Extreme Cities: The Perils and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change

Ashley Dawson. Verso, $29.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-78478-036-4
Dawson (Extinction: A Radical History), a professor of English at CUNY, takes aim at the empty rhetoric of “green cities” in this forcefully argued and eye-opening polemic. The book’s locales are marked by “stark economic inequality”—the growing gap between those who can afford to insulate themselves from the consequences of climate change and those who cannot. Using New York City as his primary case study, Dawson argues that cities are both on the front lines of climate change and contribute disproportionately to it. Much-touted “fixes” to urban congestion and fragility, such as waterfront development and privately developed affordable-housing projects, serve only to reinforce social and economic inequalities while causing waves of what he dubs “environmental blowback.” Moreover, rising sea levels will likely also necessitate a retreat from coastal cities. For Dawson, countering the threat of climate change must involve dismantling the system of global capitalism that has pushed civilization to the brink of “climate chaos.” The book’s synthesis of reportage, urban history, and climate science can result in the oversimplification of certain issues, but Dawson doesn’t shy away from tough conclusions and makes clear that real climate justice must build “on anti-imperialist, antiracist, and feminist movements.” Dawson makes a convincing case that, unless urban dwellers and civic leaders engage in a fundamental reconceptualization of the city and whom it serves, the future of urban life is dim. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/28/2017
Release date: 10/17/2017
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