ASK Musings

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August 2019



The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars


Best for:
Those looking for specific clear descriptions of what the earth may look like at different levels of warming.

In a nutshell:
Science writer Wallace-Wells looks at what has happened so far, what is likely to happen, and what the greater implicates will be as related to climate change.

Worth quoting:
“Almost regardless of your politics or your consumption choices, the wealthier you are, the larger your carbon footprints.”

“More than 140 million people in just three regions of the world will be made climate migrants by 2050.”

“Every round-trip plane ticket from New York to London, keep in mind, costs the Arctic three more square meters of ice.”

Why I chose it:
The author spoke with Chris Hayes on his ‘Why is This Happening?’ podcast. I’ve not yet listened to the episode but will now that I’ve read the book


This book is great if you are interested in having more information on specifically what we are looking at when it comes to climate change. In addition to everything we’ve seen recently (more storms, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK and other parts of Europe, fires raging above the arctic circle), Wallace-Wells dives deeply into the specific horrors we can expect to see, including: loss of crops, increased deaths in hot temperatures, areas becoming unlivable, oceans dying, air becoming more polluted, and climate conflict, among others. It is bleak.

It’s even more distressing when you consider, as he does, that we’ve known there are issues for years an we continue to do nothing. If we’d started cutting back on our emissions when we learned about these issues we would have been able to make slight cuts annually; now we need to make huge changes, which means altering every aspect of our lives, starting at the government and corporate levels (sorry, but the ableist straw bans so many people pushed for over the last year won’t do much of anything to slow global warming; in fact our plastic use apparently has very little direct impact on climate change in general).

The book is an interesting and well-researched read, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions. ‘Reduce emissions everywhere, everyone’ may in fact be the reality we need to fact, but there’s nothing here that offers ideas for a path forward. At times it feels almost fatalistic, even though the author repeatedly points out that the future is not written and we can still make changes. By describing the problem and talking a bit about what it means philosophically should humanity essentially go extinct, the author keeps himself in a very specific lane.

I would have perhaps enjoyed instead a book that included all of this science writing and then, with a second author and a second part, laid out the specific steps we need to take. We need action in the form of huge, sweeping changes, which starts with voting in the leaders who will take those actions. But also … I’d like to see what are the actions that have been proposed and are feasible? And what does feasibility look like when we’re talking about something as dire as this? I included that quote about flights at the top of my review because, despite all I’m doing to reduce my footprint (not eating meat, not having children, not owning a car), I’m writing this on family vacation in New England, having flown in from London a week ago. I fly to the US at least twice a year, and in that I’m causing a huge problem. Should air travel stop? What would that mean for other aspects of life? Movement of goods? Movement of mail? Do those of us who live far from family just say goodbye?

I guess my point here is that I’m already sold on the problems, though it is good to have specific areas to point to. I’m interested now in learning about the different solutions and having the conversation about what it means to implement those solutions.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

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