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Interview with David Wallace-Wells

David Wallace-Wells describes himself as “quite an unlikely environmental alarmist”. He started exploring the issue of climate change not as an environmentalist but as a journalist who was baffled with the bleak prospects of climate change.

Mr. Wallace-Wells has written for several current affairs magazines and at the moment he is a deputy editor and climate columnist with New York magazine where he is regularly writing about climate change and the foreseeable future of science and technology.

As a teenager in the nineties he was told a story of flourishing development. Over time the world would be getting better, more prosperous, safer, cleaner and although these advancements would be erratic they would eventually unfold. However, at the beginning of 2016, after he started reading alarming reports that were not presented in the popular newspapers and on television shows, he was realizing that discomforting consequences could very soon appear on the horizon.

One of his most significant works is an article “The Uninhabitable Earth” written in 2017 that sparked widespread conversations about the climate crisis. In February 2019 his book “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming” was published which is a book-length treatment of the ideas explored in the original article. In this book Mr. Wallace-Wells describes a worrying image of the climate crisis which includes figures such as: every return flight from London to New York costs the Arctic three square meters of ice; for every half degree of warming, societies see between a 10 and 20% increase in the likelihood of armed conflict; global plastic production is expected to triple by 2050 and at which point there will be more plastic than fish in the planet’s oceans.

When asked why the book is titled “The Uninhabitable Earth” Mr. Wallace-Wells responded that he thinks people should be alarmed and that the title serves as a hyperbole. He believes that fear as a motivator is effective. Critics call the alarmist approach irresponsible, supporters see it as a necessary method in order to shake people out of complacency. According to Mr. Wallace-Wells his approach is working as it is noticeable that the coverage of the pollution problem has not only changed in volume but also in tone.

Although the future sketched by Mr. Wallace-Wells does not seem very promising, he still believes a lot can be done to prevent unnecessary harm to our planet. There is a lot of talk about lifestyle choices and consumption, particularly diet choices, but changes have to be forced from a top-down approach as well. Decarbonizing production sectors is an important aspect and there are a lot of interesting technological movements which enable that to happen. He states that anything that works, is worth doing. Things are moving quickly; the question is whether policy will move quickly enough to respond.

On the occasion for the appearance of the Dutch translation “De Onbewoonbare Aarde” Room for Discussion in cooperation with publisher De Bezige Bij will host an interview with Mr. Wallace-Wells on his book, climate change and how we should tackle this heavily disputed issue. The event is the first of a series by Room for Discussion held at Spui25 and will commence today at 8pm.


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