A research team led by scientists at Harvard’s T.H. Chan Public School of Health published a study in The New England Journal of Medicine that illustrated that 4,645 human lives were lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. This is a figure that lies in stark contrast to the “official” death toll of 64, announced by Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety and reported by the American press. The study’s authors wrote that “in our survey, interruption of medical care was the primary cause of sustained high mortality rates in the months following the hurricane.”
The disparity in reported figures compared to the study’s finding is hardly an accident, but is, in fact, environmental racism. The Global South is and will continue to be most directly affected in the short term by anthropogenic climate change. These areas of the world—areas that have yet to industrialize to the extent the developed world has—are the least responsible for the disastrous effects of ecological destruction caused by human activity. These areas happen also to be contending with compromised infrastructure due to histories of colonial plunder and exploitation. Puerto Rico, however, is a U.S. territory. There is no excuse for the federal government’s indifference and neglect of Puerto Rico’s people.
This incredible loss of life was entirely preventable. But the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, refused and continues to refuse to provide the resources and support necessary to save the lives of Puerto Rican citizens.
We ask, what would an appropriate response be to the treatment of the people of Puerto Rico? What can we do? First, we encourage you to speak—as much as you possibly can—about the relationship between capitalism and anthropogenic climate change. Educate yourself, your friends and family, your co-workers, your fellow students, and members of your community. Next, engage in efforts that are directly challenging both capitalism and the ecological destruction caused by capitalism. One way to do this is to join the SPUSA, join the SPUSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group, and join our efforts fighting global climate change and the disproportionate suffering it wreaks on poor and working class people around the world.