There is no shortage of apocalyptic imaginings in pop culture, from Roland Emmerich movies to J.G. Ballard books to The Leftovers. There’s also, you may have read, a lot of end-times stuff in every major religion. But the unchecked climate disaster threatening to swallow the globe is a new development, one that the gnarliest Hobbesian survivalist fantasies couldn’t hope to predict. Your Roads and Mad Maxes? They pulled their punches.
David Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable Earth,” published today in New York, lays out in petrifying detail the scope of destruction that we as individuals are powerless to stop. That said, Wallace-Wells is careful not to fall into sensationalism. Take this, from the introduction:
What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen—that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule.
The article is sobering and terrifying, placing the climate crisis on a geologic time scale as well as a cosmic one. Wallace-Wells’ focus here is the science, but at the fringes of ”The Uninhabitable Earth” is another, equally unsettling idea; that people in power need to care about this crisis because they are the only ones equipped to do anything about it. To Wallace-Wells, we are way past the point of individual actions, any sort of feel-good conservation-through-consumer-choice, having an effect.
It calls to mind linguist and activist Noam Chomsky’s assessment of the GOP as the biggest threat to the world in human history—expressly thanks to their denial of and inaction on climate change. Imagine this on top of everything else they’re fucking up. If we can’t stop it, and they won’t, what happens then?