David Wallace-Wells is a good place to start. Uninhabitable land: life after warming scares us with stories of a future climate-modified world that transcends climate science. Not since Bill McKibben's The end of nature Thirty years ago, we were told what climate change would mean so vividly. "It's worse, much worse than you think," writes Wallace-Wells. Notably because in these 30 years, we have doubled our cumulative carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
He predicts a world in which climate change is omnipresent, omnipresent and dramatic. "The path on which we are as a planet should terrorize all who live there," he writes. Nothing will be the same. Wherever we live, we will be flooded, engulfed by fires, caused by new diseases, smothered by toxic air, deprived of water or impoverished because the climate of chaos leads to an economy in crisis. "The attacks will not be discrete," he warns. "They will produce a kind of cascading violence, waterfalls and avalanches of devastation … so as to reinforce each other and undermine our ability to respond." There will be climate wars. Nature itself will look like an enemy rather than a friend.
Opponents of climate change would prefer not to hear these stories. They are very effective at containing climate change in an echo of scientific uncertainties. What they fear is voices like Wallace-Wells's that could hit a strong public deal.
In the first part of his book, Wallace-Wells, publisher at New York Magazine but no, he insists, an environmentalist does a valiant job of giving a simple guide to the scary scenarios and unavoidable truths of climate change. Dying oceans, dry rivers, forest fires, diseases, climate wars and rising tides all have their chapters. His sourcing is good and he makes the right warnings. All science is temporary, he warns. "What lies ahead can be even more sinister, although the opposite, of course, is also possible," he writes.
The essence of the question is clear, however. Once in the atmosphere, the carbon dioxide of our burning fossil fuels stays there, constantly increasing the planetary thermostat. Climate change does not have an on-off switch. It will not stop at two, four or six degrees or even somewhere else, until we stop these pesky emissions. The only questions are how long and at what level.
This simple truth is alarming but also a challenge to action. According to Wallace-Wells, "no matter how hot the planet is, it will always be possible for the next decade to contain more or less suffering," according to our choices.
This also changes the dynamics of optimism versus pessimism in the future, which Wallace-Wells handles well. In the middle of a story apparently full of misfortune, he departs: "The problem is that I a m optimistic, "he says. I know that there are horrors to come. … But these horrors are not yet written. "We do not have to surrender because there is no inevitable.
Technology is our best way to stop global warming. The good news is that "the solutions are obvious and available," he writes. After McKibben, we reduced the cost of wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars, so that the seemingly inevitable trade-offs between low-carbon energy and economic growth disappear. We are now aware that reformulating our industries on the basis of low carbon emissions is good for growth.
What worries Wallace-Wells is what's going on in our heads. Why are we responding so slowly to obvious and available solutions? Why do we often look blind to the climate disasters that surround us? We have already seen the tremendous impact of the warming we have caused so far, but we have chosen to barely notice it. We still commonly call the extreme extremes of natural disasters related to climate change.