Friday, March 22, 2019


Most of my reading is for pleasure. But occasionally I take up a book of nonfiction—a history or biography or tale of true adventure—to educate myself. And very rarely I read something out of a sense of duty, recognizing I need to know whatever is between those particular covers, no matter how difficult the literary journey might be.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells falls into the last category. This is a painful book to read, dense with fact, crowded with horror, bleak with certainty. Its author is not out to convince those who don’t “believe” in global warming, or refuse to accept the fact that humans are responsible. He is not even writing to offer blithe solutions to our dilemma. He is here simply to tell us it is almost too late to reverse the headlong course we are running toward universal disaster. 

What started with the burning of fossil fuels for industry at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution a little over 200 years ago has accelerated in a single generation (our own) to untenable levels. This Goldilocks planet, ideal for the evolution of humans, is rapidly becoming rendered unable to sustain human life. We are fooling ourselves if we think this process is a slow one; we are deluded if we believe we can escape it without concerted, even heroic, action. Global warming is not a myth, or a liberal conspiracy theory, or a natural cycle such as the Earth has seen before (unless you count it as another mass extinction event, of which there have been five). And, as Wallace-Wells puts it in the opening sentence of his book: It is worse, much worse, than you think.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been chronicling the local minor impacts of warming on my world as I see them through the seasons: the decline of the monarch butterflies, the unrelenting storms and floods pounding the vulnerable coast of North Carolina, the droughts and resulting wildfires in summer in the mountains. Wherever you live, if you are in tune to nature, I’m sure you could give examples, too. Wallace-Wells insists we won’t even have time to adjust to this “new normal” before we are looking back at this time as a paradise. 

The International Organization on Climate Change estimates we have only 12 years to implement real changes before it is too late to make a difference. My middle grandchild will not even have graduated from high school by then. My youngest grandchild will be starting middle school.

What kind of world will they face?

There is far too much information in The Uninhabitable Earth to relate here. But I did find two ideas of particular interest to us as members of the science fiction community. The first concerns us directly: Wallace-Wells wonders why no one has written that novel or film imagining the post-warming world and its challenges. We have apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic worlds aplenty, but their dangers stem from almost anything BUT the very real dangers of heat, flooding, famine, displacement and economic collapse that will result from warming. We have zombies, pandemic (which, okay, could come from warming), alien invasion, monster invasion a la GODZILLA, super-villain destruction, nuclear war in multiple forms, resource depletion (almost always envisioned as fossil fuel depletion, now almost a joke given what we will sacrifice to make sure those fuels remain plentiful) and unspecified desertification. Of these, perhaps only the last comes closest to a real vision of what warming will bring but fails to really address the cause.

I suspect that no one has tackled this fiction challenge because, as Wallace-Wells’s book so clearly points out, “civilization” won’t come back from the impact of 3° C. of global warming. At that temperature, great swaths of the planet will be unlivable, not only at the equator, but above and below; the polar ice will be gone; the oceans will be dying; two-thirds of the world’s major cities will be under water. It is difficult to imagine even small acts of heroism or hope in this kind of setting. Colman McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind, though that book is based on a nuclear winter scenario.

Wallace-Wells also mentions Fermi’s Paradox in connection with global warming. That old chestnut, a theory attributed to one of the physicists responsible for the atomic bomb, ponders why we’ve never heard from any alien civilization if they exist out there in the vast universe. But Wallace-Wells (and others he names in the book) wonders if perhaps there is a curve to industrial civilizations that leads inevitably to their own destruction by global warming. Once they reach a point where they might be capable of reaching out to other planets, they are already doomed by their own rapacious use of their own planets’ resources.
Biblical levels of doom: The fire this time?
None of this, as I said before, is fun reading. But it is thought-provoking. And necessary if we hope to envision any kind of steps to avoid what is coming. I may not agree with everything this gloomy author says, but I can see enough of what’s happening to believe we can’t continue to blindly follow this increasingly perilous path.


Finalists in the Romance Writers of America's RITA and Golden Heart contests were named  March 21. Congratulations to all! Sadly, only one finalist in the RITA paranormal category was a science fiction romance, Cara Crescent's Wretched. I, for one, will continue to press RWA for a separate category for SFR, for a number of reasons, including legitimacy of judging. (I judge the contest every year.) Even more sadly, this is the final year for the Golden Heart contest for unpublished manuscripts, a key feature of RWA's unique program of encouraging fledgling authors. I am devastated to see it go.

Cheers, Donna


  1. I think I need to read this book, Donna. Because yes, once the Atlantic Heat Conveyor shuts down we're in for a global catastrophe. And it's coming...

    // steps up on soapbox //

    I think everyone knows I'm firmly in the "save our planet" corner, but that said. I don't agree with some of the current agendas to tear down our nation and rebuild it under the auspices of going "green," in addition to stopping commercial air travel (which I somehow believe wouldn't apply to politicians' travel, because, you know, they're important and need to GO places--*grumble, grumble*) For one, it's so far beyond the boundaries of being feasible it's mind-boggling. Unfortunately, some of our lawmakers are a bit challenged in understanding the repercussions of what they're proposing. And secondly, the USA is just one country in a world full of polluters, so even if we attempted it (putting aside that the plan is doomed to fail miserably) how much would it really help?

    Instead, maybe we should do the unthinkable. We have the technology to replace carbon-emitting automobiles with environmentally friendly propulsion that produces unharmful by-products. So why aren't we focusing on that? Changing the auto industry, world-wide, to producing enviro-friendly transportation would be a huge step in the right direction and would immediately begin cutting down the pollution in our very thin, very fragile atmosphere. That could be doable. Certainly more doable than tearing down everything and starting over. Maybe our politicians should consider going head-to-head with the automakers and lobbyists who are standing in the way by throwing dollars behind their cherished status quo, instead of butting heads with each other over a rip-it-all-down-and-start-over nonsensical strategy.

    The other thing I deplore is the idea of an America that's wall-to-wall windmills and solar panel farms. Talk about harm to the environment? Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees? Let's give nuclear energy another shot. Yes, I know. There have been accidents. There have been deaths and areas deemed unsuitable for habitation. Yet, this is also a problem much more easy to tackle than demolishing and rebuilding an entire nation. Nuclear energy, when managed correctly, is safe. Let's get the safety checks in place to ensure that, and then, hey, how about building a few new plants? Voila! No vast landscape of ugly windmills and panels to mar the environment, harm wildlife and create unsightly visual pollution (and which, by the way, really isn't a viable form of sustainable energy for the planet, but let's not even go there in a so-called "comment.")

    Oh, and maybe we should take another look at population control? I know. Taboo subject. But it shouldn't be, because the generation that's growing up now is going to have to survive in the world our bloated population is trashing. As a wise relative once said: "Our carbon footprints aren't the problem. The problem is that there are too many damn carbon footprints on the planet."

    So, yes, let's do what we can to save the planet. But let's do it like an intelligent species!

    // relinquishes her soapbox //


    1. I'm firmly in the 'yes, the climate is changing but because of forces beyond human control' camp. We have to change how we do things to cope. There's plenty we can do to help our sick planet - starting with cleaning up our oceans, getting rid of plastic and stopping the deforestation. In fact just the other day I watched a youtube interview where a scientist said atmospheric CO2 levels were becoming CRITICALLY LOW for plant life.

      But in the end it will all come down to population. The way we're headed the planet will end up with nothing but wall-to-wall people. Echoes of 'Soylent Green'.

      I'd better get off the soapbox, too.

    2. Yes to all of the above. When we talk about making our planet sustainable, limiting people should be the first priority. And yes to trying to clean up our mess in the oceans (a vital part of our environment) and on land.

      What if every single person got serious about not polluting, not dumping their trash wherever they happen to be, and really worked at saving energy and recycling. Until we change the mindset of the human population that people can't just TALK about change, they actually have to DO something toward change themselves--even if it inconveniences them--we might be able to turn this around. It starts with every individual. Funny how they don't see it that way.

  2. Yes, I do recommend reading this book, though it’s no picnic. I have actually come around to supporting nuclear energy—as you say, wind and solar are just too land extensive. Population control, yes, but that means those of us in the have nations must be prepared to welcome immigration for labor. Look at Japan’s aging population if you don’t believe me. Yes, clean up the oceans; yes, eliminate plastic; yes, reduce our dependence on the almighty gas engine. Here are a couple other suggestions: a real carbon tax; two years of mandatory universal service for all 18 year olds in the US for military, teaching, infrastructure, park service, environmental, etc. projects; higher gasoline taxes mitigated by discount coupons for farm or small business vehicles or older vehicles, older drivers, etc. I could go on—or should I just run for president LOL?

    1. LOL Donna, you'd be one of the more likely candidates I'd vote for.


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