"Disaster capitalism" stacks on top of California fires and power outages

Fires in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the greater Los Angeles area have already forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes or have been stranded without power in preventive blackouts aimed at causing new flames. But while residents check their social media feeds for emergency updates, they see something more: social media swim with promotions for solar energy, backup generators and air purifiers.


The frenzy has almost become an expected side effect of the burning season. "Here in California, in the rich tech-heavy region of the bay, the fires offer a glimpse of an emerging form of disaster capitalism," Alexis Madrigal prescribed The Atlantic Ocean in the midst of historic flames last year. The idea of ​​& # 39; disaster capitalism & # 39 ;, when the industry comes after a disaster to push an agenda and / or eliminate the chaos, has been around for author Naomi Klein since introduced the term in 2007, but it has become more visible in the last ten years. Such as the California firing season grows longer and more devastating with the changing climate, "Climate adaptation can look like a million individual products, each focused precisely on social media at the intersection of a consumer culture and a catastrophe," Madrigal wrote.

An air purifier that The New York Times" Wirecutter disparaged as "the worst air purifier" it had ever tested, social media ads referred to this year's fires. The company, Molekule, uses the same playbook that they used last year when they placed fire-related ads on Instagram around the same time as the campfire records broken in California for the most death and destruction in the state.

“We come from where people come from with regard to forest fires in California and advertising. To be honest, it is something that we discussed at length in the office, ”said Jaya Rao, Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Molekule. The edge in an email. "It is clear that we did not do well. We accept that our communication about this can be somewhat awkwardly interpreted and we apologize to anyone who found it offensive or exploitative. & # 39;

Rao tells The edge that it gave away $ 100,000 of its product during the campfire and worth $ 30,000 during the Kincade fire just north of San Francisco. But giveaways have also been criticized as an unfair method of marketing for people affected by a crisis, as people saw in 2013, when outrage broke out after politicians sent brand equipment to places in the Philippines that had been destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, which was then the strongest cyclone ever landed.

And if the Molekule products work as badly as they have been assessed, those donated cleaning agents can put people at risk. Rao calls the Wirecutter view & # 39; incomplete and misleading & # 39; and says that the technology it uses is the result of two decades of academic research. The Molekule devices are on the California Air Resources Board's list certified air purifiers (making it legal to be sold in the state), but the agency that still controls the air quality of the state recommends HEPA filter treatment plants that do not use the Molekule equipment (nanotechnology is used instead to "destroy" pollutants).

Air purifiers are not the only ones who have taken the opportunity to stimulate their business during the crisis. Tweeted Elon Musk on Monday that his company offers a $ 1,000 discount on its solar panels and batteries (the sunroof usually costs $ 33,000). Tesla and other solar companies say they have seen demand increase since the outage started this month.


While Tesla lowers prices in the event of disasters, prices rise in other sectors. Concerns about economic opportunism driven by wildfire extend to the throw-away of displaced residents of everything from hotel rooms to rising rental prices. When searching for hotel rooms in the Bay Area on October 28, Hotel Tonight listed a room at the Hilton Garden Inn for a whopping $ 1,272 for the night. Both companies initially point fingers at each other for the shocking figures, but Hilton told The edge in a statement that reads: "We have thoroughly investigated this situation and discovered that the fare has been unauthorized and improperly activated … our sincere apologies for the alleged price distribution through an online travel site from third parties." to less than $ 200 per night at the relevant hotel.

But civil servants are still worried about the impact of price gamers on their communities. & # 39; Families in the Sonoma and Los Angeles provinces are in the midst of dealing with devastating forest fires. They don't have to worry about being cheated illegally from fair prices, & # 39; said Attorney General Xavier Becerra from California in a Declaration of 25 October issue a consumer warning.

The warning was sent after the Sonoma and Los Angeles provinces declared a state of emergency, and Governor Gavin Newsom has since declared the state-wide state of emergency. It is illegal in California to raise prices for designated essential services and supplies – such as gasoline, food, medical supplies, and hotel accommodations – more than 10 percent above what they were before an emergency was declared. Becerra has encouraged anyone with information about possible price gaps to report this to his office.

The use of prize gouvers is a start, but as long as there is money to be made, when the burning season starts and the devil winds begin to blow, advertisements and sales will always appear in the feeds of people fleeing for their lives. For some companies, where there is smoke, there is also opportunity.