My following book review appeared in the Melbourne Age/Sydney Morning Herald last weekend:
Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming
PENGUIN PRESS, $29.99
Who says global warming is bad for the world? The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found widespread and consequential effects on food systems and ecosystems, with detrimental ramifications for billions of people around the globe.
But that is only the negative reading of the incontrovertible scientific consensus. Another, far smaller group of people see climate variations as a unique opportunity to make a fortune. Deutsche Bank’s former chief climate strategist, Mark Fulton, used to help his employer identify global warming as a ”megatrend” that could guarantee profits for years. ”It’s always helped me, climate change, in my career,” he jokes with US journalist McKenzie Funk in this timely and necessary book on the new normal for vulture capitalism.
Disasters, man-made and natural, can be wonderful for energising our largely unregulated free markets. They are less welcome for the individuals who cannot afford to insulate themselves from the effects of rising temperatures, extreme storms, melting ice caps and battles for energy security.
Funk’s book is a warning – a unique insight into a world that largely exists in the business pages of our media. A fund manager tells him some insurance companies are licking their lips over climate change, because increasing rates prove ”hurricane season is actually quite a positive thing”. Screw the environmental and practical devastation on lives and property.
As Funk travels to many nations to document the ways in which changing temperatures are ruining life as they know it, he acknowledges this vital fact. ”It’s about people, and mostly it’s about people like me: northerners from the developed world – historically the emitter countries, as we’re called – who occupy the high, dry ground, whether real or metaphorical.”
The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre released figures last month about the declining amount of ice in the Arctic Circle, the fifth lowest peak since 1978. That is 12 per cent shrinking of ice per decade since the late 1970s. This will have worrying effects on rising sea levels and low-lying nations.
Greenland is ground zero for these battles and Funk outlines what is at stake; up to 22 per cent of the world’s untapped oil and gas deposits are ”thought to be hiding in the high north, some of it in territory that does not yet belong to any nation”.
”The less ice there is, the more petroleum there is within reach, and the most pressure there is to stake a claim.”
BP, Shell and London Mining are racing to industrialise the pristine Arctic area and an Australian company, Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd, is ready to exploit Greenland’s recent approval of uranium mining.
This book details the massive energy multinationals that years ago, internally at least, recognised the threat of climate change and their ability to make money from it. The former head of scenario planning for Royal Dutch Shell published a report for the Pentagon in 2004 that extreme weather was inevitable and re-engineering climate to suit our conditions was necessary. The Pentagon’s concerns, Peter Schwartz tells Funk, revolves around one word: Mogadishu. ”Massive drought led to famine, which led to the collapse of Somalia, which led to the UN intervention, which led to the US intervention, which led to military disaster. They see a string of Mogadishus rolling off into the future.”
It is hard not to view this US position as the white man’s burden, reluctantly saving whichever individuals or communities deemed important to serve imperial interests. Bangladesh is already facing the prospect of millions of citizens being displaced by rising oceans. In the brutal, upcoming Darwinian gamble, it is hard to see the Washington elite viewing them as essential.
Funk speaks to firefighters in Los Angeles who are offering their services to the highest insurance bidder, water privateers, Wall Street bankers buying up valuable land in South Sudan and African environmental refugees desperately looking for arable land.
This compelling investigation into the darker sides of modern nature, as some states will lose parts of their land and people in the 21st century, is sober and not inflammatory.
Funk is right when he concludes climate change is also an issue of human justice.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Profits of Doom.