Posted by: atowhee | April 2, 2019


The Uninhabitable Earth
by David Wallace-Wells.  Tim Duggan Books.  Penguin.  New York.  2019.

Spoiler alert: do not read David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming if you’re looking for escapism or a homily to the greatness of man or god.  For some harsh reality, it can’t be beat.

This is a wide-ranging look at the likely and possible effects of climate change in the next decades and in longer term.  It surveys the various ways that a hotter planet and higher CO2 levels already affects the climate, living organisms and global systems like ocean currents.  W-W gives a pretty good journalist’s summary of most major points.  In many cases he is more specific and more willing to look at 3 or 4 degree Celsius warming effects than your regular online or print articles ever dare to do.

His chapter on global epidemics seemed incomplete.  Even I know about West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever which he doesn’t even mention. He touches on but doesn’t go far in discussing the power of corporations in controlling media, advertising, information and product development.  Governments the world over are now run for and by the wealthy just as they were before the French Revolution.

I spoke recently with a life-long friend who is also an atmospheric research scientist and professor.  He read this book, of course, and just retired from teaching climate science after decades in college class rooms.  He describes the W-W book as two degrees beyond what most experts consider solid.  In other words, he goes for the extreme.  But then my professor friend admitted that he felt the heavy burden of going into class, teaching science but still trying to give his students some hope for their future. I can’t,he indicated, just go into a class and tell my student, “You’re fucked.”  That’s the bottom line of W-W’s book.  There is little in this book to make you think that some global effort will suddenly or in a timely way make a significant difference and forestall civilization’s self-immolation,.

 “Global warming is not ‘yes’ or ‘no’…It is a function that gets worse over timer as we continue to produce greenhouse gas…In fact, we are only just entering our brave new world, one that collapses below as as soon as we set foot on it.”

“We have unwittingly claimed ownership of a system beyond our ability to control or tame in any day-to-day way.”

“No human has ever lived on a planet as hot as this one; it will get hotter.”

“That climate change demands expertise, and faith in it, at precisely the moment when public confidence in expertise is collapsing, is another of its historical ironies.”

“Should anything save us, it will be technology.”

“If we don’t act quickly, and on a global scale, then the problem will literally become insoluble.  The decision s we make in 2075 won’t matter.”                     –Bill McKibben

“A warming planet will also melt Arctic permafrost, which contains 1.8 million tons of carbon, more than twice as much as it currently in the earth’s atmosphere…some of which….may evaporate as methane, which is thirty-four times as powerful a greenhouse gas…as carbon dioxide.”

“Warmer oceans can absorb less heat, which means more stays in the air, and contains less oxygen, which is doom for phytoplankton—which does for the ocean what plants do on land, eating carbon and producing oxygen—which leaves us with more carbon, which heats the planet further.”  [This is just one several pernicious feedback loops triggered by global warming.]

We will think of the border with Mexico differently, presumably, when the Rio Grande is a line traced through a dry riverbed—the Rio Sand.”

“Our current emissions trajectory takes us over 4 degrees by 2100; multiply that by [loss] of 1 percent of GDP and you have almost entirely wiped out the very possibility of economic growth, which has not topped 5 percent globally in over forty years.” [This alone should terrify free market capitalist. Steady state or disintegrating economies globally.]

We are subsidizing the fossil fuel business to the tune of $5 trillion each year.”

“Seventy percent of the energy produced by the planet, it’s estimated, is lost as waste heat.”

“The entire history of swift economic growth, which began somewhat suddenly in the eighteenth century, is not the result of innovation of the dynamics of free trade, but simply our discovery of fossil fuels and all their raw power.”

“…23 percent loss in per capita earning globally by the end of this century.”

“Climate change promises almost no global growth, in much of the world hit hardest, in fact, negative growth.”

“On the matter of climate change, China does hold nearly all the cards.”

“What kinds of politics are likely to evolve after the promise of growth recedes?…In the form of tribalism at home and nationalism abroad and terrorism flaming out from the tinder of failed states, that future is here, at least in preview, already.”

“If you strip out the perception of progress from history what is left? …the last several hundred years, which many in the West saw as a simple line of progress and growing prosperity, rendered instead as a prelude to mass climate suffering.”

“Natural disaster, flooding, public health crises.  All of these are not just tragedies but expensive ones.”

“We have all already left behind the narrow window of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place.”

“Mass migrations will sever communities numbering in the millions—even tens of millions—frmotheir ancestral homelands, which will disappear forever.”

“Since 1980, the planet has experienced a fiftyfold increase in…dangerous heat waves.”

“The basic rule of thumb for staple cereal crops grown at optimal temperatures is that for every degree of warming, yields decline by 10 percent…grain accounts for about forty percent of the human diet.”

“The graphs that show so much recent progress in the developing world…are, practically speaking, the same graphs that trace the dramatic rise in global carbon emissions.”

“Concrete production…ranks today as the second most carbon-intensive industry in the world—an industry that is booming.”

“Greenpeace has estimated that the world needs to cut its meat and dairy consumption in half by 2050.”

“A crime is something someone else commits.”               –John Steinbeck
“Of course we did it to ourselves; we had always been intellectually lazy, and the less asked of us, the less we had to say.  We all lived for money, and that is what we died for.”
–CARBON IDEOLOGIES by William Vollmann

“We’re getting some intimations of how the ruling class intends to handle the accumulating disasters of the Anthripocene. We’re on our own.”                        –McKenzie Wark

“There’s a saying in the water community.  If climate change is a shark, the water resources are the teeth.”                                                              –Peter Gleick

“Since 1950, much of the good stuff in the plants we grow—protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C, to name just four—has declined by as much as one-third, a landmark 2004 study showed.”

“The permafrost line having retreated eighty miles north in Canada over the last fifty years.”

“Four billion people…already live in regions facing water shortages at least one month each year:.

Los Angeles County—“Since 1919 when the county began keeping records of is fires, some areas have burned eight times.”

“More burning only means more warming only means more burning.”

“Glacier National Park…in 1850, the area had 1509 glaciers, all but 26 are melted.”

“Half of the world’s population depends on seasonal melt from high-elevation snow and ice, deposits that are dramatically threatened by warming.”

“Fourteen of the world’s twenty biggest cities are currently experiencing water scarcity or drought.”

“Off the coasts of Australia, fish populations have declined an estimated 32 percent in just ten years.”

“Around the world, seabirds are declining faster than any other bird group.”   –Financial Times

“Climate change has depressed the velocity of the Gulf Stream as much as 15 percent.”

“Going forward, the planet’s air won’t be just warmer it will likely also be dirtier, more oppressive, and more sickening.”

“Pollution has been linked with increased mental illness in children and likelihood of dementia in adults.”

“Globally, one out of six deaths is caused by air pollution.”

“The number of disease cases from mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas have tripled in the U.S. over just the last thirteen years, with dozens of counties across the country encountering ticks for the first time.”

“The U.S. is more vulnerable to climate change impacts than any country I the world but India.”

“For every half degree of warming…societies will see between a 10 and 20 percent increase in the likelihood of armed conflict.”

“Air pollution levels positively predicted incidents of every single crime category they looked at—from car theft and burglary and larceny up to assault, rape, and murder.”
“Heat produces violence and conflict between people.”

“Climate affects both the onset and the severity of depression.”

“An enormous study in Taiwan found that, for every single unit of additional pollution, the relative risk of Alzheimer’s doubled.”

 “Wealth will be a buffer for some countries, but not a safeguard, as Australia is learning already.”

“It is no coincidence that carbon emissions have exploded since the end of the Cold War.”

“Fossil capitalism…what we conceive as the modern economy is really a system powered by fossil fuels…Can capitalism survive climate change?”

“All the new alternatives have to face off with the resistance of entrenched interests and the status-quo bias of consumers who are relatively happy with the lives they have today.”

“The market has justified inequality for generations by pointing to opportunity and invoking the mantra of new prosperity, which it promised would benefit all…income gains in the world’s advanced capitalistic countries have gone for several decades now, almost entirely to the very wealthiest.”

“More than six hundred million people live within thirty feet of sea level today”.

“The Marshall Islands archipelago, for instance…could be rendered uninhabitable by sea-level rise as soon as midcentury, the U. S. Geological Survey has warned.”

Some long-range forecasts indicate 200 foot rise in sea level is possible, prehistorically this has happened before on this planet: “At just 170 feet [rise] more than 97 percent of Florida would disappear, leaving only a few hills in the Panhandle, and just under 97 percent of Delaware would be submerged, Oceans would cover 8o percent of Louisiana, 70 percent of  New Jersey…”

Cities submerged at that level include: New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Providence, Houston, Seattle, Baltimore, Sacramento.  New Orleans and Miami, of course, would go in the first fifty feet of coastal flooding.

“There is no good thing in the world that will be made more abundant, or spresd more widely, by global warming.”

Closing words: “You can choose your metaphor.  You can’t choose your planet, which his the only one any of us will ever call home.”

Future cities: no cars


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