cover image The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

David Wallace-Wells. Tim Duggan, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-57670-9

Wallace-Wells, deputy editor of New York magazine, takes on global warming’s probable apocalyptic consequences in this depressing but must-read account. Wallace-Wells covers well-known threats, such as that rising sea levels will drown low-lying population centers, and alarming secondary effects, including the loss of ice, which, by reducing the Earth’s capacity to reflect heat back into the atmosphere, would only accelerate global warming. Wallace-Wells considers cultural disruptions as well—for example, that rising temperatures could make the hajj to Mecca physically impossible. Wallace-Wells rigorously sources his contentions in detailed endnotes, making clear his gloominess is evidence-based. He also clarifies that his enumeration of calamities may only be the tip of the iceberg, as it is “a portrait of the future only as best it can be painted in the present.” The cumulative effect is oppressive, and his brief references to remaining personally optimistic—because what humanity has done to the planet it can somehow undo—comes across as wishful thinking. At one point, he commends the reader for persisting in reading, observing that each chapter thus far has contained “enough horror to induce a panic attack in even the most optimistic.” This statement stands as an apt summation of this intellectually rigorous, urgent, and often overwhelming look into a dire future. [em](Feb.) [/em]