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Profits flow from rampant environmental destruction

As the number of wildfires, hurricanes and extreme weather events worsen, Sophie Squire looks at the companies who seek to gain from the destruction
Issue
Belfor made huge profits following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Disaster recovery company, Belfor made huge profits following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. (RIA Novosti archive)

As the climate crisis grows parasitic bosses hope to grow fat on climate destruction. 
 
Bank of America analysts have predicted that the climate adaptation market, which means anything from flood defences to wildfire protections, will double in the next five years. 
 
This presents an enormous opportunity for businesses to snap up lucrative contracts from governments and charge ordinary people to protect their homes and livelihoods. 
 
One way to make money is to sell the cleanup operations needed after a climate disaster
 
One multinational that’s made millions from cleanup operations is Belfor. The group comprises a web of companies across the world and is worth around £1 billion. 
 
The company was part of the cleanup after the floods in Indonesia in 2002, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011.  
 
 
Forbes magazine once wrote, “Climate change is good for Belfor”.
 
The company was recently sold to a private equity firm, American Securities. 
 
Major private equity firms have recently bought up several other ­restoration companies, including construction company Blusky. This trend shows that serious ­profits can be made as demand for restoration and clean up companies increases due to climate change. 
 
Another way for the bosses to profit from climate change is to bump up insurance premiums. 
 
In the US the price of insuring homes and crops is shooting upwards owing to an increase in extreme weather events. Those who are insured for flooding may see prices increase by as much as £179 a year, according to The Federal Emergency Management Agency. 
 
Of course it is the poorest that will be hit the hardest by insurance hikes, and many won’t be able to afford insurance at all. 
 
Robb Lanham, chief sales officer for HUB International Personal Insurance, said, “I don’t think this is an era where prices are going to go down.” But he added that the climate crisis is an excellent opportunity “for an insurance company to say, for us to be a viable company, we have to raise our rates.”
 
For those in charge, relying on private companies to carry out climate adaptation is the way forward.  
 
 
In 2009 developed countries pledged over £74 billion to poorer countries to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate, but more than a decade later have yet to meet this goal. 
 
For those in charge, the solution to this funding gap is to rely on private businesses to provide. But the bosses cannot be trusted to protect anyone from climate disasters when behind every decision they make is profit and the drive to compete with other capitalists.
 
To truly adapt and fight the effects of climate change, we need a ­different kind of system, one where ordinary people’s needs are put first. 

Loan sharks target poor
Damage caused by flooding and wildfires is driving ordinary people to turn to high-interest payday loans, catapulting them into debt. In Australia, payday loan providers are targeting those who have suffered the after-effects of extreme weather events. 
 
One of the biggest offenders is Money 3, which claims on its website to give everyone a “fair chance”. In reality, companies such as Money 3 trap their customers in a cycle of debt. 
 
Peter McNamara, chief executive officer of  Good Shepherd Microfinance, which is funded by the Australian government, said, “These sectors target and in some way prey upon and profit off other people’s pain—it’s real, we see it on the ground.
 
“They advertise towards them. They market to them. They make it sound as if it’s a necessity and it’s there for them.”

Profit first people last
A report published by the World Bank has pushed for private companies to invest more in climate adaptation and mitigation. 
 
The report details the many opportunities that the climate crisis could provide would-be investors. These include increased tourism opportunities, offering insurance and selling new technologies to farmers who have been impacted by a changing climate and environmental destruction
 
Despite the charitable language used in the report, all the adaptations that it suggests benefit profits first and people second. This report perfectly reflects the views of those at the top, who are still eager to make as much profit as possible as the planet burns.

Cleanup workers battle against unsafe conditions
More than 50 construction workers were tasked with repairing two luxury hotels in the Florida Keys in the US after Hurricane Irma in 2017. They worked around the clock to make the hotels habitable again. 
 
But the company that hired them, Cotton Commercial USA, refused to pay them what they were owed. In some cases, workers had only been paid one week’s wages for five weeks of work. To this day workers are still fighting to receive their lost wages. 
 
 
This case is just one example of the abuses that migrant, undocumented and incarcerated workers who clean up after environmental disasters suffer. These workers are often deprived of health care and forced to work in unsafe conditions by greedy and exploitative bosses. 
 
A company known for its abuses of migrant workers is Servpro and its massive web of subcontractors. Servpro workers wear uniforms with the words “Like it never even happened.” That is precisely what they are told when sent to work in dangerous conditions
 
Bellaliz Gonzalez is one of the thousands of migrant workers who work across the country cleaning up after extreme events in often terrible conditions. “There were several of us that day restoring the local hospital that had called on our services, but there were no Covid-19 health protocols in place,” she said. “Our supervisors didn’t even give us masks.
 
“We were treated like animals. They didn’t care about our health or our lives. They didn’t care that we were in the middle of a pandemic. As a result, many of my colleagues caught Covid.” 
 
Those in power rely on cheap labour to clean up after the disasters caused by global warming. With demand for these workers increasing, only struggle will mean they receive a fair deal. 

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