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Windfall

True story: last fall I looked out my window and saw a coyote lounging in the shade of an apple tree, contentedly eating apples off the ground—the proverbial free lunch, a literal windfall.

Two years previously, at The Land Institute’s Prairie Festival in Salina, writer Naomi Klein gave a talk called “The Message”—meaning, the message of climate change. Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine, a powerful and important book with an ominous subtitle: “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” My notes from her talk emphasize her point that, contrary to appearances, the right wing completely understands climate change, and, especially, its effects.

Not so much its effects on life on earth, but on politics and the economy. The somewhat paranoid thinking is that the coming changes demand planning, Klein outlined (this based on a conference she infiltrated), which could be decentralized and democratic. The public sector might increase even as the private sector declines. Wealth might be redistributed. Corporations might even be regulated(!).

A look at McKenzie Funk’s new book, Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, shows how that ain’t going to happen. This straightforward examination of, er, expanding entrepreneurial opportunity plainly shows that disaster capitalism has shifted, or more accurately expanded (cf. the Trans-Pacific Partnership), from the WTO and international realpolitik to building a strongly private-sector, capitalist, global response to real and potential climate shocks.

I have to admit that it was hard to read this book, but it is well written, fascinating in a macabre sort of way, and includes much dramatic up-to-the-minute information on climate change that I was previously unaware of. I’d venture it will be an eye-opener for those who are loathe to think of what megacorporations could do and are doing. Frankly, it staggers the mind. It will probably spur some businesses to run with the big coyotes, too.

Windfall is divided into three sections: the melt, the drought, and the deluge. For all its acknowledgment of water in the cycles of the planet, this brings me to my biggest criticism of the book: a lack of acknowledgment of, or maybe awareness of, the greater living ecosystems that are changing, mostly for ill, and will inevitably continue to change as we heat the earth. Some ecosystem changes are mentioned in passing, but perhaps since living systems are hard to predict and harder to engineer, they’re not given very much ink. “Not so,” some might argue, pointing out sections on agricultural irrigation or bioengineered mosquitoes. But those sections focus on hydrosystems over ecosystems, and on an organism but not so much the whole system that it’s a part of. The (profitable) solutions to climate change outlined in nearly every instance are bold, heroic, and loaded with hubris. And we all know how that ends.

My other criticism of Windfall is the lack of criticism of the system that got us into this in the first place: capitalism. It’s beyond the scope of this review to wade into that, but hints do appear in the book from the losing 99%. Here’s Bangladeshi environmentalist and IPCC author Atiq Rahman:

“The nightmare scenario on climate change is that there will be money floating around everywhere. Floating around… And nothing happens. For the poor, absolutely nothing happens.” – Jake Vail, Adult Services

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