hitting 38.44°C—over 101°F—last week.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s going to come from this, but it seems clear that this temperature spike is far from over. The only real questions are, how much damage it will do, and what will happen next? The planet isn’t going to stop warming until greenhouse gas levels go down, or it reaches a new stability, at a much higher temperature. Where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with plenty to fear, and no clear idea what we can actually do about it. It’s all very discouraging, and a lot of publications don’t really talk much about what people can do besides voting, which doesn’t seem to help much. Fortunately, Common Dreams has us covered, with a Bill McKibben article saying some stuff I agree with, in response to the question of where to move, to be safe as the planet warms:

There is no safe place.

And yet I remain glad I live where I do, not because it’s protected from climate change, but because it’s at least a little bit more equipped to deal with it. And that, in turn, is because it has high levels of social trust. Only 38% of Americans say they mostly or completely trust their neighbors, but a 2018 Vermont survey found that 78% of residents think that “people in my neighborhood trust each other to be good neighbors”; 69% of Vermonters said that they knew most of their neighbors, compared with 26% of Americans in general. Those levels of social trust help explain, I think, why the state had the lowest level of fatalities from Covid-19, much lower than its neighboring states and much lower than other small rural states with similarly homogeneous populations. Everyone wore masks, everyone got vaccinated. In the same way, when this summer’s floods hit, people came together, reenacting the surge of mutual aid that came after Hurricane Irene similarly drenched the state in 2011.

This is not an argument to move to Vermont.


Instead it is an argument to get to work building that kind of social trust in as many places as possible, because we’re going to need it. We’ve come through 75 years where having neighbors was essentially optional: If you had a credit card, you could get everything you needed to survive dropped off at your front door. But the next 75 years aren’t going to be like that; we’re going to need to return to the basic human experience of relying on the people around you. We’re going to need to rediscover that we’re a social species, which for Americans will be hard—at least since Reagan we’ve been told to think of ourselves first and foremost (it was his pal Margaret Thatcher who insisted “there is no such thing as society, only individual men and women.”) And in the Musk/Trump age we’re constantly instructed to distrust everyone and everything, a corrosion that erodes the social fabric as surely as a rampaging river erodes a highway.

But it’s not impossible to change that. President Joe Biden has been frustratingly dunderheaded about approving new pipelines and oil wells, and hydrocarbon production has been soaring on his watch. He has been much better about trying to restore some sense of national unity—he has been trying to scale down national division by rebuilding left-behind economies, and also by appealing to our better angels. And those angels exist: The most hopeful book for our time remains Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell, which recounts how communities, whenever natural disaster strikes, pull together, just like Vermont this summer. It happens in cities as easily as in rural areas—maybe more easily, since cities are places where the gregarious gather.

I would quibble a little with the casting of this as “easy”. If that sense of community doesn’t already exist, trying to start it means asking people to put in time and energy when they have little enough of both to spare. I also think it’s a bit much to stereotype city-dwellers as “the gregarious”. People live in cities for a lot of reasons, a big one being that it’s often the only place to find a job. Living in a city, even by choice, does not mean you’re an extrovert by any stretch. Furthermore, most people in the city rent their homes, which means that we’re likely to move pretty often, which means starting over again every couple years or so. People do pull together in a crisis, true, but cities can be difficult places to build anything lasting, or at least that’s how it tends to feel to me.

That said, he’s right on the main point. For an individual “action” that would actually help, we absolutely need social solidarity, and it’s good to see an article advocating that, right next to an article about how scientists are terrified about what’s happening to our climate. “Neighborliness” isn’t going to solve the global problem, but it’ll go a long way to helping us survive, which is a key part of solving most problems. It would be silly for me to say that people shouldn’t move to seek a better life, since I’ve done that myself. The catch is that when it comes to climate change, nowhere is safe, so it’s worth doing the work to build community, if you’re able, even if you’ll have to move on sooner than you’d like. We’re all in this together, and our best shot at getting out is also together.

Cooling the Planet With a Space Shade Is Now Very Slightly More Plausible

I think it’s important to remember, as we see the warming climate break down our ecosystems and weather patterns, that we do have a sort of very limited “emergency break”, in the form of solar geoengineering. The term, in this context, refers to a few different actions that could be taken to lower Earth’s temperature without reducing greenhouse gas levels, by blocking or deflecting sunlight, before it can hit the surface of the planet, and turn into heat. The cheapest and most reliable method, at least in the short-term, is to release sulfate aerosols into the upper atmosphere, simulating a massive volcanic eruption, and reflecting sunlight to cool the planet. From what I can tell, there’s not much question that this would have a cooling effect. The problem is that it will also have other effects, which are less certain, on atmospheric chemistry and on ecosystems. Another one that’s often proposed is to make man-made surfaces white – rooftops, roads, parking lots – just make all of it more reflective. There’s zero question that this would have an effect, but it would be a fairly small effect, and it’s not clear to me what it would take to maintain that brightness. There are some others, which you can check out at first link, but today we’re going to talk about the “space-age” option.

See, if you want to reduce the sunlight hitting Earth’s surface, but you don’t want to have to worry about mucking with ecosystems and atmospheric chemistry, you can take the most literal option, and put a sun shade in space. From the University of Hawai’i:

One of the simplest approaches to reducing the global temperature is to shade the Earth from a fraction of the Sun’s light. This idea, called a solar shield, has been proposed before, but the large amount of weight needed to make a shield massive enough to balance gravitational forces and prevent solar radiation pressure from blowing it away makes even the lightest materials prohibitively expensive. Szapudi’s creative solution consists of two innovations: a tethered counterweight instead of just a massive shield, resulting in making the total mass more than 100 times less, and the use of a captured asteroid as the counterweight to avoid launching most of the mass from Earth.

“In Hawaiʻi, many use an umbrella to block the sunlight as they walk about during the day. I was thinking, could we do the same for Earth and thereby mitigate the impending catastrophe of climate change?” Szapudi said.

Incorporating a tethered counterbalance

Szapudi began with the goal of reducing solar radiation by 1.7%, an estimate of the amount needed to prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. He found that placing a tethered counterbalance toward the Sun could reduce the weight of the shield and counterweight to approximately 3.5 million tons, about one hundred times lighter than previous estimates for an untethered shield.

While this number is still far beyond current launch capabilities, only 1% of the weight—about 35,000 tons—would be the shield itself, and that is the only part that needs to be launched from Earth. With newer, lighter materials, the mass of the shield can be reduced even further. The remaining 99% of the total mass would be asteroids or lunar dust used as a counterweight. Such a tethered structure would be faster and cheaper to build and deploy than other shield designs.

Today’s largest rockets can only lift about 50 tons to low Earth orbit, so this approach to solar radiation management would be challenging. Szapudi’s approach brings the idea into the realm of possibility, even with today’s technology, whereas prior concepts were completely unachievable. Also, developing a light-weight but strong graphene tether connecting the shield with the counterweight is crucial.

I know the billionaires have given space stuff something of a stink, but unlike fantasies of colonies on Mars or Venus, this is one way that improving our ability to do stuff in space could actually help with the climate crisis. There would certainly be pollution from launching any kind of space shade, and from getting to the point where we can do such a thing, but I don’t know how that would compare to the other options on the table.

As I’ve said before, this kind of geoengineering is dangerous, but probably unavoidable, because of long we’ve delayed action. It won’t matter much if we don’t also reduce greenhouse gas levels, but a slight drop in incoming sunlight could make things a lot easier, as long as we avoid the Futurama Solution. I guess the main question is – absent the kind of systemic political and economic change that I want to see, what will it take for “world leaders” to decide it’s time to shade the planet? What would it take for you to decide it’s time for that?

For me, I honestly don’t know. Doing it sooner might buy us some needed time, by delaying the melting of ice and thawing of permafrost, but the geopolitical and ecological ramifications worry me, because it seems like a foregone conclusion that the side effects would fall hardest on those with the least say in any of this. It sucks we’ve let things go so far, but I guess I’m glad that people are at least working out what it would take to shade the planet, and buy us a little more time.