Book in the news: a relentlessly grim portrayal of the future

Cover of The Uninhabitable EarthThe Uninhabitable Earth

Life After Warming
David Wallace-Wells
Allen Lane, £20
Buy on Amazon

The scientific consensus is that man-made global warming (or climate change as it is more accurately known) is taking place, but many still argue that its impact will be so limited that it’s not worth taking the necessary steps to bring it under control.

It is safe to say that journalist David Wallace-Wells does not fall into this camp. His latest book expands on a “widely read” magazine article he wrote two years ago that argued that “climate change is upon us and there are indeed scenarios of the future which, while uncertain, are grim”, as Roger Pielke points out in the Financial Times.

For a relatively short book, The Uninhabitable Earth “covers a great deal of cursed ground – drought, floods, wildfires, economic crises, political instability, the collapse of the myth of progress”, says Mark O’Connell in The Guardian. Indeed, at times it feels like “taking a hop-on, hop-off tour of the future’s sprawling hellscape”, so many readers may find it “relentlessly grim reading”.

However, this “alarmist” tone makes it “extremely effective” in shaking the reader out of the “complacency” that Wallace-Wells claims is responsible for fuelling what he terms “climate denialism”.

The book makes the case that climate change is an “existential threat to civilisation”, says Mark Lynas, an environmental activist, in The Times. But the “constant, continued shouts of emergency” risk becoming “part of a numbing background hum”, making the reader “switch off”.

And Wallace-Wells’s conclusion – “that there is no realistic solution to global warming”–  is too pessimistic. The truth is that we are “not powerless to solve climate change in a technical sense — it is just that politically and psychologically we do not want to take the difficult decisions that would be necessary to do so”.