‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ - An overwhelmingly uncomfortable truth presented by David Wallace-Wells

A short review of a story of the future

Despite purchasing ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ in 2019, it took the effects of a global pandemic - almost a year later - to provide me with enough time to read through the extensive amount of statistics that this book presents. The author himself calls readers ‘brave’ as he exposes enough uncomfortable truths to ‘induce a panic attack in even the most optimistic of those considering’ them. Whilst my university course and general interest in the global crisis meant that I approached the book armed with some degree of knowledge, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the ugly reality that Wallace-Wells uncovers. Yet despite this, I urge everyone to read it.

After twelve chapters of facts and projections, Wells voices his concern that, ‘on screens, climate change is everywhere, yet nowhere in focus’. Whilst, gratefully, Greta Thunberg is an environmental hero for bringing the existential climate crisis to the forefront of the world’s mind in 2019, I can’t help but think that we are quick to forget that this is a global on-going and in fact, worsening issue. With that considered, the author seems right to express that the climate crisis is still not a priority for everyone; still nowhere in focus. This isn’t to say that recent advances haven’t been made but instead, is a plea for progression to continue or rather, amplify.

With the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ being used more in 2020 than ever before, it is unsurprising that the global pandemic has halted climate discussions, threatening to undo what little we have so far managed to achieve. With fears of shrinking economies and drastic loss of income, the climate crisis is likely to go unconsidered as the world emerges from lockdown. Already, the opening of cafes for takeaways has brought about the increase in single-use plastic as reusable cups, cutlery and packaging are no longer accepted, let alone encouraged. The images of face-masks washed up on Hong Kong’s beaches reflect a small insight into the future of the environment as a result of COVID-19, with plastic straws and bags perhaps no longer being the main culprits behind ‘more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050’ (Ellen MacArthur).

The World Bank recently stated that, for the first time in 60 years, the developing world’s economies will shrink rather than grow, plunging approximately 100 million more people into extreme poverty. This frightening prediction may suggest that climate change shouldn’t be the priority and instead, the fossil fuels which sustain our economies should be burnt faster, helping to rebuild emerging countries and avoid as much loss of income as possible. But at what point do we stop? At what point do we face the facts that the very fuels which sustain our economies now, will completely destroy them, along with us, later? (A future that is far closer than we may think.) As our addictive societies - home to excessive consumption, high mobilities and soaring carbon emissions - causes our appetite for more to grow, we increasingly become numb to guilt and consequence. Perhaps instead, we should focus on the overwhelmingly uncomfortable truths presented by David Wallace-Wells.

Whilst people are often happy avoiding the issue until it affects them directly, climate change is a silent killer in the sense that we won’t know it’s too late, until it is. It’s difficult to stay motivated to change when we aren’t all being devastated by the effects of this crisis (yet). With the United Kingdom predicted to be one of the considerably better off countries when it comes to feeling the effects of climate change, we are left with even less motivation to contribute to the much-needed global reconstruction. Yet ironically, we are one of the major causes of the crisis’ existence - with the history of the Industrial Revolution being a catalyst for the emergence of a new geological epoch, whereby humans are the main meddlers of the global climate (the Anthropocene).

However, perhaps guilt of our history or genuine compassion for those more vulnerable, as well as future generations, will override fears of a halted green movement. Recently, the government has suggested that an expansion of jobs in the green sector could help tackle high rates of unemployment as a result of the global pandemic. Whilst ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ exposes a future of heightened catastrophe, Wallace-Wells still manages to finish with a hint of optimism, so I’ll attempt to do the same. With enough awareness and motivation, perhaps the pandemic could bring about new innovations and ways of living that help restore our global environment, rather than hinder its growth further. Clutching onto this final hope seems the only means to be productive in an otherwise disaster-prone future. So, I’d highly recommend reading this book in order for climate change to become the focus of all of our lives, so that humans can do what we clearly do best with nature, and meddle some more. Only this time, it will hopefully be with more positive intentions and outcomes.

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