LOGIC TELLS US that a book about climate change shouldn’t be fun—or, for that matter, funny. Yet in journalist McKenzie Funk’s capable hands, the subject matter is just that. Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming is a globe-spanning, wide-reaching romp to the front lines of a warming planet, where entrepreneurs, engineers, and savvy capitalists see a market opportunity. Funk doesn’t attempt to convince skeptics of the reality of climate change or rehash the science for believers; instead, this is a book about who stands to profit—and, conversely, lose—from global warming.
The stories Funk relates are by turns absurd, inventive, and tragic. What he discovers in his travels is that the obvious winners in this worldwide reshuffling of the natural order tend to be northerners: Canadians flexing their might over the Northwest Passage, which is newly cleared of ice and ready for maritime prime time; and Greenlanders, who find themselves rising—literally—as their ice sheet melts. Greenlanders, for example, have lived under Danish rule for three centuries, but a warming climate promises an oil and mineral boom that could buy the country’s independence. Offshore, geologists have identified rich oil deposits; onshore, retreating glaciers give way to zinc, gold, diamonds, and uranium. Greenland’s secessionists bank on other sources of income, too: disaster tourists eager to see glaciers calving into the sea, valuable fish stock moving north as waters warm, and cheap hydropower generated by the country’s newly rushing rivers.
In countries without diamonds in their backyards, Funk discovers other means of capitalizing on a warming planet. Is your profitable ski season cut short by rising temperatures? There’s an Israeli company selling snowmaking equipment that can pump out snow at any temperature, on any day of the year. Is wildfire threatening your mansion in Southern California? For-profit firefighters, funded by insurance companies, are patrolling the hills and canyons outside of Los Angeles, protecting the homes of those with the money to pay for it. And in the Netherlands, architects and engineers are hawking floating islands—to replace the ones the rising ocean will likely swallow—and seawalls to ward off storm surges.
The lesson in all of this is that, as the globe warms, the rich will get richer, and those with the resources to adapt will benefit from the ingenuity of those who peddle adaptations. But the buoyant optimism Funk encounters in Greenland and the Netherlands is countered by a bleak, desperate scramble to make do in poorer parts of the world. In Senegal, for example, foresters are trying, seemingly in vain, to build a “Great Green Wall” to fend off an encroaching Sahara Desert. And there’s a literal wall going up on the border between India and Bangladesh—the latter is expected to lose the southern fifth of its country to rising sea levels, displacing between 20 and 30 million people, while the former is constructing a fence, at the cost of $1.2 billion, to keep out a so-called “silent invasion” of Bangladeshis.
“The hardest truth about climate change is that it is not equally bad for everyone,” Funk writes. “Some people—the rich, the northern—will find ways to thrive while others cannot, and many people will wall themselves off from the worst effects of warming while others remain on the wrong side.”
It’s a sobering message. Even so, Funk’s Windfall is likely to be one of the few books on climate change you’ll actually enjoy. That’s due in no small part to Funk himself, who has a satirist’s eye and is keenly attuned to the foibles and quirks of the entrepreneurs he meets in his travels. Yet he avoids falling back on oversimplification or easy stereotype, and he’s an affable narrator with a knack for deadpan, dark humor. When dark humor stops being funny and starts being just dark, Funk can’t be blamed. After all, the climate is changing.