David Wallace-Wells and the Several Myths of Climate Change

David Wallace-Wells, in his jarring New York Times Bestseller published last month, The Uninhabitable Earth, begins with the terrifying first sentence: “It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all.” Wallace-Wells then enumerates a host of other fairy tales that, I think, are deeply important for all of us to name and spend time learning and reflecting on.

That is why I wanted to start this week by listing them again, without comment, just for the sake of taking notice of them. Here they are, slightly reworded: the several myths of climate change in the order he includes them in his first paragraph.

  • Climate change isn’t happening at all.

  • Climate change is happening slowly. It will have an impact on the lives of future generations; this generation, not so much.

  • Global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely.

  • Climate change is strictly a matter of seal level and coastlines, so it won’t really impact landlocked folks like us.

  • Climate change is a crisis of the “natural” world, so it won’t really affect me, since I live in the city.

  • The infrastructure of my community is pretty good, so I am somewhat defended by nature.

  • We live in a somewhat wealthy area, so we must be shielded against global warming somehow.

  • Burning fossil fuels is the price we pay for economic growth, and it fuels our technology; as our technology advances, we will be able to engineer our way out of environmental disasters.

  • Nothing is new under the sun. Humans have experienced catastrophes like this in our history before, so we should feel confident we can get through this one too.

Of course, I think Wallace-Wells wrote the entire book aiming to undoing these myths. The most important thing to know about climate change is the first sentence in his second paragraph: “None of this is true."