“The Uninhabitable Earth”

When I received my weekly copy of the Economist last Saturday, as usual I went straight to the Books & Arts section. There was a review of a recently published book, in a new genre labeled “climate porn.” The book is The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warmingby David Wallace-Wells. It’s likely to send climate change deniers into apoplectic discombobulation. Cool. (I’ve written a blog posting that included information about an article he published in New York Magazine in 2017.) The prior week, the Guardian (UK) had also published a review of the book. So, being the curious type, after reading reviews in two of my three favorite newspapers (the third being the New York Times), I began reading it.

Many of you, no doubt, have heard of Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. Silent Spring was a societal wake-up call highlighting the environmental damage caused by the random, ubiquitous use of pesticides. When I was in high school, (Boston English – the oldest high school in the United States), it was a Main Selection of the Book-of-the- Month Club. That was in 1962. (I don’t remember the month, though.) It became a classic of the environmental movement. If memory serves me, the deniers were out in full force. Many of our environmental laws stem from Ms. Carson’s seminal work. Like “Silent Spring”, “The Uninhabitable Earth” is a clarion call demanding that society wake up, understand the science and its consequences, and recognize the potential disaster by somnolence and inaction.

Wallace-Wells, the author, a former Deputy Editor of The Paris Review, cites reports, conversations, surveys and statistics and translates them into prose that causes a visceral reaction. Climate change is real. It is anthropogenic. Twenty of the past twenty-two years have been the warmest on record. Megastorms are the “new abnormal”. Species extinction is a regularity. The White House has shown that it does not take the science of climate change as a serious national security threat. It has rejected the reports of its own government, warnings from its national security heads, and placed a denier on a new commission to review climate change.

This post is not intended as a book review. I’ll leave that to the professional writers. Books like “The Uninhabitable Earth” emotionally shock and provoke. In my view, we need more publications (“wonk”ish and/or “blog”ish) that shock and provoke to stimulate action at all levels (local, state, national, supranational, etc.). The bar has been set high. As Wallace-Wells points out, we have the tools necessary to address the issues. We need the will. I believe it is this generation’s “Silent Spring”. It is, I believe, essential.

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