imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Calendar Publish RSS
latest news
best of news




A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List


IMC Network:

Original Cities africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

Market Forces Fed SoCal Flames

by Mike Davis Sunday, Nov. 09, 2003 at 10:50 AM

Mike Davis on the wildfires in Southern California "A market-driven recipe for disaster"

Mike Davis on the wildfires in Southern California

"A market-driven recipe for disaster"

November 7, 2003 | Page 5

LAST WEEK’S devastating wildfires in Southern California burned more than 1,200 square miles of land, an area almost as big as the state of Rhode Island. Some 20 people are dead from the fires, which struck in a 200-mile-long arc that reaches from the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego to the suburbs northwest of Los Angeles.

Mainstream media accounts focused mainly on how the blazes got started--especially charges of arson in several cases. But the real causes of this catastrophe lie deeper--years of destructive land development driven by the profit-first priorities of the free market, and the failure of politicians to do anything about business practices that are devastating the environment in numerous ways.

Left-wing author MIKE DAVIS has written extensively about California in such books as City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear. Here, he explains for Socialist Worker's KEITH DANNER what’s really behind California’s latest not-so-natural disasters.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THIS MEGA-conflagration, an order of magnitude larger and more destructive than any previous Southern California wildfire complex, is the product of market-driven urban sprawl interacting with anthropogenic climate change. Both are reflections of the deepest contradictions of late-capitalist urbanization. The conflagrations, in turn, are the shape of our future.

Suburbanization of the forest belts

SINCE THE last big regional fire season in 1993 (1,000 homes destroyed in Pasadena, Malibu and Laguna Beach), more than 100,000 new homes have been built in the firebelt ecologies of inland Southern California (An equal number, or more, have likewise spread through the fire-prone foothills of the central Sierras outside Sacramento and Fresno).

Two social processes are responsible for this explosive suburbanization of foothill and mountain hinterlands. First, wealthier (but generally not ruling class) households are aggressively seeking luxury country lifestyles (horses, view lots and so on) in low-tax unincorporated areas. Secondly, ordinary professional and working-class people are being driven inland by inflated land prices in the coastal zone.

Both processes, as many studies have shown, are directly subsidized by poorer residents in older, inner-ring suburbs or inner cities (they, in effect, subsidize their own decline). A rational, socially and environmentally responsible system of human settlement would halt growth at the edge and re-urbanize (not gentrify) metropolitan cores. It would set aside hazardous wildlands areas as a permanent commons, not a reserve for private land development.

The sprinkling of thousands of new homes in the chaparral and forests radically undermines fire prevention. Forestry and fire officials, finally accepting the wisdom of native Californians, now agree that the best strategy for preventing catastrophic wildfires is frequent, small-scale prescribed burning of old brush. It is, however, virtually impossible to carry this out on an adequate scale because of opposition from nearby homeowners fearing runaway fires or smoke pollution.

Moreover, when fires inevitably break out, firefighters are under enormous political pressure to defend each and every structure. Yet the fighting of a wildfire is essentially a war of maneuver, not a war of position. As the recent fires have shown, such home-by-home defense is both futile and incredibly dangerous when confronted with the power of firestorms moving along 25- to 40-mile fronts and throwing flames 300 feet in the air. Such fires are simply unstoppable (a change in the weather, not human efforts, finally slowed the two huge San Bernardino and San Diego fires).

The impact of climate change

THE SECOND "deep" factor, of course, is the increasing frequency of extreme weather: droughts, record-breaking temperatures (especially off-season) and even torrential precipitation. Although it is possible that the recent protracted droughts in the Southwest and parts of the South are simply normal Holocene fluctuations, it is more likely that they are expressions of human-forced climate change. This decade, after all, is the hottest in at least 1,000 years.

Protracted droughts--often punctuated by brief periods of hard rain that only produce bumper crops of fire-starter undergrowth--are bringing about dramatic ecological changes in the forests of California, the Southwest, even Appalachia. The bark beetle infestations that kill pines, always a problem following dry years, have now reached catastrophic levels. The forests that burned in the Laguna (outside San Diego) and San Bernardino Mountains were already essentially dead or dying. A dead forest, of course, poses an apocalyptic fire potential.

Thus, rampant, unregulated growth of metropolitan peripheries into foothill fire ecologies, in an epoch of extreme weather and ecological degradation of forests, is a recipe for fires of unprecedented ferocity and scope. The problem, of course, isn’t confined to California. It exists throughout the American West, as well as Mediterranean Europe, where second homes and tourist resorts in similar ecologies have produced recent fires of unparalleled destructiveness.

Political inevitability of firestorms

SO THESE are the parameters that make metropolitan firestorms on a 1 million-acre scale possible. But what made the Southern California fires, in particular, almost inevitable?

First, the White House claims it favors a massive national program of forest clearance to remove dead wood and "excessive growth" to prevent fires. In reality, it only wants to provide reactionary and politically powerful lumber companies with access to old-growth forests and millions of healthy trees.

When, in April and May of this year, the (Democratic) governors of both California and Arizona begged Bush to declare federal emergencies in the dying forests of Southern California and the Mogollon Rim, the White House fiddled for six months until Southern California, at least, was already burning. The requests were rejected.

This is all the more significant in that the fire catastrophe in the San Bernardino area was foreseen fully a year in advance, and even conservative Republicans were screaming for federal action. But the diseased dead trees of the San Bernardinos have virtually no commercial value, and no wood products corporation was interested in removing them.

Secondly, a significant part of the California National Guard, I am told, is in Iraq and unavailable for disaster relief or fire duty. At the most critical moment of the San Diego burn, much of the fire line had to be pulled out, simply because the crews were too exhausted to sustain the efforts.

Thirdly, the middle-class and affluent homeowners, whose properties typically generate the greatest fire protection costs, are the least likely to want to actually pay any of those costs. It is darkly ironic that neighborhoods like tony Scripps Ranch or Poway in San Diego County, which just a few weeks before the fires were hosting Schwarzenegger fundraising parties and ranting about the oppression of taxes, were the first to shriek about inadequate fire protection.

Indeed, the popular solution for wildfire among Republican fundamentalists is to militarize the firefighting: creating a Strategic Air Command-type fleet of helicopters and air tankers ready to douse flames at a minute’s notice. This is advocated by people like Rep. Duncan Hunter, the far-right chair of the House Armed Services Committee, whose 52nd congressional district in San Diego’s East County lost 1,600 homes. Such air armadas, of course, would be immensely expensive, but because they would be military, they would be subsidized by taxpayers elsewhere, not by local wealthy residents. They also would not work--but that’s another discussion.

In San Diego--where more expensive homes meet fire ecology than anywhere in the world, except perhaps New South Wales--conservative homeowners are notorious for voting down fire bonds. San Diego is the only urbanized county in California that lacks a county fire department, and--as firefighters’ unions have pointed out for years--it is drastically understaffed in comparison with areas of comparable populations (and usually less catastrophic fire problems).

In a piece I recently wrote for the Nation magazine, I quote local academics and activists who explain that this reluctance to invest in an adequate fire protection infrastructure is related to the heavy tax subsidies which support San Diego’s sports franchises (the dismal Chargers and Padres) and its major hotels and theme parks. About billion has been siphoned off in corporate welfare in the last decade or so.

What solutions?

AND, OF course, we ultimately come back to local political systems, especially county governments, that are owned--lock, stock and barrel (with surprisingly few exceptions)--by developers and major landowners. All the good ideas about regional planning, open space conservation, building affordable housing in the urban core, etc., will come to naught until the political infrastructure of developer power is directly assaulted.

The history of Southern California proves this cannot be achieved by environmental groups alone. Environmental activists, of course, daydream about blowing up the growth machines, but seldom consider allying with the one social force capable of bringing about serious reform: labor.

I believe that socialists in the labor movement must fight unceasingly for unions to take an active and distinctive role in land use politics, while simultaneously agitating in environmental movements or Green parties to ensure every land use or conservation demand incorporates a profound social justice dimension (like re-employing inner-city youth in ecological restoration). Working-class residents of inner-city neighborhoods and older aging suburbs have, of course, the greatest stake in stopping sprawl and the export of their tax revenues and jobs to the periphery. There is a tremendous need for popular, radical education about this connection.

I am claiming, in other words, that there is no simple technical "fix" for the increasing frequency of "unnatural" urban fire, flood and earthquake disasters--apart from making issues of urban form and land use into class questions and tasks for the labor movement.

Report this post as:

Local News

Change Links September 2018 posted S02 10:22PM

More Scandals Rock Southern California Nuke Plant San Onofre A30 11:09PM

Site Outage Friday A30 3:49PM

Change Links August 2018 A14 1:56AM

Setback for Developer of SC Farm Land A12 11:09PM

More problems at Shutdown San Onofre Nuke J29 10:40PM

Change Links 2018 July posted J09 8:27PM

More Pix: "Families Belong Together," Pasadena J02 7:16PM

"Families Belong Together" March, Pasadena J02 7:08PM

Short Report on the Families Belong Together Protest in Los Angeles J30 11:26PM

Summer 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! J11 6:58AM

Watch the Debate: Excluded Candidates for Governor of California M31 5:20AM

Change Links June 2018 posted M28 7:41AM

The Montrose Peace Vigil at 12 Years M22 8:01PM

Unity Archive Project M21 9:42AM

Dianne Feinstein's Promotion of War, Secret Animal Abuse, Military Profiteering, Censorshi M17 10:22PM

CA Senate Bill 1303 would require an independent coroner rather than being part of police M10 9:08PM

Three years after OC snitch scandal, no charges filed against sheriffs deputies M10 8:57PM

California police agencies violate Brown Act (open meetings) M02 8:31PM

Insane Company Wants To Send Nuke Plant Waste To New Mexico A29 11:47PM

Change Links May 2018 A27 8:40AM

Worker-Owned Car Wash on Vermont Closed A27 5:37AM


lausd whistle blower A11 6:58AM

Website Upgrade A10 10:02AM

Help KCET and UCLA identify 60s-70s Chicano images A04 8:02PM

UCLA Luskin: Casting Youth Justice in a Different Light A02 6:58PM

Change Links April 2018 A01 6:27PM

More Local News...

Other/Breaking News

Paraphysique de psychosomatique S22 6:58AM

Chuck Grassley: Women Abusing, Animal Murdering, Illegal War Supporting Criminal S22 2:58AM

Finance Capitalism and the Digital Economy S21 4:45PM

Muselières syndicales, muselières patronales S21 7:19AM

Jeff Bezos, Amazon, The Washington Post, Whole Foods, Etc S21 2:50AM

Why Choose Nut Milk Over Cows' Milk S21 1:01AM

Antrhopocène, le grand effondrement S19 9:53AM

Creative Destruction Hack Diamonds Windows/iOS/Android - Creative Destruction Generator S19 12:51AM

Abolir l'économie S18 11:18AM

The Dictatorship of Corporations S17 5:26PM

18 Lethal Consequences Of Hunting S17 3:13PM

Paraphysique de l'outplacement déontologue S15 6:51AM

Creative Destruction Hack Mod Generator S15 3:49AM

Shopping du bashing S14 8:42AM

After Lehman Brothers, Experts Say Global Financial Crisis Can Happen Again S13 8:28PM

“Animaniacs in Concert!” Starring Voice Legend Rob Paulsen S12 9:30PM

Probabilités de fin d'humanité S12 6:49AM

Florida Area of Migrant Farmworkers Denied Right to Construct Health Clinic near NaplesCIW S11 2:57AM

Propagande de virus, virus de propagande S10 7:34AM

Steer clear of work morality! S09 12:10PM

Sweatshop Lodge Ceremony Continues in US Fed Prisons Led by Inmates S08 6:17PM

Paraphysique de l'origami S08 7:11AM

The Shortwave Report 09/07/18 Listen Globally! S06 11:23PM

August 2018 Honduras Coup update S06 12:28PM

Du réussissement putréfié S06 10:55AM

Brett Kavanaugh Filled The 5th Circuit With Execution Judges S06 6:14AM

Log S06 4:25AM

Augusta Georgia Woman Gets 5 Year Prison Sentence for Writing About Russians Crime Acts S05 8:29AM

More Breaking News...
© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy