Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Michael Mechanic's Posts

Comments

“We can’t trust capitalism to just fix this” global warming mess

McKenzie Funk

In his new book, Windfall, journalist McKenzie Funk visits five continents to bring back stories of the movers and shakers at the forefront of the emerging business of global warming. He introduces us to land and water speculators, Greenland secessionists hoping to bankroll their cause with newly thawed mineral wealth, Israeli snow makers, Dutch seawall developers, wannabe geoengineers, private firefighters, mosquito scientists, and others who stand to benefit (at least in the short term) from climate change. (See this short excerpt, in which he writes about a guy who launched the world's first water-rights hedge fund.)

Windfall is fascinating, entertaining, and ultimately troubling as the author uncovers more and more evidence of what he calls the implicit "unevenness" of global warming, and the futility and/or unfairness of our approaches to dealing with it. I reached Funk at his home in Seattle to chat about California's impending drought, why man-made volcanoes won't save us, and how Hurricane Sandy (figuratively) blew him away.

Comments

As the West dries up, this hedge fund pioneer stands to make a killing

cracked-dry-earth
Kundan Ramisetti/Unsplash

Most writings on climate are tedious or polemical. Windfall, journalist McKenzie Funk's fabulous new book on the business of climate change, is neither. Funk's reporting takes him all over the globe. We meet investors who are buying up land in Africa and water rights in Australia and the American West, and are wagering hundreds of millions of dollars that climate-related drought and food shortages will earn them a fortune.

Funk visits Greenland secessionists who imagine the mineral wealth made accessible by a thawing tundra will bankroll their cause, as well as Israeli snow makers, Dutch seawall developers, geoengineering patent trolls, private firefighters, Big Oil scenario planners, and the scientists deploying mutant mosquitoes against dengue fever -- a horrific tropical disease that's crept into Florida of late.

windfallcoverIn one particularly surreal chapter, he finds himself in Senegal meeting with African military officials overseeing the first phase of a quixotic 4,700-mile-long foliage barrier against the encroaching Sahara. In short, rather than waste our time on a settled question (duh, it's real!), Funk offers an up-close-and-personal glimpse of climate change's potential winners -- and inevitable losers. The book is as fascinating and readable as it is unsettling.

Comments

And you thought that heat wave was bad?

Purdue University climatologist Matthew Huber gets plenty of death threats, but that hasn't stopped him from exploring the outer limits of just how much global warming human beings can tolerate. Whatever our recent Great American Heat Wave may or may not portend, most credible climate scientists agree that human-caused global warming is real -- oh yes they do! [PDF] -- and most of the research out there, Huber says, predicts dire consequences for people (and other mammals) if average global temperatures rise by 6 degrees C or more.

That could well happen this century: By 2100, Huber points out, the mid-range estimates predict a rise of 3 to 4 degrees C in average global temperatures based on current economic activities, but those studies ignore accelerating factors like the release of vast quantities of methane -- a potent greenhouse gas -- now trapped beneath permafrost and sea ice that's becoming less and less permanent. Other models foresee rises in the 10 degrees C range this century; at the outer fringe, predictions range as high as 20 degrees C. Truth is, we simply don't know exactly when we'll reach these milestones or what they will cost us. And thanks to the uncertainty, it's been hard to get nations to agree on limits.

All of this got Huber and Steven Sherwood, his colleague at Australia's University of New South Wales, to thinking: Economic considerations aside, they asked, how much warming can we physiologically tolerate? At what point does it get so bad that our bodies can no longer keep cool, so bad that we can no longer work or play sports or even survive for long out of doors? Will we flee for colder climes? Live underground like hobbits, surviving on cold fungus? Okay, I'm projecting -- they didn't actually ponder that last bit that I'm aware of.

Read more: Climate Change