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COLUMN: Kim and Kanye show us how money is a shield from climate change



Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are once again the subject of public criticism, and this time it’s not over Kanye’s bizarre embrace of President Trump — which now appears to be a thing of the past.

The couple owns a mansion in California’s Hidden Hills, one of the areas that were threatened by the Woolsey fire, one of the two wildfires that just ravaged the state. They hired a private firefighting company to protect their home.

This episode is giving us a glimpse into the future of climate change. As the climate worsens and natural disasters grow in severity and frequency, shielding the rich from climate change’s effects will become one of the most lucrative industries in the world.

Climate change, if left unchecked, will eventually wreak havoc on everybody, rich and poor. But until and unless its effects reach extinction-threatening levels, climate change will be yet another problem the rich can buy their way out of.

The decision by West and Kardashian to hire private firefighters really isn’t as newsworthy as it may seem. Private firefighters are not new, and they are used by many ultra-rich residents of fire-prone areas, Southern California being a prime example. Some insurance companies offer private firefighting services to wealthy clients.

This is a trend that shows no signs of reversing any time soon. Protection from climate change is now and increasingly will be treated as a commodity in the U.S. and other neoliberal societies. It will be available only to those who can afford it.

Kardashian has defended the decision by claiming the private firefighters were there to protect her whole neighborhood. If that’s true, so what? There’s no significant moral difference between protecting your own mansion and protecting a small number of mansions owned by your obscenely rich neighbors.

If Kardashian and West were motivated purely by the desire to protect a community, they could have sent the private firefighters to a poor, densely populated neighborhood.

The issue goes beyond the optics of a rich celebrity couple staying safe while others lose homes, possessions and, in some cases, lives to the catastrophic fires. Private firefighters can make it harder for public firefighters to do their jobs.

The private firefighters who protected the couple’s home did not get permission to enter the evacuated zone where they were working. That made them another protection responsibly for the public firefighters.

Money can ease the impact of virtually all of climate change’s effects. In a climate-related food shortage, the rich can still afford food. In a drought, they can afford to buy water. In a hurricane, they can afford to evacuate and replace lost property.

Climate change and wealth inequality happen to be reaching extreme levels at the same time. They make for a volatile combination that will define tomorrow’s political landscape.

Get ready to see this issue crop up a lot more often. The privatization of climate change adaptation is not just an inevitable part of the future; it’s already underway.

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