For as long as climate change has been a part of America’s national consciousness, it’s been talked about in dire terms, evoking images of some hellish, “Mad Max”-style dystopia. The title and much of the content of David Wallace-Wells’s recent book is a variation on the same theme, stirring up hundreds of pages of images’ worth of an “Uninhabitable Earth” to make the case that the conversation has not been dire enough.
In describing the nature of the problem, drastic terms are of course necessary. Annihilation looms, and the chaos it threatens to bring about — stronger storms, more fearsome floods, unbearable heat — is truly the stuff of nightmares. But the apocalyptic framing of the problem has also shaped how we talk about solutions to it. From carbon taxes to consumption cuts, climate policy has long been framed as an issue of stiff-lipped sacrifice: What will we have to give up to save our skins?