The Uninhabitable Earth Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: The Uninhabitable Earth explains how humanity’s complacency and negligence have put this world on a course to soon be unlivable unless we each do our small part to improve how we care for this beautiful planet we live on.

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Have you ever considered why movies about the end times, post-apocalyptic and zombie films are so popular these days? Movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Children of Men, The Colony and most recently, The Bird Box continue to draw massive audiences. What is it about humanity’s bleak future that is so entertaining to us?

In David Wallace-Wells’ book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, these fictionalized film accounts of what our earth might be like after suffering the ravages of toxic air, water shortages and melting ice caps become all too real. The chilling thought of our planet damaged beyond repair is a frightening prospect indeed. And this terrifying global nightmare is closer than we might think. 

Here are 3 lessons mismanagement of our environment demonstrate:

  1. Even enacting all the policy changes agreed to in Paris, we will still exceed the threshold where disaster begins.
  2. Without emissions reduction, we will see our oceans rise to fatal levels, putting major cities underwater.
  3. Unless we change our ways, bacteria of ancient diseases in melting Arctic ice sheets will begin a global health crisis.

Let’s delve deeper into this chilling future that the planet earth seems destined for!

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Lesson 1: The Paris climate agreement goals are hopelessly optimistic and too little, too late.

There was an epic meeting of the world leaders in Paris about 4 years ago. These leaders working towards an agreement were trying to set new goals to tackle the mounting threat of climate change. Finally, politicians are recognizing the serious implications and urgency that can occur from this situation.

From these talks stemmed the objective of maintaining global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels. This figure was chosen because it is the temperature threshold at which disaster begins. The problem is that we are going to exceed this 2-degree threshold, and by a good measure. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report in 2018. The data indicates that even if the world governments take aggressive actions now, by enacting all proposed policies agreed to in the Paris talks, we will still continue to see global temperatures rise in excess of 3.2 degrees before warning halts. This is not good news.

What this means is that the world’s ice sheets will still collapse in our lifetime. This would lead to the eventual flooding of hundreds of cities, including Miami, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Southern Europe would experience permanent drought and wildfires in the U.S would increase 600 percent. And this is the optimistic scenario.

Lesson 2: Atlantis might not be such a myth for long with major cities underwater as a consequence of climate change.

The best-known consequence of climate change is melting polar ice caps. This will cause a rise in sea levels. Without curbing our emissions output this can translate into ocean rises between 1.2 and 2.4 meters within the next century. 

To give you some idea of the impact of this, the city of Bangladesh, which has a population of 164 million people would be completely submerged. Other locations that would suffer a similar catastrophe, outside of all of the world’s most beautiful beaches, are Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, California’s Silicon Valley area, and Washington, D.C. At the current rate we are going, the Indonesian megacity, Jakarta will be entirely underwater by the year 2050.

Dare we look further down the road? If we peak ahead as far as 2100, projections show things will become increasingly worse if we fail to reduce emissions now. The result will be oceans rising up to 6 meters higher in the coming centuries. 

Imagine the disappearance of ports, energy plants, military bases, farmlands along with major cities. Asia would experience the most severe devastation with cities like Shanghai, Mumbai, and Kolkata underwater. 

It’s estimated that the average American emits enough carbon to melt 10,000 tons of Antarctic ice. To provide some additional perspective on this, if Americans adopted the same carbon footprint of their European counterparts, a continent not known for environmentally-friendly lifestyles themselves – America’s emissions would be cut in half.

Lesson 3: We might be on the verge of a global health crisis as old diseases are revived and current ones rejuvenated.

It’s unsettling to think that all the progress in medical science over the centuries could be gone in a single generation. And it would all be due to climate change. It’s possible that this global health crisis would manifest in two ways: old diseases revived and current ones rejuvenated. 

The bacteria of ancient diseases are currently trapped in our Arctic ice sheets. Some of these bacteria have been extinct for millions of years. Since some have been around longer than humans have walked the earth, our immune systems would have no immunity to fight them off. And the diseases that we are familiar with, such as bubonic plague or smallpox would also be unleashed on us.

Many diseases thrive in hot, humid weather conditions, from salmonella developing in spoiling meat, to summer outbreaks of cholera, even in the developing regions of the world.  

As warming accelerates, the earth’s tropic zones will expand. This will lead to more countries that will be perfectly suited to host malaria and the mosquitos which transmit it will have an ideal breeding ground.   

The Uninhabitable Earth Review

This book reads like a non-fiction horror story. And The Uninhabitable Earth leaves very little room for hope. It’s an interesting read, but pretty distressing.

Who would I recommend The Uninhabitable Earth summary to?

The 25-year-old clean air engineering technician, the 36-year-old epidemiologist, and anybody who wants themselves and their posterity to keep living healthily on Earth.

Last Updated on August 23, 2022

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Jim Farina

Seeing as he was a longtime reader and writing course student of mine, I was thrilled to see Jim write 20 summaries for us in 2019 and 2020. Hailing from Chicago with a full-time job as a manager and a family, I've watched Jim go from complete writing obscurity to having his work read, improve, and even featured on places like Better Marketing, the magazine I ran on Medium. He's now freelancing part-time, writing great stuff for companies like Best Buy and Bloomingdale's, and his first screenplay, Martin Eden, made quite the splash in several competitions.