‘Extreme Cities,' by Ashley Dawson, Verso, 384 pages, $29.95.
“Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change” examines the intersection of climate change and urbanization, and some of the challenges and contradictions involved. Author Ashley Dawson, an English professor at the City University of New York, seems to be inspired by quasi-anarchist movements like Occupy Sandy. Yet to carry out the kinds of transformations he envisions, like the expropriation of fossil fuel assets, would require a very powerful government, even though he himself argues that moneyed interests have captured the state. Of particular value is Dawson’s discussion of the way climate change adaptation has been sabotaged, even hijacked, by real estate interests. Cities like Miami and New York continue to build luxury buildings on waterfront land that rising sea levels are expected to overrun. Even in developing world cities like Jakarta, projects billed as climate change mitigation, like constructing artificial barrier islands, are really gussied up luxury real estate boondoggles. Dawson can’t identify a clear path to the kinds of extreme reforms he advocates, but at least he puts subjects on the table that many want to avoid facing up to. For instance, rising sea levels are almost guaranteed to require painful retreats from coastal settlement. But it’s much sexier to talk about building green skyscrapers than it is to envision abandoning Miami Beach. The problem for writers like Dawson is that the future they foresee is so gloomy it promotes a fatalism that justifies inaction.
NEW YORK TIMES