Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming – McKenzie Funk

Windfall book cover, Amazon.comMy Rating: 9 /10
Title: Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming (Amazon Link)
Author: McKenzie Funk

I feel like this was a really important book for me to read. For the past ten years I have been reading non-stop about climate change. The science, the politics, the technologies and economics. This reading has significantly shaped the path I have taken through life. So it’s refreshing to come across a book that comes at this topic from a new perspective. Who is going to profit when the predictions come true?

“This book is about how we’re preparing for the world we seem hell-bent on creating. It’s about climate change, but not the science of it, nor the politics, nor directly about how we can or why we should stop it. Instead, it’s about bets being placed on a simple, cynical premise: that we won’t stop it anytime soon. 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.” – Excerpt from the book

The Melt

The opening of the Northwest Passage – that normally inaccessible and ice-laden route over the America’s in the Arctic circle – brings with it potential turmoil on the high seas. As the ice recedes (which is happening at an alarming rate) and this new shipping lane becomes a reality, new threats will come into play. Threats that are economic and geopolitical in nature.

Despite Canada owning land on both sides of the Northwest Passage, much of the world (particularly the US) does not agree that Canada should own or control the waterway itself. In the future, control of these waters is likely to be significant for the countries involved. As a shipping lane it will offer a viable alternative to the Panama canal, and in doing so allow up to 6000 km to be cut from certain trade routes. The economic and strategic consequences of this will be profound. Perhaps that is why the Canadian military is beginning to beef up their Navy forces with heavy icebreakers, Arctic warfare and training centres, aerial drones and undersea sensor networks. With their new northern coastline to develop and defend, it is not an entirely unpredictable response from the Canadians.

Receding Arctic sea ice also brings about other complications for the world’s most Northern countries. Roughly 20% of global oil and gas reserves are estimated to be locked away within the Arctic Circle. As these become more accessible the question turns to who owns the rights to exploit these resources. Currently some of the top contenders are Norway, Russia, Canada, the USA and Greenland. Due to this these northern countries are actively looking to legally defend or expand their exclusive economic zones. For instance the United States has been conducting research to map the ocean floor and boundaries of the continental shelf off of Alaska, as part of a response to a boundary dispute with Canada regarding areas of the Beaufort Sea. Norway and Russia also recently settled a dispute over their exclusive economic zones.

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet is widely recognised to be a major contributor to sea level rise. Despite this the inhabitants of Greenland may themselves fare well from climate change. As the ice sheet thins, Greenland’s landmass is actually rising up as the weight is taken off it. At the same time, the shrinking ice sheet is making some mineral deposits more accessible and this has begun the courting by international companies. The Chinese in particular have shown interest in Greenland’s rare earth resources. The potential for control and capture of the wealth generated by international investment may be a contributor to the independence movement within Greenland (currently they are an autonomous entity within Denmark).

The Drought

When there’s no more water, water will run uphill. Towards the money of those who can afford it.

For countries that can afford it, desalination and pipelines from coastal areas to inland can provide some sense of security in the face of an impending drought. For countries and regions that can’t afford it, the prospect of a drier climate and increasing desertification requires creativity. The Great Green Wall is an initiative looking to stop the expansion of the Sahara Desert in its tracks. The project involves the development of a 10 mile wide, 3700 mile long tree plantation from the west coast to the east coast of Africa. Senegal is currently leading the way, with the hope that once they get started others will too. Ambitious? Yes. Futile? We will have to wait and see. A similar effort is currently being undertaken in China. The ‘Three-North Shelter Forest Program’ (三北防護林) begun in 1978 and is looking to surround the Gobi Desert with 4,500 km of plantations. This project is expected to be completed by 2050.

The expansion of the Sahara desert isn’t necessarily confined to a slow, southward march. There are fears that the Sahara could jump the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain. Already increasing desertification has been observed in Spain, although there is some debate over the exact cause. Perhaps just as worrying for Spain is the role they play as the frontline into Europe. Significant numbers of refugees are now travelling to or through Spain as they seek political and economic asylum in Europe. Over time the Spanish response has been to become more harsh in their treatment of refugees, as a means of deterrence. However the impacts of climate change over the long-term may accelerate this exodus from Africa, due to effect of drought and changing weather patterns on subsistence agriculture.

The Deluge

Earlier on I mentioned the Great Green Wall. What people are less aware of though is the Great Wall of India. The thin line separating India and Bangladesh that is continually being built and fortified. This can be viewed as part of India’s response to climate change; a border protection scheme trying to keep at bay unwarranted emigration from Bangladesh to India. Bangladesh of course being a country that will feel the full force of climate impacts.

Much of Bangladesh lives on the exposed sedimentary flood-plains of the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna rivers. Extreme levels of sedimentation flow from the Himalayas and end up being deposited in this delta region, thereby creating a highly dynamic landscape. Given the low lying nature of this region, the majority of which is less than 10m above sea level, the country is very exposed to the impacts of sea level rise. A sea level rise of 1m would be enough for Bangladesh to lose 10-20% of their land. A situation that is entirely possible by 2100, given recent climate change scenarios. Increases in sea level would also exacerbate the effect of monsoonal floods and tropical cyclones that have historically ravaged the country. Such as the flooding that occurred in 1998 and left more than 30 million people homeless. Some estimate that around 20 million Bangladeshi will become climate change refugees over the coming decades, with many of these spilling over into neighbouring India.


I’ve only scratched the surface on what was a great read (and of course added my own insights and tangents where appropriate). Missing from the above are mercenary firefighters, seawalls for sale, largescale farmland and water right acquisitions, and a little bit of geoengineering on the side for good measure.

Some of the interactions that McKenzie Funk had as a journalist covering these stories is incredible. It seems as though he has been to every relevant region and event when it comes to climate change; from shadowing property deals in Sudan, witnessing the planting of the Green Wall in Senegal, sailing on Canadian warships, and attending Arctic exploration license auctions. It is very personable and conversational in tone and I really enjoyed it. Definitely a recommended read.

– Stephen

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2 thoughts on “Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming – McKenzie Funk

  1. bel

    The idea of the NorthWest passage is something I just can’t get my head around. The rate the ice is melting is incredible. There was an interesting episode of ‘years of living dangerously’looking at it as well.

    1. Stephen Northey Post author

      I wasn’t aware of Years Living Dangerously, so will have to check it out.

      The best documentary I have seen is called Chasing Ice, which follows the team behind the Extreme Ice Survey as they attempt to create time-lapses of glacier recession. They managed to film the largest glacier calving event ever captured on camera (which from memory was the size of Chicago). I saw it at the Nova Cinema in Carlton.

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