In the United States, people concerned about climate change focus much of their energy on how to communicate the facts about climate in the face of a well-funded campaign of disinformation on the topic. In much of the rest of the world, people are simply dealing with the reality of climate change that can be observed in their region, and the change that is to come.
When people see change in the world around them, they make adjustments as much as they are able. One type of adjustment is to look for new opportunities for economic gain. The recently published book Windfall, by McKenzie Funk, describes efforts by people, companies, and even entire countries (and potential countries-to-be) to make a profit from changes in the world’s climate.
This leads to very serious moral questions, illustrated in Windfall by examples throughout the world. Who profits, and who suffers?
Making a profit is not, by itself, a bad thing, a point that Funk is careful to make in the book and also when he speaks. As he puts it, “The people I write about are generally good people who believe that they are doing good, or at least not something bad.”
The examples in the book illustrate that, in many cases, the potential for profit arises from the need for important and helpful services. Who could fault the Dutch for making a living by exporting their skill in building seawalls? If Israeli inventors have a better snowmaking technology based on their research into desalinization, it’s a great idea for them to find buyers in the Alps, whose ski areas are increasingly starved of snow. The people of Greenland see an opportunity to achieve independent statehood, at long last, partly through new resources revealed by the receding ice.
Meanwhile, island nations with insufficient currency find themselves facing the prospect of their demise as independent states. At conference held at Columbia University in 2011, experts discussed methods for a nation to continue to exist after its land is underwater or uninhabitable – floating islands, towed into place, are one possibility. Another choice is to recognize a “nation ex-situ” that exists as a trusteeship, entirely in order to receive climate reparation payments and distribute them to their exiled population.
[Just as the crew finished spraying one of their listed homes with fire retardant,] a neighbor appeared. She seemed to have mistaken Chief Sam for a public firefighter, and all of us attempted to play along. “You could get right to the fire at the second property down, at Las Palmas, she said.This scene summarizes a core dilemma facing the world with respect to climate change. Who will act together for everyone’s benefit, and who will fend only for themselves? Will anyone be willing to turn away from newly revealed resources? Private solutions are usually much less effective than their public analogs (witness the private firefighters who don’t actually fight fires), but those with the means to protect themselves or profit from climate change will be strongly motivated to do whatever gets them ahead, and also to defend the rightness of their actions.
“Okay, okay,” Chief Sam said. The air filled with smoke.
“I’ve got trails in here,” she said. “You can pull all the way in.” She pointed down the street, toward the flames, waiting expectantly.
“Okay,” Chief Sam said, barely looking at her, “We’ve got more resources coming.”
In the concluding chapter of Windfall, Funk writes:
The hardest truth about climate change is that it is not equally bad for everyone. Some people – the rich, the northern – will find ways to thrive while others cannot, and many people will wall themselves off from the worst effects of warming while others remain on the wrong side. …The book will be an eye opener for anyone whose entire climate focus is on advocating for emission reductions. I asked the author whether efforts to reduce emissions even mattered any more. “Every quantity of reduction will matter,” he said. “But there is enough warming already baked into the current situation that we are going to have to face the facts of continued warming, and the justice and fairness issues that come along with that reality.”
Climate change is often framed as a scientific or economic or environmental issue, and not often enough as an issue of human justice. This too needs to change.
Thanks to McKenzie Funk for an interview, his reading at Village Books, and for Windfall. His site is mckenziefunk.com.
All photos in this diary are copyright McKenzie Funk, used with permission.
Windfall is available at great local bookstores like Village Books (a much better idea than ordering from that evil web retailer whose name evokes the image of a fiercely independent traditional people). Quotes are from the text of Windfall, from our interview, or from the reading.
Several events and issues in this article are summarized from chapters in Windfall. Examples include: Greenland’s push for independence, the India-Bangladesh border fence, Dutch seawall builders, the Columbia University conference on legal implications of sea level rise, Israeli snow making technology, and the All-American canal lining project.
This article was originally published in the April 2014 issue of Whatcom Watch - linky