The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
David Wallace-Wells 2019
“It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life undeformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not inescapably within and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down. None of this is true. " David Wallace-Wells
There are two natural reactions to bad news.
1- Ignore it, discount it, and blame the messenger.
2- Ask questions, try to understand the implications, and try to act on it.
Sometimes when bad news is SOOOOO bad that it breaks the brain, there's no choice but to pick option 1. Hope it goes away, delay thinking about it, and create a knowledge cocoon that avoids any evidence of it. Option 2 is much harder. It's unpleasant and uncomfortable, especially when it challenges established norms, but it's the only way to get past bad news and inconvenient truths. It requires re-ordering our beliefs, our behaviors, and our very identities. Some people would rather die that do that. During the Covid-19 epidemic, many people did exactly that in the face of bad news.
This, in a nutshell is where we are on the climate change debate. I'm reading more about the climate this year as I'm working on my next novel that will delve deeply into the subject. This book, Uninhabitable Earth, is a true downer, full of scenarios most of us would rather not think about, and scientific repercussions of our continuing climate crisis. I won't recount all of the depressing details that Mr. Wallace-Wells presents, but here is a quick summary:
- Rising temperatures will add more heat stress that will surely kill humans, plants, and animals and force many to migrate to cooler areas.
- Hotter climates will lower agricultural yields and could cause a rise in hunger.
- The ocean could rise up to 3 feet by the end of the century (more in some areas), causing flooding and shoreline erosion.
- Wildfires will increase, and the carbon released from the trees will exacerbate global warming.
- Natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes will increase in intensity and damage
- Demand for fresh water will rise and shortages are very likely
- The oceans will become warmer and more acidic, killing coral reefs and possibly shifting important ocean currents like the Gulf Stream.
- The air we breathe will become hotter and dirtier, resulting in more lung diseases.
- Diseases like Lyme, Malaria, and Zika will migrate to once cooler regions
- Economic growth will be threatened as the cognitive effects of hot weather drag down productivity.
- As areas become uninhabitable, climate migrants of over 100 million are likely in a few decades.
Most climate deniers that choose option 1 remain blissfully ignorant of the above. Those of us who dwell on the likely effects of climate change can get hopeless and depressed reading books like this that spell it all out. We've known this was coming for decades, and what have we done about it??? Facing any problem head-on and asking the right questions is the first and only step into dealing with it. Hopefully after that first step we can come up with workable options like alternative sources of energy that can give us hope again.
There are many good people who are working on solutions to this growing problem, but this book doesn't get into that too much. This is a no-nonsense wake up call to cut carbon emissions as soon as possible. Oil companies and their defenders in government will drag their feet on this for as long as they possibly can. Only when things finally get bad enough will the public finally demand action.
Given the rise of conspiracy theories and disinformation, there will be plenty of scapegoats and finger-pointing as things get bad. The hard work of scientists and writers like Mr. Wallace-Wells is the first step in building a consensus on what will need to be done. Option 1 is no longer a valid option, if it ever was.