The Nine Mile Fire burned in Okanogan County in 2015. (Gary DeVon / Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune, file)
From rising sea levels and crop failures to dying forests and fish, our state is struggling.
Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film Interstellar is set in a disconcertingly familiar future: The post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller follows a small band of astronauts searching for a new home for humanity among the stars as the Earth has become increasingly uninhabitable.
While the mind-bending physics are certainly showstoppers, it’s the scenes of ecological disaster at home that have become more haunting with time. In one iconic scene, a baseball game is interrupted by a massive cloud of sand sweeping across the Midwest, blocking out the sun and turning a small city into an alien landscape.
Interstellar’s terrestrial visuals were seemingly prescient when it came out in October 2014, as it was released the same year wildfires swept across much of Washington state, charring nearly 387,000 acres of land. The following year, more than two and a half times that land would be swallowed by flames, and in the years since, months of summer sunshine have been lost to hazy skies in Seattle as smoke crawled across the Cascades and choked out the sun.
During the 2015 wildfires, the state was also hit by a severe drought that led to hundreds of millions in lost crops. Salmon in Puget Sound struggled to survive in low, hot summer streams and rivers. Keep 2015 in mind — because many climate scientists expect those conditions to become the norm by mid-century.
A warmer climate driven primarily by human-created emissions is changing the way water moves through and across the state in the form of rain, snow and mountain runoff. Melting sea ice will also raise sea level, forcing some coastal communities to relocate. In southwest Washington, too much water could increase floods and could more frequently submerge Interstate 5. Even inland, drought caused by low mountain snow levels and hot temperatures will likely lead to crop failure and more stress on agricultural water systems.
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"The Uninhabitable Earth hits you like a comet, with an overflow of insanely lyrical prose about our pending Armageddon."—Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
It is worse, much worse, than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible. In California, wildfires now rage year-round, destroying thousands of homes. Across the US, “500-year” storms pummel communities month after month, and floods displace tens of millions annually.
This is only a preview of the changes to come. And they are coming fast. Without a revolution in how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth could become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.
In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await—food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today.
Like An Inconvenient Truth and Silent Spring before it, The Uninhabitable Earth is both a meditation on the devastation we have brought upon ourselves and an impassioned call to action. For just as the world was brought to the brink of catastrophe within the span of a lifetime, the responsibility to avoid it now belongs to a single generation.
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The 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world
“At this point in time, the Drawdown book is exactly what is needed; a credible, conservative solution-by-solution narrative that we can do it. Reading it is an effective inoculation against the widespread perception of doom that humanity cannot and will not solve the climate crisis. Reported by-effects include increased determination and a sense of grounded hope.” —Per Espen Stoknes, Author, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming
“There’s been no real way for ordinary people to get an understanding of what they can do and what impact it can have. There remains no single, comprehensive, reliable compendium of carbon-reduction solutions across sectors. At least until now. . . . The public is hungry for this kind of practical wisdom.” —David Roberts, Vox
“This is the ideal environmental sciences textbook—only it is too interesting and inspiring to be called a textbook.” —Peter Kareiva, Director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA
In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. If deployed collectively on a global scale over the next thirty years, they represent a credible path forward, not just to slow the earth’s warming but to reach drawdown, that point in time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and begin to decline. These measures promise cascading benefits to human health, security, prosperity, and well-being—giving us every reason to see this planetary crisis as an opportunity to create a just and livable world.
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A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes
Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.