The California Disaster: What is the Link Between Wildfires and the Coronavirus?

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2199 ... September 23, 2020
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The California Disaster: What is the Link Between Wildfires and the Coronavirus?

Christoph Hermann

I live in the San Francisco-Bay Area outside of Berkeley. Following the COVID-19 outbreak we went into shelter-in-place in March and officially never left after a second wave in early summer perpetuated school closures and other preventive measures. Following another dry winter and an unprecedented heatwave, Northern California is currently experiencing a series of massive wildfires, much earlier and widespread than in ‘normal’ years. As a result, the Bay Area for weeks struggled with bad air quality and occasionally with an apocalyptic orange-gleaming sky.

These are very challenging times. But the simultaneous occurrence of a healthcare and an environmental crisis, or more precisely, the inability to solve them, is not a coincidence. What they both have in common is the dependence on a technological fix for our social and environmental problems. Or, to put it differently, the unwillingness to question the rationality of our economic system and alter associated ways of living. The dependence on a technological fix, in turn,... follows from the priority of maximizing profits rather than satisfying human needs.

San Francisco and the Bay Area are known for the combination of social progressivism and economic liberalism, providing a fertile ground for innovation. It is not by accident that the region, which includes Silicon Valley, is home to some of the most valued tech-companies, including Google, Facebook, and Zoom, along with some less known but nevertheless highly profitable biotech firms. Berkeley streets are full of electric cars, and every other house displays a black-lives-matter sign, including the Berkeley Hills, where very few African-Americans actually live. Residents are open and mindful, and embrace racial and gender diversity. In many regards, Berkeley and the Bay Area are the antithesis to Donald Trump’s America.

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