Feature

Book of the week: Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk

Journalist McKenzie Funk profiles the profit seekers who are trying to cash in on the effects of a changing climate.

(Penguin, $28)

“Most writings on climate are tedious or polemical. This fabulous book is neither,” said Michael Mechanic in Mother Jones. Instead of preaching to the converted and drawing new warnings from climate scientists immersed in dry data, journalist McKenzie Funk decided to chat up a much more colorful set of characters: the land and water speculators, inventors, and various other profit seekers who are trying to cash in on the effects of a changing climate. He talks to Big Oil “scenario planners.” He talks to Dutch engineers eager to export their expertise in dam systems. He talks to secessionists in Greenland who hope to buy independence from Denmark by drilling for oil made accessible by receding glaciers. “Apparently, if you look at climate change the right way,” said Jennifer Kay in the Associated Press, “it looks like money instead of disaster.”

“There are many bizarre and wonderful stories in Funk’s book,” said Philip Delves Broughton in The Wall Street Journal. He visits an Israeli desalination plant that happens to have a lucrative side business manufacturing fake snow for newly barren ski resorts, including the slopes at Sochi, Russia. He looks into the “Great Green Wall,” an effort by African officials to fight desertification by planting a 4,000-mile line of trees from Senegal to Somalia. He meets some shady characters in his travels, including a Wall Street investor who cozies up to a warlord in order to buy a vast stretch of Sudanese farmland and a private firefighter who protects only wealthy Californians from wildfires. “It turns out that climate change is rather like the financial crisis. Those who may have caused it”—in this case with their carbon emissions—“are likely to profit most from it.”

“Funk can occasionally be a bit glib, given the seriousness of his subject,” said Juliet Eilperin in Bookforum. Though he spends plenty of time with global warming’s losers, including in low-lying Bangladesh, he jokes about ethnic conflict in the region that will become more worrisome when refugees from flooded areas seek to resettle among inhospitable neighbors. Still, Windfall is an “arresting” work that may alter the conversation on climate change. “It becomes clear, across the book’s many financial and policy byways, that the rich, and the technocrats in their hire, will be able to protect themselves from the worst climate impacts, while the poor will have no refuge.” If he’s accomplished nothing else, “Funk has made it a little bit harder for the world’s leaders to sidestep the issue.”

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