Capitalism responsible for climate change and lack of protection

The flooded River Ahr in Altenahr, Germany. Such extreme weather events are becoming the norm under capitalism

The flooded River Ahr in Altenahr, Germany. Such extreme weather events are becoming the norm under capitalism   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The German federal states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as Belgium, the Netherlands and other neighbouring countries, have been devastated by torrential rains and massive flooding.

Such ‘once in a lifetime’ extreme weather events are becoming frequent as global heating, caused by capitalism, produces devastating climate change. Indeed, Henan province in China has also recently suffered deadly floods, when a year’s rainfall fell in only 24 hours.

The recent severe floods in Europe were predicted and warned of, but governments and authorities in the affected countries did nothing to protect people, their homes, and infrastructure.

Caspar Loettgers, in Mainz, and Tom Hoffmann, in Berlin, members of Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität (CWI Germany), report on this preventable disaster and what should happen now.

Up to 148 litres of rain per square metre fell within 48 hours. Normally, the average is 80 litres for the entire month.

The floods have so far claimed the lives of more than 190 people (160 in Germany alone) and it is feared that this number will rise. Hundreds of people are still missing and, at the time of writing, more than 100,000 people are without electricity. Countless houses have been destroyed, the damage to property is in the billions.

In some places, there is still a danger that dams will burst, power lines have been exposed, and toxins from industrial plants may enter the water supply.

Immediate, non-bureaucratic measures must now be taken to help those affected and to repair the damage. No one must be left homeless, unemployed or without income, or fall into poverty as a result of this disaster. At the same time, there can be no going back to the ‘status quo’ after this flood. Climate change, which is ultimately responsible for such extreme weather situations, must finally be combated.

This must go hand in hand with billions in investment in reconstruction of the affected cities and municipalities and climate protection measures. In the end, capitalism, which puts the interests of a small minority above those of society as a whole, stands in the way of all this. More urgently than ever, we must overcome it!

Many politicians from the established parties now express their sympathy for the victims of the disaster. But they should be judged, not by what they say but by what they do for those affected and against climate change. This should not be forgotten: it is also they, with their hesitant action in the fight against climate change, who are partly responsible for this catastrophe.

In many places, rather than establishment politicians, it was the people themselves who provided emergency aid. First and foremost, it was emergency workers who tirelessly fought the disaster for several days and who themselves lost colleagues in the floods.

In many areas, residents immediately organised solidarity actions and supported each other in packing sandbags, clearing out flats and accommodating those affected.

Nationwide, donations in kind and money are already being collected by sports clubs and aid networks, and volunteers from other places are ready to help in the areas. The solidarity from below shows the enormous potential to overcome the disaster together and gives hope.

This solidarity needs to be organised and coordinated. Democratically elected relief and action committees could organise the relief and clean-up work and plan reconstruction, with the involvement of the emergency workers on the ground.

Past disasters have unfortunately shown that aid and donations can end up in the wrong pockets or are misused. Democratic control by those affected and people on the ground could prevent this.

The trade unions also have a duty to engage in the inevitable discussion on the lessons to be learned from this flood to put their own demands in the interests of working people to those in power.

When the floods recede, the next crisis is already waiting for many, especially in Rhineland-Palatinate, where only 35% of property owners have so-called natural hazard insurance.

This is often due to the fact that premiums are far too high or that insurance companies are not willing to offer such policies in high-risk areas. Even if you have one, the process of getting a payout is often tedious and bureaucratic.

Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität therefore calls for all insurance companies to be merged and transferred to public ownership under democratic control in order to help all those affected as quickly as possible. No one should lose their livelihood because of a natural disaster.

The effects of this crisis will be felt for a long time. From the Ahrweiler district, which was particularly affected, it is said that the restoration of the gas supply can take months. All such problems must be addressed immediately.

Let the rich pay!

One question will arise: Who will pay for these necessary measures and the reconstruction? So far, the state government in Rhineland-Palatinate has promised €50 million in state support. That is less than a drop in the ocean.

The state must use all available resources for the necessary measures. But after that, the working population must not pay through cuts elsewhere. What spending was already necessary due to the pandemic and the economic crisis is now even more urgent: the wealth of millionaires and billionaires must be tapped.

The debt brake, the law that pushes public authorities into taking austerity measures, must finally be abolished and the municipalities must be provided with the necessary finances.

Repair and reconstruction work must not result in profiteering by private companies. Therefore, the transfer of the entire construction industry into public ownership under democratic control is necessary in order to rebuild the affected areas and to ensure that no one lines their own pockets.

Election campaign

This flood will change the political mood in the country and the campaign for September’s general election. Possibly there will be larger demonstrations demanding action while the fight against climate change will gain renewed importance in the election debates.

The Christian Democrats (CDU) apparently only discovered climate change when their own website servers were flooded! However, a real policy U-turn is not to be expected from them. The interests of the corporations will continue to come before those of the people and the environment.

It is possible that the Greens will benefit from the coming debates. But it would be wrong to place hopes in them. They have been complicit in environmental sins in various state governments (see ‘German Greens: The image and reality’ –

In Baden-Württemberg, the state government under a Green minister-president is currently planning budget cuts of €250 million. But how they want to become the promised “climate protection state number one” with austerity policies remains their secret.

Climate change has long been a threat. Extreme weather, such as severe rain or drought, is now more frequent than in the past.

In the USA and Canada, peak temperatures of 49.6ºC have been measured in recent weeks, and wildfires are raging in the USA and in Siberia.

Despite all this, the world’s ruling politicians refuse to take serious action. Targets keep getting pushed back and weakened. They do this because pressure from profit-driven big corporations outweigh concerns about the impacts of climate change.

It is therefore necessary to react to climate change and to protect ourselves. All areas of society – including urban and transport planning, as well as workplaces – must be put to the test with regard to necessary protective measures in the interest of the working population and the socially disadvantaged.

In order to counteract climate change, we have to break with capitalism. Among other things, the big energy companies must be nationalised and converted to renewable energies.

Public transport must be massively expanded and become free of charge; long-distance rail transport must become significantly cheaper in order to create an alternative to car and air transport.

Climate-damaging production must be switched to socially useful and sustainable goods, without any employee losing their job or income. All this must not be implemented at the expense of the working population but at the expense of the profiteers of this capitalist system.

Die Linke, as an anti-capitalist party, should present such a programme in the election campaign. Neither the CDU nor the Greens, nor any other pro-capitalist party, will be willing to do so.

But if one is serious about fighting climate change, one must not accept the limits of this system. Then, overall, the economy must no longer be managed according to profits and instead according to the needs of people and nature. This can only be done with socialist measures: the transfer of banks and corporations into public ownership under democratic control and management and a democratically planned economy.

Hydrologist Professor Hannah Cloke, an adviser to the European Flood Awareness System, designed to provide early warnings of dangerous floods, said [25]alerts were sent to authorities in Europe days before the floods.

“There were alerts going out… saying there’s some very serious rain and floods coming: ‘be aware’. It’s then for the national authorities to take that information and go with it.”

She added: “We should not be seeing this number of deaths from floods in 2021. It’s just unacceptable. There’s something going wrong with the system.”

International, Environment