A book that conveys much more of the peril than the promise of today’s urban life in the age of climate change.
After Donald Trump made the ill-advised decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, much has been made of the city as a bulwark against climate change, but Dawson (English/CUNY; Extinction: A Radical History, 2016, etc.) explains why today’s cities may be too simple an antidote to our future problems. While experts often note that the per capita carbon emissions of city-dwellers are lower than in rural areas, the author points out that not only do cities supply a disproportionate contribution to the planet’s overall carbon budget, but within cities like New York, just a few luxury high rises account for the bulk of that contribution. This leads inevitably to what Dawson calls “climate apartheid,” a future in which “wealthy elites” profit from environmental crises while those already struggling face disaster. Using examples of imperiled cities around the world, but returning repeatedly to New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the author documents the failures of city planners, governments, urban recovery efforts, and even local first responders when faced with environmental challenges. While based in solid research, the conclusions Dawson draws are often so hypercritical and contentious that they might become unconvincing. The book is a call for a revolutionary shift, not just regarding the structure and function of cities, but also requiring a massive overhaul of economic, governmental, and social structures around the world. Dawson argues that our current capitalistic societies must be dismantled in order to make way for a more equitable future in which environmental conditions become increasingly unstable.
A tough read that will mostly appeal to critics of neoliberalism, but also a substantive contribution to the growing dialogue about our response—or lack thereof—to climate change.