“The Uninhabitable Earth” Book Review

An intense and anxiety-provoking work of nonfiction, one that should come with a warning for the faint-hearted, The Uninhabitable Earth is an urgent evaluation of the predicament the climate crisis will force upon the human race in the near future. Through the extensive use of reports on the most up to date climate science and with a distinctly commanding tone and authority, David Wallace-Wells crafts the grim picture of the world that awaits us at various degrees of warming.

With the author as our guide, the reader travels through the future one apocalyptic problem at a time. Blunt chapter titles let the reader know exactly what they’re in for with each page turn; Heat Death, Hunger, Freshwater Drain, Dying Oceans, Unbreathable Air. And as we travel through a time rattled by the climate crisis, one that could be a full-blown reality as soon as 2050, Wallace-Wells points out that the effects of warming have already begun to take shape in today’s world. The disasters that we see on the news, everything from record rain fall and flooding, heat waves, forest fires, natural disasters, refuges seeking new places to settle, will only continue to be exacerbated by a warming world. As these problems become inflated, we’ll only see more problems arise.

Riding on the notion that, “it is worse, much worse, than you think,” this chilling account can leave the reader feeling scared, quite possibly as they should be. Among all the ways climate will ravage the world as we know it, the worst is the reality of dangerous feedback loops in which climate change builds upon itself one issue after the other. Wallace-Wells further describes what he calls the humanities of climate change, what it will do to politics, technology and other human constructs within society. An important note from this impactful analysis of climate change is a look at socioeconomic dynamics that coincide with the crisis. The disheartening juxtaposition of the world’s poorest countries, most often with smaller footprints and lower emissions, ravaged by climate change before the highest emitting, wealthiest countries.

With an extensive note section that backs up each fact, there’s no arguing with the support for the information laid out in this crucial work of non-fiction. However, there is the fact that, despite identifying as an optimist, Wallace-Wells still choses to focus on the worst case scenario of events. He utilizes figures to create shock for the readers, presenting us with real statistics that feel extreme and eye-opening.

While he may ring the alarm bell, Wallace-Wells hardly tells the reader what the proper response is. Wherever Wallace-Wells provides a glimmer of hope, he’s quick to pull it away. Among other solutions, he says that, although choices regarding personal consumption and consumer choices help us to feel in control, the reality is that, “those choices, in almost all cases, [are] trivial contributors, ones that blind us to the more important forces.”

These forces, according to Wallace-Wells, are the corporate and political entities that dictate today’s world. As the author begins to sew up this narrative, he presents the big picture behind the problem, “we just haven’t yet discovered the political will, economic might, and cultural flexibility to install and activate [solutions].” In combination with deeply seeded corporate and political greed and selfishness, these are the reasons why, despite the facts and figures that support it, denial and complacency still exist expansively. Perhaps the reader, alongside Wallace-Wells, feels the least amount of hope when looking at the climate crisis from this perspective.

If any moment particularly provided hope for me personally, it was as Wallace-Wells discussed the prospect of procreation in a world at the mercy of the climate. “The fight is, definitively, not yet lost,” Wallace-Wells write, “in fact, will never be lost, so long as we avoid extinction.” Though it is grim, the future generations will continue to create lives throughout an existential threat, “quite literally the greatest story ever told.” The author’s hope lies in the fact that the story of climate change is still being written, and we are the authors.

With this work, Wallace-Wells says he aimed simply, “to tell the truth about the climate crisis.” And while personally I feel more educated, and more scared, of the climate’s future than ever before, this book feels written for scientists, with very little human element to connect to the layman. While it may reach an already informed audience, it’s difficult to imagine that the greedy, selfish, elite, and deniers, those who need to read this most, will be the ones reaching for it off the shelf.