According to David Wallace-Wells in New York Mag, we’re all going to die (I read between the lines, but you could drive a truck through them). Does that sound uncomfortably alarmist? Perhaps it’s beyond time we stopped coddling ourselves into thinking we’ve got everything more or less under control. In his well-researched “The Uninhabitable Earth”, Wallace-Wells describes the many ways in which climate change will quickly catch up to us, causing all sorts of trouble over and above the rising of seas, which most people seem focused on while ignoring the other consequences in the offing.
While Wallace-Wells’ article may prompt you to want to stick your head in the sand to avoid the doom and gloom scenarios outlined, it’s a sobering read, although you may need to bite it off in manageable chunks.
The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a slate-wiping of the evolutionary record it functioned as a resetting of the planetary clock, and many climate scientists will tell you they are the best analog for the ecological future we are diving headlong into. Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high-school textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead. We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is accelerating. This is what Stephen Hawking had in mind when he said, this spring, that the species needs to colonize other planets in the next century to survive, and what drove Elon Musk, last month, to unveil his plans to build a Mars habitat in 40 to 100 years. These are nonspecialists, of course, and probably as inclined to irrational panic as you or I. But the many sober-minded scientists I interviewed over the past several months — the most credentialed and tenured in the field, few of them inclined to alarmism and many advisers to the IPCC who nevertheless criticize its conservatism — have quietly reached an apocalyptic conclusion, too: No plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster.
Wallace-Wells’ key question is why are we so reluctant to face up to the consequences? Why can’t we unify around this the way we did around acid rain or the hole in the ozone layer? Why is our fiction so lacking in visions of some of these futures? Here at Little Blue Marble, we encourage fiction that tackles theses futures head on.
What’s clear is that we’ve reached the point where emission reduction and carbon taxes will not save us—they will only give us slightly more time. Time we’ll need to develop carbon capture technology, if we hope to have a liveable planet for our children and grandchildren.