The human race has never faced a challenge bigger and more complex than climate change. It is a challenge that our politics and societies, organised around the interests of individuals and groups, are unable to take on — fighting climate change requires an entirely new paradigm, and ways of thinking and acting. Two new books capture the crisis dramatically and comprehensively.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells is, in the words of The New York Times reviewer, “a remorseless, near-unbearable account of what we are doing to our planet” — even if collective action manages to keep us to 2 degrees Celsius of warming, we would be facing a world in which “the ice sheets will begin their collapse, global GDP per capita will be cut by 13%, 400 million more people will suffer from water scarcity, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unlivable, and even in the northern latitudes heat waves will kill thousands each summer”.
In Losing Earth: A Recent History, Nathaniel Rich observes that “nearly every conversation we have in 2019 about climate change was being held in 1979”.
It is, says The NYT review, “an account of what went wrong — of how it was that a moment of growing awareness of climate change, and an apparent willingness to act on the knowledge, was allowed to dissipate into stasis and inaction”.
This happened due to several reasons — the failure of scientists to put across a clear message with sufficient force, and the actions of politicians and energy companies among them. In Rich’s reading therefore, climate change is a tragedy, but it is also a crime.