The uninhabitable Earth : a story of the future,
by David Wallace-Wells. Penguin, 2019.
A book review by Margaret Gwynn
This is a terrifying book, taking as its topic what warming means to the way we live on this planet.
I thought I was reasonably well-informed about the damage being wreaked upon our planet by climate change. But the scale of destruction detailed in this book- fires, heat waves, floods, sea level rise, hurricanes, food shortages, ocean acidification, air pollution, much of it already happening - is deeply shocking.
After twelve chapters devoted to the current and extremely probable effects of climate change, the author turns to the stories we tell ourselves – negative emissions, carbon capture, technological solutions like artificial intelligence, escape to Mars, He says “imagination is not the hard part. We have imagined and even developed some solutions. We just haven’t discovered the political will, economic might and cultural flexibility to install and activate them, because doing so requires … a complete overhaul of the world’s energy systems, transportation, infrastructure and industry and agriculture” p. 178-9. Instead, he says, “the church of technology has instructed us to regard the world beyond our phones as less real, less urgent and less meaningful than the worlds made available to us through our screens” p.184.
The author concludes that we have thirty years to completely de-carbonise the world before truly devastating climate horrors begin. Environmental panic and despair are already growing, and he lists books advocating withdrawal and detachment.
David Wallace-Wells is not one of those authors, though he leaves it to a footnote to declare his position. We need to become one global people, we need a community of political resistance and a renewed egalitarian energy. “Meaningful, even dramatic change, can be achieved through the familiar paths of voting, organizing and political activity deployed at every level. In other words, I believe in engagement above all, engagement wherever it may help. In fact, I find any other response to the climate crisis morally incomprehensible” p.295.
A hard book to read, but impossible to ignore. Will any other Sea of Faithers be brave enough to tackle it and find ways to act?