Mitt Romney and Firefighters

The chatter today is about Mitt Romney’s comment explicitly saying that what America needs is fewer cops, teachers, and firefighters:

Romney said of Obama, “he wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

As Greg Sargent notes, that’s something Republicans have usually avoided, couching their “slash government” plans in vague generalities, but it’s nice to have things squarely on the table. The most obvious point to make about this is that government payrolls have already been cut by something like 600,000 workers, and as one might expect it’s been a huge drag on the economy.

Matt Yglesias says he’s on board with more cops and teachers, but since deaths from house fires are declining, perhaps we should pass on the firefighters. This led me to wonder about wildfires, which I would have assumed are getting worse from climate change. Sure enough:

Wildfires and acres burned, via NOAA

If you can’t see it, there has been a secular increase in the acres burned over time, with a terrific spike in 2011, which was the all-time record for acres burned in the US. Already 2012 would match acres burned in 2010, and it’s not even half over.

So, if not traditional firefighters, perhaps we could strengthen our bench of forestry management professionals. These people do fight threatening wildfires, but also try to manage the forest such that fire is returned to its natural place as a frequent but mild clearing of brush and undergrowth (as opposed to huge crown fires). As climate change takes hold, this sort of work is only going to become more necessary.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is national correspondent for the Week, and a former web editor for the Washington Monthly.