Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming
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A fascinating investigation into how people around the globe are cashing in on a warming world
McKenzie Funk has spent the last six years reporting around the world on how we are preparing for a warmer planet. Funk shows us that the best way to understand the catastrophe of global warming is to see it through the eyes of those who see it most clearly—as a market opportunity.
Global warming’s physical impacts can be separated into three broad categories: melt, drought, and deluge. Funk travels to two dozen countries to profile entrepreneurial people who see in each of these forces a potential windfall.
The melt is a boon for newly arable, mineral-rich regions of the Arctic, such as Greenland—and for the surprising kings of the manmade snow trade, the Israelis. The process of desalination, vital to Israel’s survival, can produce a snowlike by-product that alpine countries use to prolong their ski season.
Drought creates opportunities for private firefighters working for insurance companies in California as well as for fund managers backing south Sudanese warlords who control local farmland. As droughts raise food prices globally, there is no more precious asset.
The deluge—the rising seas, surging rivers, and superstorms that will threaten island nations and coastal cities—has been our most distant concern, but after Hurricane Sandy and failure after failure to cut global carbon emissions, it is not so distant. For Dutch architects designing floating cities and American scientists patenting hurricane defenses, the race is on. For low-lying countries like Bangladesh, the coming deluge presents an existential threat.
Funk visits the front lines of the melt, the drought, and the deluge to make a human accounting of the booming business of global warming. By letting climate change continue unchecked, we are choosing to adapt to a warming world. Containing the resulting surge will be big business; some will benefit, but much of the planet will suffer. McKenzie Funk has investigated both sides, and what he has found will shock us all.
To understand how the world is preparing to warm, Windfall follows the money.
we’re buying. A Canadian soldier stands guard at the edge of the Northwest Passage, an emerging shipping lane as the Arctic melts. Alaska’s shrinking Chukchi Sea, where Shell began drilling in 2012, could yield as many as twelve billion barrels of oil. Norway’s Snøhvit, or Snow White, is the northernmost natural gas facility in the world—and some oil companies’ model for the future of the Arctic. As Greenland’s glaciers recede, revealing mineral deposits,
overstuffed folder on my laptop’s hard drive. Also invaluable were more localized sources of news. To name a few: Barents Observer, Alaska Dispatch, Sermitsiaq, Haaretz, Imperial Valley Press, Africa Confidential, Le Soleil, IRIN, ReliefWeb, Times of Malta, Times of India, Daily Star, and Palm Beach Post. As I set out to understand the effects of climate change, I read The Economics of Climate Change by Sir Nicholas Stern (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), Field Notes from a
lonesome tonight? . . . Are you sorry we drifted apart?” The Inuit stared at him. “Elvees,” he said. “You dunno Elvees?” Later, he led a handful of soldiers on an unsuccessful fishing expedition. When they returned, they stripped and dove into the Arctic Ocean, staying in long enough to wash their hair with a bottle of Pert Plus shampoo. We combed through the rations—unwanted items got thrown in together in a cardboard box—and I goaded Sergeant Strong about the previous day’s fedora-wearing
traveled to where the melt was entirely less welcome. The Pitztal, or Pitz Valley, is thirty miles west of Innsbruck, the capital of the Austrian state of Tyrol. To reach it, I drove a rented Ford Fiesta at car-rattling speeds down the autobahn, then veered south at the village of Arzl, which had a host of small hotels and a church with an onion-domed steeple. I followed a two-lane road uphill through more postcard villages, passing fields, cows, and herders’ huts—remnants of the pre-tourism
when I arrived, but inside the twenty-six-thousand-square-foot space it was equatorial and hot—Deutsche Bank’s Wall Street tent all over again, only without the anaconda. The temperature was between eighty-two and eighty-six degrees, Marnix Peferoen told me as he removed his sweater, and the humidity was 70 percent. To my urban nose, it smelled rather like a brewery. The rice plants, in clear, plastic pots, each equipped with its own bar code and RFID transponder, were arrayed in perfect rows