Friday, August 29, 2014

Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming

I thought swashbuckling days were over. Guess I was wrong.

 In Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, author McKenzie Funk shows us how economic opportunities can be found in all negative aspects of climate change. He states “the climate is changing faster than we are [but]… Life will go on. Before it does, we should all make sure we understand the reality.” These are true statements. But when Funk states “…these pages reveal something important: In an unfair world, rational self-interest is not always what we wish it would be,” he’s not being clear which side of the dike he stands upon. He admits seeing the environmental movement as being misguided, employing “magical thinking” that will not produce results in the developed world. That also may be so. But does it mean that we give in, wholesale, to the altering of the world’s ecosystems just because the current approach is “naïve?”

Here’s a representative take on the issue, from the introduction:
 “'What are we going to do? We have to change the way we live!’ Instead of working for Greenpeace, which he’d considered after graduation, he [Mark Fulton, Deutsche Bank’s chief climate strategist] became a stockbroker, then an analyst, and he’d eventually helped Deutsche Bank identify global warming as a ‘megatrend’ that could generate profit for decades. ‘It’s always helped me, climate change, in my career,’ he joked.”

I’m not laughing, and to be honest, I know McKenzie Funk, for all his objectivity, is careful not to, as well.

A pirate is a plunderer, a strong-arm who takes from the defenseless for his own gain. A pirate is a man like American investor Phil Heilberg, who negotiates with General Paulino Matip of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army for farmland in war-torn Sudan. Matip is happy to lease the land, even though he does not have ownership of it, officially. And it’s all okay, politically; Heilberg tried negotiating with the Dinka leadership but when they tried to get him to bribe them, he switched to the Nuer faction.  Heilberg’s idol is Ayn Rand, who he says “believed pursuing profit was itself a moral act, a kind of enlightened selfishness: Place yourself above all else; get in no one’s way, and let no one get in yours; give no charity, and expect none.” 

Sounds a lot like what got us here in the first place.

Not all of Funk’s research lands us in such murky polluted waters. He also goes to the Netherlands, land of the medieval dikes, who are builders of the $7.5 billion Delta Works, “the world’s greatest coastal defense network”.  Potential clients include the Marshall Islands and Bangladesh as well as river delta cities like New Orleans, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and New York City.  Land reclamation innovation comes in all forms in the Netherlands; research into ‘smart soils’ with bacteria to create strong bonds to seal cracks in levees and dikes is one concept, another is floating cities.

This is a fascinating book, made more compelling by the thin line between economic innovation and moral indignation that Funk treads upon.  Being an environmentally-conscious consumer, I do mourn the damaged state of our world, wrought by our cumulative hands, just as many folks do. I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly support this shoulder-shrugging stance to embrace droughts, floods, and storm-damages as economic opportunities.  It’s giving in, offering credence to the sins; it’s a very pirate-like approach. But, to let Funk have the last word: “[t]he hardest truth about climate change is that it is not equally bad for everyone…For the most part, we are not our own victims.”  

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