Book Review: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

The Unihabitable EarthWhether or not you will find The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells valuable depends on what you’re looking for; if you’re interested in the science of, or evidence for, global warming, or in creative solutions to save the planet, then you are bound to be, like me, disappointed.

The book, rather, focuses almost exclusively on the potential consequences of living on a planet that will experience anywhere from 2 to 8 degrees celsius of warming between now and the year 2100.

First, to state the obvious, global warming is definitely happening, it’s mostly caused by human activity, and the consequences are and will be devastating. This is all beyond reasonable doubt; if you think otherwise, you stand in direct opposition to NASA and to an intergovernmental panel of 1,300 experts from around the world.

But what isn’t so conclusive is the inevitability of the worst-case scenario playing out as Wallace-Wells describes. In fact, when reading the book, it seems as if half the time the author isn’t even buying into his own narrative. He constantly wavers back and forth between exaggeration and hedging, at first narrating some devastating scenario and then reminding us that it’s only speculation. (Keep in mind he’s forecasting events up to 80 years in the future, when we have no idea what kind of technology we’ll have and how the complex climate feedback loops will interact.)

And that’s the real problem with the book. From the outset the author states that this is not a book about the science of climate change, but if your plan is to narrate the consequences of warming, how can you expect your readers to properly evaluate the likelihood of the narrative without the science?

If you want to learn more about global warming, you would get more benefit from visiting NASA’s website on global warming and climate change. Here you will get the facts, science, causes, and consequences of climate change without the alarmist tone and pessimistic narrative.

Yes, climate change is a big problem, maybe the biggest problem, and one we need to address immediately, but it doesn’t help anyone to project the worst-case scenario 80 years into the future without offering anything in the way of solutions. If anything, it causes people to care less about climate change as they feel powerless to prevent it.

A better allocation of chapters for the book, in my opinion, would be one third devoted to the science, one-third devoted to the possible consequences at each degree of warming, and a third devoted to possible solutions and technological research. Instead, we get a book that lists disaster after unmitigated disaster and wild apocalyptic projections. (Compare this to the recently released book on climate change offering productive solutions: A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow.)

Here’s another way to think about it: those of us that understand the science do not need to be scared into thinking that we need to take action, and so his narrative is unlikely to have much of an impact on his sympathetic audience. And for those that doubt the science of global warming to begin with, the narrative is easily dismissed as he doesn’t address the science. So who exactly is the intended readership and what’s the goal?

The bottom line is that there are better resources and books on both the science of climate change and the potential solutions.