2 Stars Reviews

Book Review: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

David Wallace-Wells expands his viral article of the same name into a terrifying full-length examination of the consequences of unchecked climate change. By examining a multiplicity of effects of global warming, such as the increase in powerful natural disasters to economic depression like nothing we’ve ever seen, Wallace-Wells paints a stark picture of our future world and implores us to act.

“If the planet was brought to the brink of climate catastrophe within
the lifetime of a single generation, the responsibility to avoid it belongs
with a single generation too. We all know that second lifetime.

It is ours.”

With the recent climate marches here in London, it seemed like the perfect time to finally read The Uninhabitable Earth, which had been sat on my reading list for some time. I began with the expectation that I’d learn more about the effects that climate change is having, and will have in the scarily not-so-distant future, on our planet, not only in terms of nature but also economy and migration. Granted, that is exactly what I got, but it wasn’t an easy read. While Wallace-Wells isn’t really an alarmist, the content of his book is alarming enough. Horrifying, even, at points. It’s not an easy read in that sense; it’s depressing how bad things will very likely get and how little we as individuals can do about it. It’s not only a bleak book; it’s also very dense. At points, I felt like I was just reading statistic after statistic, except the statistics didn’t really give me any clear indication of where we are and where we might end up. They would range from one climate scientist’s prediction to another’s which was ten times worse. ‘Bad’ was the overall impression I got, but it was difficult to see distinctly how bad. Fair enough, the scientists themselves don’t know so a specific figure can’t ever really be quoted. I don’t fault Wallace-Wells for not being able to tell me exactly how terrible things will be, but that doesn’t make the barrage of percentages any easier to get through.

The second section of the book, titled ‘Elements of Chaos’, was much more engaging. It looked at 12 different aspects of climate change, from wildfires to famine, and addressed how these will worsen with each degree of warming. These sections considered the effect of climate change on a few different countries but for the most part, the book was quite America-centric, with a lot of references to climate politics in the USA and how climate change would affect different parts of the country. Most of the time, temperature was referred to in Fahrenheit; a system used by the US and a handful of other smaller countries, but not by the vast majority of the world. This Americentrism is understandable from the standpoint that the author is American, but this book is about the entire world so I would have like to have seen a little more breadth.

Ultimately, this book definitely got me scared about the future of our planet, but its density and lack of suggestions for how individuals can help, aside from voting for what we hope will be the right politicians, left me desperate for it to end and, worringly, no more inclined to attempt to curb my own additions to climate change. Instead, it left me feeling helpless and in need of a pick-me-up read.

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

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