David Wallace-Wells, author of ‘The Uninhabitable Earth,’ argues for role of alarmism in confronting climate change

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On July 9, 2017, an article in New York Magazine shocked the world with its forthright and brutal descriptions of the dangers that could arise from global warming. Now, nearly two years later, “The Uninhabitable Earth” has evolved into a full-length book by David Wallace-Wells, the author of the original article. On Saturday, Wallace-Wells came to Berkeley to defend his book and assert the importance of keeping climate change at the front of our public consciousness.

Wallace-Wells was interviewed by Julian Brave NoiseCat, an indigenous writer and policy analyst who helped craft the Green New Deal. Before beginning the interview, NoiseCat stopped to make a point about the connection between race and environmentalism: For some communities, particularly indigenous ones, climate change is not the first apocalypse to have plagued the earth.

As the interview went on, the interplay between Wallace-Wells’ background as a journalist and NoiseCat’s background as an environmentalist made for some intriguing conversation. NoiseCat was quick to bring up the stigma of environmental “alarmism,” commenting that some environmentalists are still hesitant to talk about climate change as frankly as Wallace-Wells does. Indeed, “The Uninhabitable Earth” has been the subject of much controversy since the original article’s publication. Some members of the scientific community have condemned it for exaggeration and fearmongering, while others have praised it as “the ‘Silent Spring’ of our time.”

Wallace-Wells, however, seemed unfazed by these labels and gave a calm, eloquent response. He noted several public campaigns throughout history that have utilized fear in a successful and constructive manner, defending the idea that environmental alarmism can serve a powerful purpose. Like any other literary style, alarmism is ultimately one of the many ways that climate change can be discussed — and while some may dislike it, there are others who need “a level of drama” to wake them up.

For two people battling with the label of “alarmism,” moreover, Wallace-Wells and NoiseCat were both nuanced and articulate throughout their conversation. The interview even took on a sentimental note toward the end, with Wallace-Wells discussing the importance of empathy in responding to the crisis. “We’re going to take much more dramatic action,” he said, imploring audience members to hold on to their empathy for all people, even distant strangers. For such a grim topic, that is at least a bit of hope to hold on to.

Contact Lauren Sheehan-Clark at [email protected].