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The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019)

by David Wallace-Wells

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1,5175812,035 (3.95)34
"It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible. In California, wildfires now rage year-round, destroying thousands of homes. Across the US, "500-year" storms pummel communities month after month, and floods displace tens of millions annually. This is only a preview of the changes to come. And they are coming fast. Without a revolution in how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth could become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century. In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await--food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today. Like An Inconvenient Truth and Silent Spring before it, The Uninhabitable Earth is both a meditation on the devastation we have brought upon ourselves and an impassioned call to action. For just as the world was brought to the brink of catastrophe within the span of a lifetime, the responsibility to avoid it now belongs to a single generation"--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
--David Wallace-Wells is a journalist, author, and deputy editor of New York magazine. His book The Uninhabitable Earth contains a worrying message for readers. It will make many reassess their opinions on climate change, the burning of carbon fuels and the future of the Earth. Wallace-Wells presents a story of a not-so-distant future global society that differs significantly from the twentieth-century one of our parents and grandparents. Indeed, because of climate change, socioeconomic progress is being rethought as a concept. The book is, firstly, a wake-up call about the ecological crises primarily caused by humans (and includes scientific research about the impact of global warming on all our societies). Secondly, the book contemplates how we understand or fail to comprehend today’s and tomorrow’s climate change threats.
--The unfolding speed of climate change and how individuals, societies, and governments could respond to it are discussed in mainstream media and national debates. We regularly view televised news stories about wildfires, floods, droughts, mutating infectious diseases, and ruined crops. All of these are connected to changing weather patterns and climate change. Not to mention climate change-induced human migration, which sees people move from their homelands to safer countries looking for work and a new life. However, the sheer scale of climate change means the significance of individual stories is lost. Our human minds struggle to comprehend the problems and find it easier not to think about climate change or dismiss it as an exaggerated problem. Wallace-Wells investigates the ‘collective understanding’ of the global threats of increasing temperature for nature, humanity, our economies and societies. Based on a temperature increase of 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius, the picture of the future will see global societies emerge that function very differently from the current ones.
--In light of this, the book’s central argument accounts for the ‘human costs of human life continuing as it has for a generation’ and ‘what ongoing global warming spells for public health, for conflict, for politics and food production and pop culture, for urban life and mental health and the way we imagine our own futures as we begin to perceive, all around us, an acceleration of history and the diminishing of possibility that acceleration likely brings’ (pp.35-36).
--The book’s research originates from ‘interviews with dozens of experts’ and from reading hundreds of scholarly papers (p.35). Wallace-Wells highlights the book’s scientific research approach; however, he acknowledges that future events are unpredictable and science cannot predict the future. Instead, the science is ‘tentative, ever-evolving, and some of the predictions that follow will surely not come precisely to pass’ (p.35). In addition, the author declares that future scenarios of a ‘human-engineered’ climate analysed in the book focus on a temperature of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius warmer. However, comments also discuss the consequences of higher temperatures (possibly 3 to 6 degrees Celsius).
--Still, Wallace-Wells remains somewhat 'optimistic' about the future while aware of and concerned about the growing ecological problems. For instance, carbon capture technology and geoengineering might assist us in cooling the planet. So, the author says, we should prepare for a ‘grim’ future, not an ‘apocalyptic’ one (p.31). Wallace-Wells comments that we should take responsibility for alleviating the causes and challenges of climate change. By doing so, we are helping ourselves and future generations (p.31).
--Wallace-Wells explains climate change as happening in a cascade-like fashion (also known as ‘systems crises’). It is something already underway. The author says the ‘cascades’ will occur at the global and regional levels but will be difficult to predict. The changes will not be ‘discrete’ (p. 20); ‘Instead they will produce a new kind of cascading violence, waterfalls and avalanches of devastation… in ways that build on each other and undermine our ability to respond, uprooting much of the landscape we have taken for granted, for centuries, as the stable foundation on which we walk’ (p. 21). Living outside of our historical environmental conditions, the ones we evolved in biologically, culturally and socially, is explored by Wallace-Wells: this ‘...reckoning is the subject of this book’ (p. 35).
--The book consists of four parts and 12 chapters. Part One (‘Cascades’) introduces Wallace-Wells’s main argument. Part Two (‘Elements of Chaos’) unpacks this argument and delves into several interrelated consequences linked with climate change. These short but well-argued topics are rising temperatures and heat deaths; agriculture, food production and hunger; rising sea levels and flooding; wildfires; increasing natural disasters; freshwater shortage and pollution problems; dying oceans; air pollution and the quality of life; economic demise; climate-induced conflicts; and systems crises.
--Part Three (‘The Climate Kaleidoscope’) looks at how our lives will have to radically change and adapt to the challenges caused by long-term fossil fuel burning. The topics cover how we make sense of our natural world and climate change through stories in movies, literature and journalism, the problems capitalists have with nature, the impact of technology, mass consumption, and ethics and climate change. Lastly, Part Four (‘The Anthropic Principle’) highlights how global societies and governments are better informed about addressing ecological problems should they wish to mobilise and implement policies accordingly.
--The single weakness of the book is the repetition in Part One. Nevertheless, Wallace-Wells’s strength is his message’s broad analysis. In summary, The Uninhabitable Earth (and Wallace-Wells’s recent observations) argue that Planet Earth is approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer today than before Britain’s 1760 to 1840 CE Industrial Revolution. However, most of the increase in global warming has occurred in the last 30 years (from about the 1990s onwards). Therefore, we live in a different natural climate from our not-so-distant ancestors. We inhabit a world different from the recent past. In short, carbon in the atmosphere has increased to the point that it has changed, or is changing, the Earth’s weather and ecology. We have a mental dilemma; our current mindset about nature is based on twentieth-century thinking. Yet, we need to evolve speedily to face the reality of climate change.
--Entrenched power structures and elites benefitting from the status quo and the establishment will resist the need for climate-induced social transformation. After all, climate change will disrupt cultural, intellectual, and ideological spheres. Despite this pushback, Wallace-Wells argues that the international community must address global warming promptly. Some elements of current socio-economic activities will remain to manage climate change, while society will rethink other socio-economic activities. At the same time, society will terminate some long-standing socio-economic activities. The author says ecological awareness is evident at the national government and grassroots levels. The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to make the global temperature no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels) and below 2 degrees Celsius by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, we are entering a new climate history, and for the twenty-first century, climate change is the reality for all of humankind. ( )
  Sevket.Akyildiz | Apr 20, 2024 |
This book wasn't what I expected at all. Instead of providing some creative solutions to the ongoing global warming, it simply provides speculation about what life would look like with the consequences of global warming.

While I see some merit in that, I don't really see the purpose of this book, except for it being singularly alarmist. People who believe in climate change don't really get anything out of this except for some chaotically edited passages describing anxiety-inducing scenarios. Those who actually need to be converted won't be persuaded by anything written in here.



( )
  ZeljanaMaricFerli | Mar 4, 2024 |
Book publishers will drive me insane if they continue to give books titles that misrepresent the actual content of the book.

“The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming,” by David Wallace-Wells, isn’t really about the planet Earth after the current episode of global warming is completed.

It’s really about what we can expect from the planet while it is warming. Like right now. And that is what is so terrifying about the book. Instead of focussing on the future, Wallace-Wells is foremost telling us what is happening now under our noses, while our politicians dither.

Economic devastation. Political chaos. Destruction of innumerable species. Roving millions of climate migrants. Unbreathable air. Insufficient quantities of drinkable water. Intractable hunger. Entire metropolises under yards of seawater.

This is going on now. And, oh yes it will intensify to the extent the social world will look much different in even 100 years than it does now.

I must say I would have liked a book that will tell me what the world will look like when global warming is complete because that will surely shock the bejeezus out of most of us.

I think what strikes me most about the way Wallace-Wells tells his story is that climate isn’t this helpless character in a story about the human race. Nature in this story is more powerful than Poseidon himself, transforming great masses of ice into sea levels that will flood huge cities around the world.

Heat will generate more and more powerful storms, huge and I mean huge wildfires. And move human agriculture into areas it was never meant to be.

Wallace-Wells expresses hope at the end of the book — much like Tim Flannery or Bill McKibben — that the apocalypse can be averted. But we can all see with our own eyes that isn’t going to happened.

And there is not a single jurisdiction on the planet that is really planning for the inevitable. ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
“The emergent portrait of suffering is, I hope, horrifying. It is also, entirely, elective.” ( )
  danielskatz | Dec 26, 2023 |
To be honest, the parts of this book that I did not like almost make me want to give it 2-stars, but that is unjustifiably harsh, I think.

The entire first section is, at best, 1.5 stars. I've seen reviews talking about the beautiful prose, the forceful language, etc. No. It's florid. Melodramatic. Hyperbolic in imagery, if not quite in detail (Mr. Wallace-Wells (WW) is open early on that he is describing the (scientific, respectable) worst-case scenarios, not most likely, not those based on any serious action being taken.) If you like your science presented by the most verbose, melodramatic member of your local high-school drama club, this section is for you.

He defends this approach (and, by extension, one assumes the presentation) on the logic that people haven't been paying attention. His theory is that it is because climate change is easy to ignore because it is presented so sanguinely and only as e.g. sea-level change and the occasional extra hurricane. This is... self-evidently false from An Inconvenient Truth to... what was the De Caprio movie, The 11th Hour or something like that... to pretty much every pop-article ever. Yes, actual climate scientists in actual scientific papers are "reticent", but blaming public apathy on that is, to put it kindly, a stretch.

It is in the second section where this knot gets sort-of tied: "because neoliberalism," my ongoing second most-hated "reason" (the first being the ubiquitous "them""they"".) Mostly because neoliberalism has lost most of its meaning ( )
  dcunning11235 | Aug 12, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
“The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells is the most terrifying book I have ever read. Its subject is climate change, and its method is scientific, but its mode is Old Testament. The book is a meticulously documented, white-knuckled tour through the cascading catastrophes that will soon engulf our warming planet: death by water, death by heat, death by hunger, death by thirst, death by disease, death by asphyxiation, death by political and civilizational collapse.
added by melmore | editNew York Times, Farhad Manjoo (Feb 13, 2019)
 
 
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For Risa and Rocca, My mother and father
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It is worse, much worse, than you think.
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"It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible. In California, wildfires now rage year-round, destroying thousands of homes. Across the US, "500-year" storms pummel communities month after month, and floods displace tens of millions annually. This is only a preview of the changes to come. And they are coming fast. Without a revolution in how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth could become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century. In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await--food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today. Like An Inconvenient Truth and Silent Spring before it, The Uninhabitable Earth is both a meditation on the devastation we have brought upon ourselves and an impassioned call to action. For just as the world was brought to the brink of catastrophe within the span of a lifetime, the responsibility to avoid it now belongs to a single generation"--

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Contents:
I. Cascades -- II. Elements of chaos. Heat death ; Hunger ; Drowning ; Wildfire ; Disasters no longer natural ; Freshwater drain ; Dying oceans ; Unbreathable air ; Plagues of warming ; Economic collapse ; Climate conflict ; "Systems" -- III. The climate kaleidoscope. Storytelling ; Crisis capitalism ; The church of technology ; Politics of consumption ; History after progress ; Ethics at the end of the world -- IV. The anthropic principle.
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