In August 2009, 200,000 hectares of forest burned to the ground across the European Union. These are the figures calculated by the eminent ‘European System for Information on Forest Fires' which stresses that this figure goes well beyond the 20,000 hectares that burned in 2008. Greece, Spain, Italy, Turkey, France, but also Portugal in the spring and Sweden and Norway in June have been through a particularly catastrophic year, even though the European public authorities have been boasting of a drastic reduction in the over 480,000 hectares that have burned annually since 1980. The picture is similar in California, where tens of thousands of residents have been hurriedly evacuated in response to wild fires in recent months.
Obviously, the immediate cause of all this is the particularly unfavourable weather conditions in comparison to last year, when a wet summer greatly reduced the danger of fires in the Mediterranean region. Even so, in Greece, 15,000 hectares burned down near the city of Rhodes, while in the previous year fires killed 77 people and burned 250,000 hectares of forest north of Athens. The Greek government has since taken no measures whatever to provide a minimum of safety to the population. Result: this year, with a very dry summer, the fires have reached the very gates of the capital, burning with unprecedented violence. For three days as the fires were at their height, the government offered the population the choice between evacuation or dying in the flames. The same government which told us that this year's fires were no worse than the average observed since 1980. The callous attitude of the Greek leaders has provoked a considerable amount of anger in the population and this has received some publicity abroad, particularly in France. But the French media have been less verbose in denouncing the fires which ravaged 1300 hectares near Marseille, or the 7000 destroyed in Corsica.
Of course, the dry conditions can make fires burn uncontrollably; of course, you can't predict everything. But one thing is certain: property developers and also those practising intensive agricultural methods, direct products of capitalist folly, are prepared to do anything to make a profit and have acted hand in hand with local authorities and central states to ensure that they can exploit high risk areas. It's these very same public bodies who then turn round and tell us they are doing all they can to deal with the problem of wild fires. An article in the French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchâiné (5/8/9) exposed the farce of the French public powers pretending to be engaged in intense activity against arsonists, which boiled down to arresting a couple of fire-starters while ignoring the much more serious problems behind the fires.
Fire, water, earth and air: capitalism is contaminating all the natural elements or making them more and more dangerous to humanity.