By Sarah Ye || Contributing Writer
From a general perspective, the California wildfires are a tragedy. When analyzing the disaster closely, the wildfires are indicative of climate change’s dangers and capitalist corruption in America. Despite how vehemently the Trump administration denies the reality of human-exacerbated climate change, the negative effects are felt most intensely by marginalized communities, both globally and nationally. First-world nations’ massive rates of energy consumption and waste contribute the most to increasing carbon dioxide outputs and temperatures, yet we are also the most able to defend ourselves against climate change because of our control over wealth and resources. Marginalized nations which are exploited and oppressed by American imperialism and past colonizations do not have the same capabilities of defense and are the most vulnerable to climate change’s dangers.
On the micro-level of the wildfires, the poor people of California are unable to gain their safety as readily as the wealthy, despite celebrities and the rich gaining a lot of media sympathy. The Woolsey Fire is concentrated in Ventura County and upper-class suburbs in Los Angeles, where many celebrities live. As of November 21, there have been three deaths (fire.ca.gov). No civilian death should be taken lightly, but when compared to the Camp Fire’s 85 deaths as of November 25, the difference is staggering (fire.ca.gov). The discrepancy in suffering lies primarily in class. The Camp Fire ravaged through Butte County, which is considerably less well-off than Ventura and Los Angeles. While rich people like Kim Kardashian can use private firefighters to protect their homes, impoverished people are left to die because they cannot afford to buy their safety.
Just like the global north’s massive consumption damaging the global south’s environmental safety, the richest Americans generate significantly more carbon emissions than the poor. And yet, it is the wealthy who are the least vulnerable because of environmental classism, because under American capitalism, price tags are put on human lives. The rich may cry about losing their homes as much as they would like, but they are the ones who can and will rebuild, those who will be encouraged to restore their mansions in excess glory. Meanwhile, the residents of Paradise fear that their town is permanently destroyed. Most of the town is gone, and though officials have promised to rebuild, it will be an arduous and gargantuan task to bring back Paradise. The town was notorious for being very susceptible to wildfires, so not only would thousands of homes have to be rebuilt, but they would have to be redesigned for greater fire resistance.
Slave labor is another horrifying and capitalist aspect of the wildfires. While the wealthy received private firefighters from their insurance companies, most of the inmate firefighters were sent to Camp Fire. Prison labor is slave labor. Inmates are barely compensated for their time, they are forced into unhealthy and life-threatening occupations, and they are exploited and abused by the prison-industrial complex. And according to our Constitution, prison labor is perfectly ethical, considering slavery is acceptable “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Prisons may claim that forcing their inmates to work discourages recidivism, yet why does America have one of the highest recidivism rates in the global north? Prisons exploit their inmates for profit, not for some greater good of rehabilitation. The inmate firefighters in California were sent to die for a few dollars a day because they are not human beings, they are a commodity.
The California wildfires are a product of the country’s nightmarish state. Climate change is a real and current threat, although America does not seem that keen on combating it. Instead, we and the rest of the global north will continue spewing out carbon emissions and sucking in resources wastefully and needlessly. Wildfires will continue growing worse and poor people will bear the brunt of the pain, as they have always done. The best solution to combating climate change is to abolish capitalism, which produces environmental classism and racism. The right to live should not be a product available for purchase. Poor and marginalized people are human beings with inherent value, but as shown by the California wildfires, capitalism disagrees.
Sophomore Sarah Ye is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.