Extreme weather events are becoming increasingly more intense. So is the exposure of infrastructural rot in their wake. As seen before with hurricanes Katrina and Harvey and superstorm Sandy, a path of destruction reveals the inequities a capitalistic system creates and protects; however, the latest example of climate crisis isn’t thousands of miles from home. The argument of “it’s their own fault for living in such a vulnerable area next to the coast” suddenly becomes irrelevant as the effects of the “bomb cyclone” are felt in the heart of the country.
But this isn’t some freak weather event that caused all the destruction throughout the state, this is years in the making as storms and droughts become more extreme and as we continue to live in a system that puts profit before people and exploitation of natural resources over sustainable economics.
While most people see Nebraska as a “conservative” state, that also applies to conservation, the Nebraska tendency to conserve water quality and conserve sustainable ecosystems because the state materially depends on maintaining healthy water systems, soil structures, and flood control. The majority of economic prosperity in Nebraska stems from agricultural production, which unlike other capital intensive industries has a conflicting interest with the exploitation of natural resources.
That’s why conservatives who believe that Republican representatives (within our state and nationally) advocate for rural Nebraska have it wrong. The same administration that says it benefits working class, red states like Nebraska and Iowa is also working to reduce the Clean Water Act of 1972, rewriting it so ephemeral streams and wetlands aren’t protected. This administration tries to come off as making it easier for farmers and agricultural processing and transportation companies to conduct business, to be more profitable.
As climate change becomes a more pressing issue each year, the Clean Water Act is one of the last band-aids on a gushing wound that holds some resemblance of advocating for environmental protections, but it doesn’t do enough to combat the growing issue. For example, wetlands are critical in maintaining water quality and flood control within watersheds; and while the Clean Water Act aims to protect these necessary ecosystems, it has extreme limitations.
Under the Clean Water Act, farmers are able to fill in wetland areas (add material so that an area no longer sustains wetland vegetation, holds water, or acts as a natural water filter) on their property to increase the usable acreage of their crop field, therefore, increasing crop yield and increasing profits in the short-term. Wetlands help soak up excess fertilizer and contaminant pollution – which eventually drain into the Gulf of Mexico and contribute to the “dead zone.”
For Nebraska, where the main industry is crop production, more farmers filling in wetlands on their property means less flood protection and less water quality protection.
Nebraska has lost 95 percent of its historical wetland area. In a state with more river miles than any other continental state, that means the flood mitigating buffers that were naturally designed to protect these waterways have been filled in and destroyed. Extreme precipitation events like this winter’s seem even more devastating because there is not enough emphasis on a sustainable ecosystem infrastructure that can withstand the increasing intensity of global warming.
But it’s not so simple to say farmers are one causing this issue. They are also working class people put under the pressure of a global market system that exploits their labor. Some programs funded and regulated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service offer tax credits to farmers for creating riparian buffers and wetland mitigation and restoration on their property. But these programs don’t challenge the system that causes increased intensity in storms, nor do they expose the companies that unfairly target people from lower class, oppressed communities and profit from the harmful exploitation of resources like natural gas, oil, and coal.
Indigenous-led movements against the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline have raised awareness to the dire need for grassroots resistance pushing against capitalist interests which don’t care about the working class people most affected by the pollution and long-term damage they cause. Why are we asking already distressed citizens to take shorter showers and do less laundry, instead of demanding a water-intense factory shut down for a day and give its workers a paid day off to be with their families in a time of crisis?
When disaster struck Nebraska, local people organized to help others in their community. For example, local mutual aid group Feed the People-Lincoln raised $1,200 for the Ponca and Santee Souix tribes, which were hit by the flood. The Dandelion Network sent up two truckloads of supplies. These efforts need to continue even though Mike Pence, a member of the same administration threatening to sell protected public land to oil companies and reduce the Clean Water Act, visited Nebraska to observe the damage. We don’t need to wait for Pete Ricketts to help those who help him in elections. These are the same people that push the burden of funding Nebraska roads, bridges, and water treatment systems on to the small town rural communities while allowing corporations to pay nothing in taxes.
We need radical change that challenges non-renewable energy, puts people over profit, and prioritizes ecology over exploitation. Nebraska has the unique ability to be a leader of an eco socialist movement because its motivation is not only out of good faith, but more importantly is materially based. For a lot Nebraskans, eco justice is not just a social issue but a labor issue. That connects people of all types of oppression which is critical to ending capitalism and, eventually, emancipating of the working class globally.