Getting Soaked? Climate Crisis, Adaptation Finance, and Racialized Austerity
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As the effects of austerity continue to ravage cities and the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, municipal officials around the world are struggling to pay for climate adaptation. Some cities have already begun to anticipate the new infrastructures that climate change will require, while others have been forced to adapt in real time as climate crises have arrived in spectacular ways. Two of the most emblematic events are Superstorm Sandy, which drenched New York City in October 2012, and the drought-induced crisis of water scarcity in Cape Town, South Africa, which was most visible between 2016 and 2018. In both cases, the cities turned to green bonds, a form of municipal finance that foregrounds environmental ambitions. In this paper, we track the forms of adaptation projects that green borrowing are earmarked to fund. Drawing from scholarship on the financialization of nature alongside recent work on racial capitalism and austerity, we find that rather than transformative municipal change each city is largely carrying on with projects that reinscribe existing inequalities in the city. In addition to reflecting inequalities already present in the two cities, however, the use of municipal debt for adaptation intensifies risks, both financial and environmental, borne primary by the poor or working class people of color. Building on qualitative fieldwork in Cape Town, New York, and across the green bond investment chain, we argue that the risks posed by climate change in the city cannot be financialized away. Ultimately, we call for the end of municipal austerity driven by national and supranational budgeting choices in favor of increasing national funding of municipal adaptation by rescaling borrowing to higher political scales that can more progressively distribute risks.
CitationBigger P, Millington N. Getting soaked? Climate crisis, adaptation finance, and racialized austerity. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. 2020;3(3):601-623. doi:10.1177/2514848619876539
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