Kim Kardashian’s Private Firefighters Expose America’s Fault Lines

How humans are transforming the hurricanes of the future

Hurricane Harvey from the International Space Station, August 28th, 2017. Photo by Randy Bresnik/NASA

Climate change is already making devastating hurricanes wetter — and similar storms are likely to unleash more rain and faster winds by the end of the century, new research says.

When Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria struck the US in rapid succession in the fall of 2017, the storms and their aftermaths killed thousands of people and caused an estimated $265 billion in damage. Harvey became the second costliest storm after Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005. Now, new research published today in the journal Nature suggests that climate change made Irma, Maria, and Katrina drop more rain than they would have in a pre-industrial world. The study also predicts that in a warmer future, these storms would be even wetter and windier. A second paper (also published today in Nature) took a closer look at Hurricane Harvey. It shows another way people may have made the storm’s rain and flooding more severe: by building cities…


Kim Kardashian’s Private Firefighters Expose America’s Fault Lines

As multiple devastating wildfires raged across California, a private firefighting crew reportedly helped save Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s home in Calabasas, TMZ reported this week. The successful defense of the $50 million mansion is the most prominent example of a trend that’s begun to receive national attention: for-hire firefighters protecting homes, usually on the payroll of an insurance company with a lot at risk.  The insurance companies AIG and Chubb have publicly talked about their private wildfire teams. AIG has its own “Wildfire Protection Unit,” while Chubb—and up to a dozen other insurers—contract with Wildfire Defense Systems, a Montana company that claims to have made 550 “wildfire responses on behalf of insurers,” including 255 in just the past two years. Right now in California, the company has 53 engines working to protect close to 1,000 homes.

The TMZ story feels uniquely 2018—financial capitalism, inequality, KimYe, the fires of Armageddon—and it is, for Americans at least.

“If the idea of private firefighting strikes us as an oddity nowadays, it should,” Benjamin Carp, a historian at Brooklyn College CUNY, told me. “While other societies throughout history have relied on private firefighting companies to protect the property of the upper classes … for the most part we … have accepted the idea that fighting fire ought to be a public good.”…


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