The New New

For-Profit Firefighting Was Terrible for America. Climate Change Is Bringing It Back.

The worst vision for our future is on full display in California as wildfires burn

Casey Williams
Published in
5 min readNov 15, 2018

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Photo by Hans Gutknecht (Orange County Register/Getty)

WWhile residents of Paradise, California fled down freeways choked with ash and hollowed-out cars, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West rested easy this week. Like many wealthy Californians, the ultrarich couple hired a private firefighting force to protect their $60 million mansion from the devastating wildfires, which have left at least 56 people dead.

The rich have been recusing themselves from wildfires for years. Since the early 2000s, insurance companies like Chubb and AIG have dispatched for-profit fire brigades to safeguard the property of their wealthy clients. Customers pay up to $100,000 for these services, which usually include a hotel stay in addition to bespoke fire protection.

Meanwhile, the need for such protection is growing. Thanks to urban sprawl and climate change caused by fossil fuel emissions, fire seasons are growing longer and more violent. For private firefighters, business is booming.

Welcome to our climate future: disasters will get worse, and the rich will pay to sit them out.

“The enrollment has taken off dramatically over the years,” Paul Krump, a senior executive at Chubb, told the Wall Street Journal in 2017. “It’s absolutely growing leaps and bounds.”

Meanwhile, public investment in fire management has stalled, and federal funding for disaster relief has plummeted. What’s more, the Trump administration refuses to acknowledge, much less prepare for, the warming scientists say will begin to wreak havoc on the planet by 2040. Climate change already mostly affects the poor — a truth underscored by disasters from Hurricane Maria to the ongoing famine in West Africa. And wealth inequality is sure to determine who suffers in a hotter, more dangerous, and less predictable world.

Welcome to our climate future: disasters will get worse, and the rich will pay to sit them out.

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Casey Williams
GEN
Writer for

Casey Williams is a freelance writer covering climate, environment, and labor politics. He has written for The New York Times, HuffPost, VICE and more.