Calif. Wildfires Expose Another Ugly Reality–Income Inequality

When speaking to reporters last week about the historic and deadly Camp and Woolsey fires that have destroyed more than 100,000 acres and taken at least 44 lives, California Gov. Jerry Brown stated Californians–and the rest of the world–are facing a “new abnormal.”

In addition to the exigencies of climate change that will introduce more weather-related emergencies, leading to increases in diseases, hunger, and mass migrations, what is happening in California is exposing another disturbing component to anthropogenic climate change–income inequality.

Middle-class and lower-income Californians are seeing their homes go up in smoke while their affluent neighbors, many celebrities, are employing private firefighters to protect them and their mansions.

In May, NBC published an article explaining how AIG insurance offers wealthy homeowners a “Wildfire Protection Unit” comprised of providing homeowners with flame retardants and AIG employees certified through state or local authorities who respond to fires and map homes in real time as wildfires approach.

PURE is an insurance company that lets opulent clients access resources such as a Wildfire Mitigation Program for residents in 11 wildfire-susceptible states, including California. Offered in addition to a client’s regular insurance premium, the service includes fire risk consultations, sprinkler installation, and fire retardant application–all services to which 99% of Americans do not have access.

In addition, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners created the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which includes assessing different neighborhoods for wildfire risks. The association also advertises tiered wildfire insurance policies.

The National Wildfire Suppression Association represents 150 wildfire contract service companies with more than 10,000 employees.

With firefighting crews exhausted of personnel and resources to adequately contain conflagrations, residents are ignoring evacuation orders to help each other.

This comes at a time when, according to a report by Swiss bank UBS, billionaires made more money–$8.9 trillion–in 2017 than in any year in recorded history.

It also comes at a time when the Trump administration has halted payment to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, an economic assistance program designed to help vulnerable countries having trouble contributing to climate change mitigation according to the Paris Climate Accord‘s requirements.

The Republican party has for years adopted the Libertarian position of privatizing all social programs and safety nets upon which the middle class was built–Social Security, Medicare, unions, environmental regulations, public education, fire and police protection, libraries, etc.

To them, if we simply relieve ourselves of “big government,” we will organically become more self-sufficient and, eventually, “freer.”

In their minds, we could all be rich if we just eliminate “government entitlements.”

We know, though, this is just a ruse designed to hook-wink us into supporting economic policies that disproportionately favor the wealthy, making the rest of us poorer.

If the wealthy can afford private firefighters to protect their mansions, more power to them.

But there is something fundamentally wrong, however, with an economic system that deprives everyone else of the security government is supposed to provide simply because they do not have as much disposable income.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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