On July 21 Nova Scotia was hit by devastating floods. Four people are dead, including two six year-olds and one 14 year-old, after the vehicles they were evacuating in were swept off the road and submerged in floodwaters. We must be clear that the blame for the damage and tragic loss of life lies squarely at the feet of the bosses and the capitalist system.
The deadly flash-flooding was the result of what experts are calling a one-in-1,000 year rainfall. Some parts of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) were inundated with more than 250 mm of rain in one evening—just shy of the average 270 mm for the whole summer season. In addition to the lives lost, the floods damaged roads, bridges, and houses, with 150 people forced to leave their homes.
For Nova Scotia, this summer has been full of devastating natural disasters, with wildfires that caused record damage a few months ago, a lasting heat wave, and now “biblical” rainfall and floods. These “one-in-1,000 year” events are precisely the type of extreme weather that can be expected to become regular occurrences, as a result of climate change and its impact on regional weather patterns.
In Nova Scotia it is predicted that there will be a reduction in snowfall during the winter months, and an increase in extremely hot days and summer rainfall. When these hot days and rainfall don’t coincide a dangerous situation similar to this summer can occur – an unusually dry and hot spring which includes wildfires, gives way to brief but intense rainfall. This puts immense strain on infrastructure, which due to chronic underfunding is ill equipped to deal with the changing climate.
As with the earlier wildfires, while this specific instance was sudden, the fact that there would be flooding at some point was entirely foreseeable. However, governments have not been implementing the necessary measures to protect communities. Sackville, a community in the HRM with a history of flooding, has had a study of particularly susceptible areas and a set of recommendations on flood risk mitigation since 2017. None of the findings have been incorporated into new municipal zoning or development, leaving homes and businesses vulnerable.
On the provincial level there were issues with residents receiving inaccurate emergency alert notifications, while others received no warning of the impending flooding, due to lack of cell service in rural areas.
This is not the first time the province’s emergency alert system may have cost lives—in 2020 people received inaccurate alerts during a shooting rampage which meant they were unaware when the shooter was in the area.
Even if people were paying attention to weather forecasts in advance, this information may not have helped. Nova Scotia does not have a flash flood warning system. While there was a severe rainfall warning issued by Environment Canada, there was no framework with which to translate and communicate this into a flash flood warning.
This is not just a problem with Nova Scotia. As the recent wildfires, and last year’s heat dome and flooding in British Columbia showed, the inability of the ruling class to deal with “natural” disasters is a Canada-wide problem. As head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo Blair Feltmate said, “We must act with urgency to prepare for climate change and extreme weather risks that are only going to get more challenging.” However, “There is a sense of complacency.”
The lack of infrastructure in Nova Scotia is a chronic problem. The province has had a struggling economy for much of its history, and is currently the province with the highest debt-to-GDP ratio. When considered from within the boundaries of capitalism, it is easy to see why emergency preparedness has been left on the back-burner. This, however, poses the question of why, in a country as rich as Canada, any region is left to languish with inadequate infrastructure. In truth, the question is, why should workers pay for the crisis of capitalism with their lives? A system which cannot improve our lives and protect us from events such as the recent floods is useless and deserves to be overthrown.
The issue of climate change is a global one that requires a globally coordinated solution. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group 3 released a report that admitted that there are no barriers of technology or wealth that stand in the way of reaching international greenhouse emissions reduction targets. Instead they state that the barriers are political. Marxists couldn’t agree more. However, the problem is not one of mere “political will”, but that politicians answer to the capitalist class, who have the resources to fight climate change but don’t want to give up their profits.
This global situation is a reflection of the smaller scale issues that the Nova Scotia floods lay bare. The dangers of climate change are well-known and foreseeable, as are the solutions, and the resources exist to implement them. Those resources are just in the wrong hands. So long as the economic levers of society remain in private hands, profit will always take political priority over the needs of the masses and the planet. This summer we have seen that Canadian capitalists and their political representatives are happy to remain complacent while the working class suffers. Taking the means of production under democratic workers control could allow for the massive and sweeping change to infrastructure, transport, and industry that we already know is necessary to address climate change.
It’s true that the threat of climate change wouldn’t end under socialism. Historical emissions up to the present will continue to cause warming—the full effects of which have yet to be felt—unless counteracted. However, there’s no reason, once the economic levers of society are taken under workers control internationally, that the united working class could not only halt climate change where it stands, but reverse it. In addition to sources of green energy and transportation that languish with no funding under capitalism, people are already developing speculative technology to counteract greenhouse warming, or to actively scrub the atmosphere of greenhouse gasses. With the burden of profit and national barriers thrown off, there will be an even greater unleashing of human creativity and innovation. For communists, fighting for revolutionary change in society is not simply to inherit the dying world left by capitalism, but to build a new and better one.