As The Guardian’s review of the book puts it, the book is scary “enough to induce a panic attack…” It elegantly outlines science and data to shake the reader a bit, to help highlight “ a tendency, even among those of us who think we are already sufficiently terrified of the future, [are] strangely complacent about the figures.”
Early in the book Wallace-Wells casually makes an observation that stuck with me:
“In fact more than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades. Which means we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and its civilization since Al Gore published his first book in climate than in all the centuries -all the millenia- that came before”
Read that again… After we started having a common consciousness about the potential cataclysm ahead, after the Inconvenient Truth documentary came out in 2006, rather that course correcting we (the collective planetary “we”) accelerated down that very same path.
The book also helped broaden my own thinking about the potential implications, which stretch far beyond whether your condo in Miami will survive 2 degree increase (TL;DR it won’t) into the economic and human impact of farmers not being able to farm, conflicts arising over resources, the environmental refugee crisis that has already started and the acceleration the delicate interplanetary system spins into.
There are unfortunately no silver lining solutions in the book. If anything Wallace-Wells calls out people like me who believe that “tech will save us” and hope/pray that some brilliant mind somewhere will magically come up with a scalable and cheap carbon capture technology to make it all go away.
Yes, eating less meat will have an impact, but only if a vast majority of us do it at scale (and with the accepted economic impact that would have on cattle growing nations… like Brazil). Your Tesla 3 helps, but not if you make it moot with a dozen trips across the Atlantic each year.
What the book also highlights is the societal and political challenges of tackling this as a planet. The argument from developing nations is that they are being forced to bear the cost for the benefit reaped by developed nations for centuries. The argument for developed nations (well one of them) is that their economies would be short-term impacted by silly things like the Paris Accords while other nations cheat and benefit. Macron tries to pass a Diesel tax and that leads to Gilets Jaunes. Merkel’s energy agenda instead leads to decommissioning nuclear reactors and increasing use of coal.
So what has the world done? Almost (ahem!) every nation in the world signed the Paris accords committing to do its best to stick to under 2 degrees. The world’s leading scientists convened, and last year issued an urgent call to arms.
“But my country is doing OK?” Is it? This handy Climate Action Tracker helps put it into perspective. Clap, clap Morocco and Gambia. And ironic that India who will likely be one of the countries hardest hit is up there while … well you can see for yourself:
The main takeaway from the book is that incremental change will not help, this has to be driven at nation-state and intra-state level and that the only way we as individuals have to drive that is not with our improbable burger but with our vote… and fast.
As a technologist and investor I wanted to read this book to scare the living daylights out of me, but also make me think about both the macro implications one, two, three investment cycles out, but also for the innovation opportunities around climate change. As a parent, I spoke a lot to my oldest two kids about it as I read it. What do you tell an 11 year old who looks at you with a puzzling look (as we drive in our EV) and asks “so why is nothing being done about it?”
There were also times when I wanted to throw the book at the wall… If science is clear, if the vast majority of countries accept the threat is real and committed to the Paris Accords, if millennials are so woke, why do we still have so much denial about the “climate hoax.”
Part of it, I feel (and the book helps validate) is a Tragedy of the Commons issue where morally we feel this should be addressed, but individually we feel our limited actions would not help (and would hurt us at an individual level). Logically the correlation of US conservatives against even accepting climate change is a scientific fact makes no sense to me, so I did some digging and this Vox article helped me understand. It is a question both reactionary skepticism of science but more importantly of framing where politicising climate change has become so entrenched and voices from the right so disjointed that the message doesn’t get across. There are hopeful signs younger conservative voters are also beginning to make this an issue.
Like the book, I have no solutions to propose here, just a strong suggestion that you read the book, dig further into the facts, take your own little actions, and make this the policy initiative we need to have our politicians and nations care about. Tick tock tick tock…