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The Uninhabitable Earth

On the 27th of March Room for Discussion is cooperation with Spui25 and book publisher “De Bezige Bij” hosted an event with David Wallace-Wells. During the event Mr. Wallace-Wells presented his book “The Uninhabitable Earth”, was interview by Room for Discussion and answered some audience questions. The article by Timothy Mulder introduces Mr. Wallace-Wells and his work in the environmental journalism. This article will further discuss the book, present some of topic discussed during the interview.

Mr. Wallace-Wells does not consider himself an expert on the climate change problem, he rather calls himself “an unusual speaker”. He is not a scientist and started researching the topic only a few years ago when he first realized the divergence of the information presented in magazines and newspapers compared to the scientific researches on climate change.

“The Uninhabitable Earth”

In his book Mr. Wallace-Wells highlights three main misconceptions about the climate change.

  1. The speed of climate change.

His whole youth Mr. Wallace-Wells was told that the climate change problem should not be a concern for him as decades and a lifetime of generations would pass before humanity needs to start worrying about it. Eventually, when it might be a concern, our technology will become so advanced and we can easily resolve climate change or even prevent it from ever being a problem.

In reality, it is not the case. Climate change is already the biggest problem the world facing right now. Most emissions from burning the fossils fuel that has ever been released were emitted in last 30 years. These last the 30 years is just a lifetime of one generation. This resulted in our planet is the hottest it has ever been.

2. The scope of climate change.

Sitting in a coffee shop in New-York city you are probably the least concerned about, for example, the rising sea level as the side effect of climate change. People in the Netherlands or the UK should be thinking about it as they are most likely to be influenced by it. People seem to be distant from the problem they cannot see influence off. But this is changing as consequences of climate change are more and more difficult to ignore. We saw the catastrophic fire in California last year, heavy snow again in California this year, and the fold in Nebraska just recently.

If nothing changes now, by 2050 in South Asian metropolises it will be too hot to survive. This will lead to about 200 million climate refugees, which is about half of the North America population today. To see the scope of the problem let’s consider other numbers. The Syrian conflict caused migration of approximately 1 million people that moved to the EU. This big migration potentially destabilized the political climate in the EU and was probably on the causes of Brexit.

We are mostly concerned about how temperature influences agriculture and human productivity. What about the fauna and flora? The temperature affects micro bacteria in your bodies and nobody knows what the consequences can be. It can result in illnesses and death or even in changes in human behavior, a way of thinking and working. The temperature is also correlated with war and crime. The higher the temperature the more likely the crime is.

The scope of climate change is so big that wherever you are, whatever your social or monetary status is, you cannot escape its influence. Climate change is not limited in scope.

3. The severity of climate change.

A few years ago, a 2 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature on a yearly basis was predicted, but in reality, we are moving at about 4 degrees Celsius per year. This has already lead to major natural disasters occurring more often and becoming more severe each year. A 4 degrees Celsius increase in temperature also means 20% smaller global GDP by 2100.

Even if we stop all fuel emissions now, the temperature will still increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius each year. We created this crisis in 30 years and we only have 30 years to reverse it, otherwise, it will be too late. If one generation can create it in 30 years, the same generation can attempt to at least slow down global warming in the next 30 years.

The book not just contains the facts, causes, and consequences of climate change. The story behind climate change is too big to be contained just in science. Climate change touches all aspects of our lives. Politics, technology, cultural and social life is influenced and determined by it. For example, Mr. Wallace-Wells believes technology is just a way to run away from the problem. A phone addiction is a new way to forget about reality, a new form of dealing with the problem by essentially ignoring it.

Individual actions in the fight against climate change

“Everyone should do everything they can do” highlighted Mr. Wallace-Wells. He believes we as individuals should be proactive about the problem on each level of our lives. Although, the most important that we, as an individual, can do it to use our freedom to speak and vote. Mr. Wallace-Wells stresses that to make a significant change we should mobilize in protest against climate change. Why? He thinks it is the most powerful way to influence politicians to pay attention and to make changes to the legislation. Another way to make a powerful change is to vote for the politician who is concerned about climate change and who will take actions on a government level to address the issue.

Mr. Wallace-Wells believes that individual choices like vegetarianism or a reduction in plastic usage are market distractions form the biggest issue of fossil flue emissions. He does not encourage people from not doing those but wants to inform that by taking political action and voting we will achieve faster and more significant results.

Natural disasters

Fear is a useful motivator. Panic forces people to take actions. When people are tariffed, they realize the existence of a problem and take actions to resolve it. Mr. Wallace-Wells believes that horrible events like Californian fires, although very devastating, are also powerful representations of the climate change consequences. The climate change is not visible but hurricanes, fires, floods speak for themselves. These dramatic events always get an immediate government response. The same tendency we could see with the plastic pollution of oceans. The photos of animals dying in plastic bags are so dramatic that the government took immediate actions.

Developed versus developing countries

The help of the developed world to fight poverty and inequality resulted in the industrial revolution of a developing world. The industrial revolution powered by fossil fuels increased wealth, education levels, medical standards, and decreased mortality and inequality. The industrialization brought higher living standards but also resulted in increased emissions.

The developed world provided technologies that worsen pollution in the developed world. To reduce pollution, the developed world could have taken technologies back but it seems immoral to do so as human wellbeing and lives depend on them. Today this is not a dilemma any longer. The green energy actually allows countries to grow faster compared to using fossil flues. “Green and carbon free is the only way to go” emphasizes Mr. Wallace-Wells.

“Losers” and “winners” of the climate change

The estimated optimal temperature of human productivity is a yearly median of 15 degrees Celsius which is a historical median temperature of the USA and Germany. So basically due to the global warming Russia and Canada will become warmer and have “the best temperature” and be better off from climate change.

Generally, Northern countries like Canada and Finland do appear to be very green, but we must not forget that the main driver of their economies is the fossil flues excavation. Therefore, it is difficult to say that they are really concern about climate change.

On the other side, India, for example, will be wiped out due to the rise in temperature: too hot to live in some areas, too many climate migrants in others, no agriculture, no economic growth. Mr. Wallace-Wells explains that countries with low political power in the global arena will not succeed in demanding help from other developed courtiers.

The debates on who is responsible for climate change and who should take responsibilities for its consequences are ongoing. We can only hope that the 21st century will be remembered for the establishment of the global climate rules that bring all nations together to work coherently to resolve the global warming problem.


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