Extreme Cities | Ashley Dawson

Summary of: Extreme Cities: Climate Chaos and the Urban Future
By: Ashley Dawson


Extreme Cities: Climate Chaos and the Urban Future by Ashley Dawson dives into the harsh reality of climate change and its impact on cities. The book highlights the vulnerabilities of coastal cities such as Miami, New Orleans, and New York, as well as the devastating social consequences of climate inaction. Furthermore, Dawson discusses how environmental engineering projects often exacerbate the problems they aim to solve through ‘blowback,’ leading to unforeseen issues down the line. As you explore this summary, you’ll gain valuable insights into the intricate relationship between urban development, climate change, and the growing divide between the rich and the poor.

The Impending Doom of Miami

Miami, a great American city, is in danger of being wiped out due to climate change. As a coastal city, it has a vulnerability to sea level rise, and with its porous limestone sitting foundation, migrating seawater continues to permeate the city. In addition, the expensive pumps installed to manage water problems only compound issues by mixing sewage with the drinking water supply, a practice that puts residents at risk of contamination. Meanwhile, Miami’s power source relies heavily on vulnerable coastal regions that are susceptible to frequent flooding and hurricanes. Even worse, reports suggest that the nuclear station contaminates the city’s water with radioactive waste. Although official projections suggest Miami has a few decades to prepare for the worst, it’s likely that the city will collapse sooner than anticipated, yet no one dares to speak out for fear of hurting the city’s thriving real estate market. Even Governor Rick Scott denies the true cause of climate change and takes no action. Meanwhile, wealthy inhabitants of condos with ocean views enjoy their property, ignoring the impending catastrophe that could render it uninhabitable within the decade.

Louisiana’s Coastal Catastrophe

Louisiana is witnessing a catastrophic loss of land the size of Manhattan every month due to shortsightedness, corruption, and harmful human activity. The engineering approach meant to prevent flooding is creating a devastating blowback effect, starving inland areas of water and depriving Delta wetlands of the sediment they require. Environmental engineering has led to catastrophic consequences by inadvertently causing more issues than resolving. Oil and gas companies drilling in the wetlands and killing marsh plants have only added to the problem. Louisiana’s coast needs urgent evacuation now, demanding a complete turnaround from oil and gas exploration.

New York City’s Greenwashing on Climate Resilience and Social Equity

Despite New York City’s claims of being climate-aware and resilient, construction and development continue to occur in the floodplain, contradicting the PlaNYC initiative. Consultants advised the city to retreat from flood-prone areas and install waterfront parks as barriers. However, capitalism prevailed, and Jamaica Bay, the largest salt marsh in the city, has suffered due to pollution and sea level rise. Past engineering and pollution have destroyed natural barriers, leaving the city to build concrete seawalls that worsen conditions in Jamaica Bay. The need for additional construction raises costs, and environmental engineering destroys natural protections, leading to a cycle of fixing what past “fixes” broke.

Holland’s Battle Against Rising Seas

Holland has been successful in holding back the ocean with engineering feats but its river defenses partially block rivers which are now a threat to the land areas due to increasing rainfall caused by climate change. Dutch leaders acknowledge that more severe storms are coming and neither ocean barriers nor river defenses will prevail against this. Thus, the government advises a gradual retreat from river shores and calls for a “home-by-home” approach, rooftop gardens, tree planting, and solar and wind energy sources. Holland accepts that mass retreat will one day be the only option.

Climate Change Impacts on the Poor

Climate change affects the poor more than the wealthy, mainly in southern cities and developing nations. The wealthiest contribute more to emissions, leading to extreme weather that displaces people and causes conflict. Rich nations put up walls to keep out climate refugees and cite fear to justify contracting private firms for disaster capitalism. Thousands of people die every year trying to enter wealthy nations, which let the poor suffer. Officials’ fear of climate refugees masks their hypocrisy, lack of empathy, and forgetfulness of the past violence Westerners wreaked on colonies.

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