Year 2, Month 7, Day 23: Shaken, Not Stirred

In the July 7 L.A. Times, the brilliant and prescient Naomi Klein turns her eye to the interlocked disasters currently unfolding in the American West, in this case Montana — with floods and oil spills competing for the attention of the rescue and cleanup crews.

“We’re a disaster area,” Alexis Bonogofsky told me, “and it’s going to take a long time to get over it.”

Bonogofsky and her partner, Mike Scott, are all over the news this week, telling the world about how Montana’s Exxon Mobil pipeline spill has fouled their goat ranch and is threatening the health of their animals.

But my conversation with Bonogofsky was four full days before the pipeline began pouring oil into the Yellowstone River. And no, it’s not that she’s psychic; she was talking about this year’s historic flooding.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “It’s like nothing I’ve experienced in my lifetime. It destroyed houses; people died; crops didn’t get in the fields…. We barely were able to get our hay crop in.”

Everyone agrees that the two disasters — the flooding of the Yellowstone River and the oil spill in the riverbed — are connected. According to Exxon officials, the high and fast-moving river has four times its usual flow this year, which has hampered cleanup and prevented their workers from reaching the exact source of the spill. Also thanks to the flooding, the oiled water has breached the riverbanks, inundating farmland, endangering animals, killing crops and contaminating surface water. And the rush of water appears to be carrying the oil toward North Dakota.

This letter was subsequently published by the LA Times with some editing. Yay, me.

Naomi Klein’s discussion of climate change’s repercussions in Montana leaves unaddressed the concept of “disaster capitalism,” her crucial contribution to contemporary economic analysis. As climate change’s catastrophic effects become more widespread, our already-crumbling infrastructure will no longer be up to the challenge of an adequate response; the inevitable result will be more human misery — which will in turn trigger ever-more-egregious corporate encroachments on both the lives of individuals and their communities. We can confidently expect more lenient enforcement of existing emissions and pollution law in the wake of climatic crises, along with legislative weakening of troublesome and unprofitable regulations. And let’s not forget more tax breaks to help multinational corporations (many of which facilitated global warming in the first place) reap further benefits from the havoc they’ve helped bring about. “Disaster capitalism” was bad enough already. With climate change added to the mix, it’s a poisonous recipe for humanity.

Warren Senders

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