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Earth Day Reading: 'Extreme Cities' by Ashley Dawson

Cover of "Extreme Cities" book by Graduate Center Professor Ashley DawsonExtreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change, by Professor Ashley Dawson (GC/Staten Island, English), might lead you to take Earth Day more seriously this year.
As Dawson recently told CUNY’s Book Beat podcast, “We’re looking at potentially catastrophic levels of climate change and sea-level rise if we keep on the track we’re on right now.”
The facts, as presented by Dawson both in his book and his recent interview, are grim. Reports leading up to last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, showed that even if most major countries keep the promises they made under the Paris Agreement — a scenario that appears highly unlikely — the earth’s temperature will wind up 3 degrees centigrade hotter by 2100.
Warmer temperatures lead to rising sea levels, and to flooding in coastal cities. That, in turn, would leave “hundreds of millions of people displaced, and, in the United States, the bottom third of Florida underwater and the Mississippi Delta gone,” Dawson told Book Beat.
Dawson drew on his own experiences in New York when writing Extreme Cities. “I began teaching at CUNY in 2001, so I’ve seen a number of different disasters befall this city,” he said. “In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, once again I saw the city reeling when it was struck by a major disaster.”
Despite the devastation, people in New York came quickly to the help of their neighbors, he said. “It’s very important to think about grassroots responses to natural disasters of various kinds.” For the book, which was named one of the top books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly, he interviewed many volunteers with Occupy Sandy and similar relief efforts.
In the years since Sandy, New York has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure and in “climate-proofing,” Dawson noted. And some countries, like the Netherlands, are pioneering methods of using natural infrastructure, such as wetlands, to protect cities and counter the effects of climate change — another promising sign, he said.
Yet these efforts seem small compared to the potential risks of a warmer earth. “Given the…perilous future we face, we’re going to have to reckon with retreat: retreating from certain parts of the country and the world that are really threatened,” Dawson said. “We have to think about mass climate refugees and how we’ll cope — both within this country and internationally — with large numbers of displaced people.”
To stop further climate change, “we need a just transition to a post‒fossil fuel society,” Dawson said an interview with the Princeton Environmental Initiative. He finds hope in New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent announcement that the city would divest its public pension funds from fossil fuel‒related investments and sue the five biggest fossil fuel companies. “The nation’s biggest and richest city is taking on the world’s biggest and most irresponsible industry. New York’s stirring challenge suggests that we may have arrived at a historic turning point in the struggle to avert global climate catastrophe.”

Submitted on: APR 10, 2018

Category: English | Faculty | General GC News