‘Disaster Capitalism’ awaits Climate Chaos!



by Selvam Canagaratna

"Summer was made to give you a taste of what hell is like. Winter was made for landladies to charge high rents and keep cold radiators and make a fortune off of poor tenants."

– Langston Hughes, Simple Speaks His Mind, 1950.

One of the deadliest natural disasters in US history, Hurricane Katrina, the fifth of the Atlantic hurricane season in 2005, killed at least 1,245 people in New Orleans and caused property damage estimated then at US $ 108 billion, roughly four times the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew back in 1992.

Soon after the tragedy, journalist Naomi Klein was in Louisiana and says she "got busted for talking to evacuees without a media escort" and described herself as "a white Canadian in a sea of African-American Southerners. The news racing around the shelter that day was that Richard Baker, a prominent Republican congressman from this city, had told a group of lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did."

Monthly Review, an independent socialist magazine, in a piece titled ‘The Race and Class Debate’ noted: ". . . many people sought to answer the question of whether its social effects and the government response to the country’s biggest natural disaster had more to do with race or with class. . . There was no denying that those left behind were mostly poor and black. As public debate escalated amidst increasing allegations of lawlessness among the evacuees, white and conservative Americans vehemently fought the idea that racism had caused the extreme levels of black impoverishment and slowed the government response."

Naomi Klein noted in her 2008 New York Times bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism: "One of those who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was Chicago University economics professor Milton Friedman, grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism and the man credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hypermobile global economy.

[Note: Klein in her book concedes that Friedman was hailed as "the most influential economist of the past half-century, one who counted among his disciples several US presidents, British prime ministers, Russian oligarchs, Polish finance ministers, Third World dictators, Chinese Communist Party secretaries, IMF directors and the past three chiefs of the US Federal Reserve." ]

Added Naomi: "For three decades, Friedman and his followers had methodically exploited moments of shock in other countries – foreign equivalents of 9/11, starting with Pinochet’s coup on September 11, 1973. What happened on September 11, 2001, is that an ideology hatched in American universities and fortified in Washington institutions finally had its chance to come home."

The point Friedman made was that Katrina had left most of New Orleans schools in ruins – as well as the homes of the children who had attended them . While conceding it was indeed a tragedy, Friedman saw it more "as an opportunity to radically reform the educational system" – to achieve entirely corporatist objectives, of course!

Friedman’s radical idea, as Klein noted, was that "instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans’ existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state. It was crucial, Friedman wrote, that this fundamental change not be a stopgap but rather "a permanent reform."

Truth was that, for Milton Friedman, the entire concept of a state-run school system reeked of socialism whereas the state’s function, in his view, was "to protect our freedom, preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, and to foster competitive markets, end of story."

Milton Friedman is, of course, no more, but alas, his ideas are very much alive and kicking in a fast changing world.

Jeremy Schulman, Senior Project Manager for MotherJones magazine’s Climate Desk, reminded readers recently that climate change "will have some pretty terrifying consequences worldwide – from deadly heat waves and devastating floods to falling crop production", and a direct consequence of that would be political instability and violence in nations thus affected.


Schulman also revealed that several big-name corporates had, in a series of documents submitted to Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a London-based non-profit organisation, considered global warming as an assured opportunity to sell many more of their products – weapons systems to the military, more air conditioners to sweltering civilians, and more medications to people afflicted by tropical diseases.

Each year, thousands of companies send in responses to CDP, wrote Schulman, and MotherJones magazine’s Climate Desk had compiled some of the most striking – and, in some cases, disturbing – scenarios laid out by those businesses.

"It’s important to keep in mind that these companies aren’t rooting for catastrophic warming," Schulman writes. "In the same documents, they outline huge risks that climate change poses to humanity – and to their profits. Many of them have also taken significant steps to reduce their own carbon footprints. Still, the fact that corporations have spent so much time thinking about the potential business opportunities that could emerge as the world warms underscores just how colossal an effect climate change is going to have on our lives."

Republicans have recently mocked President Barack Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders for saying climate change poses a national security threat, noted Schulman. "But Democratic politicians aren’t the only ones making this connection. In 2014, a group of retired US generals and admirals warned that the impacts of global warming "will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict."

Saab, a Swedish defense firm, in its CDP submission, cites with approval the warning of the retired general and admirals, adding further that climate change could "induce changes in natural resources – for example, water and oil – which may result in conflicts within already unstable countries" as well as illegal deforestation, fishing, and drug smuggling.

Needless to say, Saab sees these dangers as a business opportunity that will result in an "increased market for civil and military security solutions. As an example, the company points to its Erieye Radar System, which "works in a dense hostile electronic warfare environment" and is "capable of identifying friends or foes."

Raytheon, the Massachusetts-based defense contractor, expected climate change to "cause humanitarian disasters, contribute to political violence, and undermine weak governments." The company wrote that it expects to see "a demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur."

In similar vein, Connecticut-based United Technologies Corporation cites arguments that a devastating drought contributed to instability in Syria. The company noted that helicopters made by its Sikorsky business (which has since been sold to Lockheed Martin) were "deployed during population dislocations and humanitarian crises", and that last year it provided support to the US military’s efforts to "mitigate population dislocations in Syria."

Rising temperatures don’t just drive demand for air-conditioning units and better vaccines, says Schulman. According to Nestlé, hot weather can also boost sales of "refreshing products such as ice creams and bottled water". The company noted that in 2014, the Earth experienced its hottest summer on record (until 2015, anyway) and that many of the company’s brands performed well that year. Asked how much of an impact heat has on increased sales, the response was: "The additional demand for bottled water and ice creams as a result of temperature increase can result in additional sales valued at the equivalent of US $100 million."

Ah, the ‘sweet’ side of disaster!

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