Everyone knows: California is burning. From the Inland Empire to Cascadia, wild fires litter the Golden State. So far, more than 175,000 acres have been scorched and 40 homes destroyed. Fifty miles north of San Francisco, over 7,000 homes are threatened by wild fires. One fire, the Rocky Fire, is blazing its way through Northern California, having already forced 13,000 people from their homes. As a result, over 11,000 firefighters have been deployed to combat the statewide infernos.
Before I begin my reflections, I would like to make something very clear: I don’t identify with any particular political ideology. Like Howard Zinn, I find value in various schools of thought: anarchist, libertarian, liberal, communist, socialist, deep green ecology, etc. Here, I have no bones to pick or dogmas to defend. To be clear, I raise this point because each time I write or speak about the role of the state in the context of climate change, I’m immediately bombarded with statements like, “The state is inherently oppressive, therefore it must be abolished.
Or, I’m told, “Mutual aid will fill the gap – the state is useless. ” To put differently, I’m not approaching this issue from an ideological standpoint. I have no interest in maintaining the state, nor do I view the state in a particularly positive light. In my thinking, there are simply functions the state can perform that other institutions and community organizations cannot. Of course it would be great to transcend or abolish the state, but those political projects are decades away from taking shape, if ever. For now, we’re stuck with the state.
That being said, the question becomes: What sort of state do we want? In other words, if the prospect of abolishing or significantly altering the state is not on the horizon, people should, at least for the time being, approach the state in a critical manner, but with desires and goals, not just critiques and platitudes. Without question, in the context of anthropocentric climate change, the state is the only entity with the capacity to aid and serve broad swaths of the global population, although, for the sake of time, let’s focus strictly on the US.
To be honest, I don’t think most people, but particularly anarchists and libertarians, understand the capacity it takes to deploy 11,000 firefighters. Both groups, unfortunately, have a very simplistic view of the state. Yes, the state is prisons and police. But it’s also social security and public universities. Yes, the state is militarism and surveillance. But it’s also sewage treatment facilities and electrical infrastructures. Here, nuance is important. Let’s be serious, does anyone honestly know of an anarchist or left-wing organization, or organizations, capable of deploying 11,000 firefighters?
This is a serious and ruthlessly pragmatic question. Interestingly, such questions are rarely asked. There’s a sense among leftists that if we keep focusing on non-hierarchical organizing tactics and democratic decision-making mechanisms, everything will work itself out. Moreover, there’s a sense among leftists that we, the people, can do a better job at disaster relief and prevention than the state. Both assumptions are incorrect, at least for the time being. So, let’s talk about what it would take to actually deploy 11,000 firefighters.
First, there’s the actual manpower. Does the Left even know 11,000 firefighters who identify with radical political principles? Let’s assume that we don’t know 11,000 firefighters. Where would we find 11,000 people who are capable and willing to risk their lives to fight wildfires? The amount of training it takes to prepare firefighters is unimaginable. To be clear, we’re not talking about how to prepare someone for getting pepper-sprayed or arrested, we’re talking about preparing people to save other peoples’ lives, and their own.
In order to train 11,000 firefighters, we would not only have to find 11,000 able-bodied people who were willing to do so, but also hundreds, if not thousands of firefighting experts to train them. Once the potential firefighters are trained, they would undoubtedly require equipment. Where will the equipment come from? Right now, there are thousands of distributers around the world that are manufacturing, selling and distributing said equipment: hoses, fire-retardant clothes, helmets, axes, firetrucks, helicopters, airplanes, etc.
While it’s understood that this production supply chain is inherently unsustainable, does the Left have alternatives? Could the Left produce sustainable firefighting equipment, produced locally and distributed accordingly? Today, the answer is, no. After equipment, we face another prescient issue: logistics. Who’s capable of coordinating over 11,000 firefighters? Well, for a state the size of California, we’re talking about phone lines, internet cables and the infrastructures that sustain them, which would include power lines, towers and conductors.
We’re talking about sewage treatment facilities to maintain fresh water supplies, not only for the firefighters, but also the broader public. When we consider logistics, we’re also talking about satellite technologies: radar, imaging, etc. In order to effectively coordinate 11,000 firefighters, and their helicopters and airplanes, we’ll need all of these components, and more. Furthermore, after manpower, training, equipment and logistics, we would also need housing, food and healthcare services for the firefighters. And the list goes on, and on.
Again, I don’t wish to sound like a defeatist. I mention these dynamics because I want people on the Left to contemplate the complexity of the state, and the role it plays in disaster relief, particularly extreme disasters as a result of anthropocentric climate change. Of course, California is a prime example, as the Golden State has been experiencing its worst draught in over 500 years. In the short-term, if we can’t abolish or fundamentally alter the state, could we use the state to prepare for climate change and its many catastrophic consequences?
From a different angle, could we transition and reconfigure certain aspects of the state? For instance, if the American Left had the power to dismantle the American Empire, what would we do with its soldiers, gear and infrastructure? Without question, the military has the capacity, at least in terms of manpower, equipment and logistics, to prepare for extreme weather events and climate change. Remember, the US spends what the rest of the world spends, combined, on the Empire. As a result, the Empire has helicopters, trucks, amphibious vehicles, airplanes, satellites, and so on.
Obviously, we require these components to endure and combat the horrors of climate change. Could we kill two birds with one stone? Could we dismantle the US Empire (something that would greatly contribute to combatting climate change), while simultaneously using the dismantling processes to better prepare and equip those who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect the general public from the ravages of extreme weather as a result of climate change? It’s important to keep in mind that many people join the military to help people, to volunteer.
While this perspective may be naive, the values underpinning it are genuine. Many of the veterans I know who’ve rejected militarism and US Empire came to their conclusions after experiencing the absurdity of the military. Eventually, they realized that the military was not a force for good in the world. In the Marine Corps, we used to say, “Good initiative, bad judgement. ” Indeed, people join the wrong institution for all the right reasons. Whereas plenty of activists, NGO-types and leftists join the right institutions for all the wrong reasons (something to keep in mind).