A cutting exploration of how cities drive climate change while being on the frontlines of the coming climate crisis
How will climate change affect our lives? Where will its impacts be most deeply felt? Are we doing enough to protect ourselves from the coming chaos? In Extreme Cities, Ashley Dawson argues that cities are ground zero for climate change, contributing the lion's share of carbon to the atmosphere, while also lying on the frontlines of rising sea levels. Today, the majority of the world's megacities are located in coastal zones, yet few of them are adequately prepared for the floods that will increasingly menace their shores. Instead, most continue to develop luxury waterfront condos for the elite and industrial facilities for corporations. These not only intensify carbon emissions, but also place coastal residents at greater risk when water levels rise.
In Extreme Cities, Dawson offers an alarming portrait of the future of our cities, describing the efforts of Staten Island, New York, and Shishmareff, Alaska residents to relocate; Holland's models for defending against the seas; and the development of New York City before and after Hurricane Sandy. Our best hope lies not with fortified sea walls, he argues. Rather, it lies with urban movements already fighting to remake our cities in a more just and equitable way.
As much a harrowing study as a call to arms Extreme Cities is a necessary read for anyone concerned with the threat of global warming, and of the cities of the world.
Ashley Dawson is a professor of English at the City University of New York, and the author of Extinction: A Radical History.
"Extreme Cities is a ground-breaking investigation of the vulnerability of our cities in an age of climate chaos. We feel safe and protected in the middle of our great urban areas, but as Sandy and Katrina made clear, and as this fine book reveals anew, the massive shifts on our earth increasingly lay bare the social inequalities that fracture our civilization."
– Bill McKibben, author and founder of 350.org
"A substantive contribution to the growing dialogue about our response – or lack thereof – to climate change."
– Kirkus Reviews
"The way we design and live in cities will determine humanity's ability to avoid an anthropogenic mass extinction event in the coming century. Dawson makes this vividly clear in Extreme Cities, laying out in detail the nature of the problem and some possible positive actions we can take. Crucial to his argument is the fact that technological solutions will not be enough, so that we need to drastically reform the capitalist economic system to properly price and value the biosphere and human lives. His point that social justice is now a necessary survival strategy makes this not just a meticulous history and analysis of our situation, but also an exciting call to action."
– Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Red Mars Trilogy and New York 2140
"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."
– Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Cities both in the North and the South are already suffering the effects of climate change. Government and business fitfully recognize and respond, but in ways that reinforce existing injustices and as often as not make things worse. Dawson shows how social movements have combined action on disaster relief with forms of equitable common life to produce models for radical adaptation from which we can all learn. This is a brillant summation of what we know and what we can do build a new kind of city in the ruins of the old."
– McKenzie Wark, author of Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene
"Many books have elucidated the ever-increasing dangers of climate change, particularly the disastrous impact that rising sea levels will have on coastal regions, but Dawson goes further as he outlines some potential solutions to this crisis. Massive technological projects may not be what's needed, he finds; instead, the solution may already exist in radical movements to forge a more just and equitable society."
– Publishers Weekly
"A powerful argument in a dire situation: that we revise our cities to the new game changer, or climate change will revise urban existences as we know it."
– Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, director-general of Bengal Institute of Architecture, Landscapes and Settlements
"A sophisticated and provocative exploration of the unfolding impact of climate change on urban environments."
– Christoph Lindner, Professor of Urban Theory and Visual Culture, University of Oregon
"A revelatory confrontation between two forms of 'surplus liquidity': the rent-seeking excess of circulating global capital and the more literal liquidity of the rising tides of climate change. The setting is the city and this meticulously researched and argued book probes the nexus of myopia, greed, environmental disaster – and hope – that has placed the urban habitat of billions of us in extremis."
– Michael Sorkin, author of All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities
"A must-read for everyone who wants to understand the politics of climate change in an increasingly urban planet, and to explore the possibilities for radical change beyond all technological fixes and governmental adjustments that only reproduce the system as it is."
– Marco Armiero, director of the Environmental Humanities Laboratory, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
"An ultimate call to action."
– Joep Janssen, author of Living with the Mekong: Climate Change and Urban Development in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta
"A superb essay of political ecology, Extreme Cities demonstrates that there is nothing more depending on nature than the city, offering both a diagnosis and a possible therapy for one of the greatest challenges of our time."
– Serenella Iovino, editor of Material Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities: Voices from the Anthropocene
"Extreme Cities takes the critical long view to challenge city decision-makers to deal seriously with the clash of business-as-usual development, threats from climate change, and persistent social inequality to develop real transformations to drive cities toward sustainability and resilience."
– Timon McPhearson, Director, Urban Systems Lab at The New School, New York City
"With the majority of humanity located in cities, it behooves us to consider urban ecologies as recent and future sites of non-natural disasters as well as inspiring places of collective resilience and struggles for justice. Dawson's book is a guiding light."
– T.J. Demos, Professor of History of Art and Visual Culture at UC Santa Cruz, Director of its Center for Creative Ecologies
"The definitive study of an urban – and planetary – system pushed to the breaking point. Extreme Cities paints a terrifying, but also hopeful, picture, weaving together accounts of iron-fisted states, greedy real estate developers, and the communities that challenge their rule."
– Jason W. Moore, author of Capitalism in the Web of Life
"A profoundly sobering picture of climate change's uneven urban toll, both across global expanses and within particular neighborhoods, while also spotlighting instances of radical, on-the-ground resistance to such trends."
– Emily Scott, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zuric and co-editor of Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics
"[Ashley Dawson] is well attuned to the ways that upheavals and disasters disproportionately affect the socioeconomically disadvantaged. As Donald Trump continues to roll back protection measures and disavow the U.S.'s role in global cooperation to mitigate the effects of climate change, this book is a clear-eyed reminder of who, and what, will be left most vulnerable as a result."
– Fast Company
"Dawson's book destroys the comforting global discourse of climate change, resilience and adaptation and introduces the key words of our time: the dramatic 'climate apartheid' currently unfolding in front of us. A shrewd analysis of the prodigious contradiction of capitalism at the time of the anthropocene: what happens when coastal cities, the great capital sinks of capital, literally sink."
– Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, coauthor of The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us
"Books on climate change are a dime a dozen now, but few, if any, truly reckon with the potential scale of the disasters that await. Dawson reveals the inadequacies of current plans to deal with the problems that cities around the world will face. Forget such buzzwords as 'green cities,' 'resilience,' and 'sustainable development' – the age of 'disaster communism' is here."
– Publishers Weekly
"Extreme Cities is a sobering account of how planetary urbanization has put us on a collision course with the natural world."
– Sierra Club
"Extreme Cities is an angry book – as it should be. [...] .Ashley Dawson outlines the existential dilemma facing coastal cities, and the refusal of various powerbrokers to acknowledge that reality, in bold and frequently horrifying terms."
– Chris Barsanti, Rain Taxi