The Uninhabitable Earth

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"The Uninhabitable Earth" is an article by American journalist David Wallace-Wells published in the July 10, 2017 issue of New York magazine. The long-form article depicts a worst-case scenario of what might happen in the near-future due to global warming. The article starts with the statement "[i]f your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible." The story was the most read article in the history of the magazine.[1][2]

The article became the inspiration for The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, a book-length treatment of the ideas explored in the original essay.[3]


On November 20, 2017, NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute hosted a 2-hour-long conversation between Wallace-Wells and Michael E. Mann to discuss the controversy around the article.[1]

Accompanying the article are a series of extended interviews with scientists. These include paleontologist Peter Ward,[4] climatologist Michael E. Mann,[5] oceanographer Wallace Smith Broecker,[6] climatologist James Hansen[7] and scientist Michael Oppenheimer.[8] In addition an annotated edition of the article was published online that includes inline footnotes.

In February 2019, Wallace-Wells published The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (ISBN 978-0525576709).[9] The book was excerpted in The Guardian.[10]


The story received immediate criticism from the climate change community along two fronts: the piece is too pessimistic; or it contains some factual errors.[11] The NGO Climate Feedback summarized reviews by dozens of professional scientists, summarizing that, "The reviewers found that some statements in this complex article do misrepresent research on the topic, and some others lack the necessary context to be clearly understood by the reader. Many other explanations in the article are correct, but readers are likely left with an overall conclusion that is exaggerated compared to our best scientific understanding." Jason Samenow referred to it as a "climate doom piece" because Wallace-Wells presents some of the worse case scenarios without admission they are "remote" possibilities, and without exploring the more likely outcomes, which are still very serious.[12][13][14] With reference to factual errors, Michael Mann and several others specifically criticized the description of Arctic methane emissions.[15] In his conversation with Mann at NYU, Wallace-Wells noted that he would not include comments on methane release if he were to write the piece again.[1]

Some journalists defended the science saying it is mostly correct, "I haven't seen any good evidence for serious factual errors," said Kevin Drum.[11] Emily Atkin said "The complaints about the science in Wallace-Wells’s article are mostly quibbles".[16] Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic said it is an "unusually specific and severe depiction of what global warming will do to the planet."[17] Susan Matthews writing in Slate said "The instantly viral piece might be the Silent Spring of our time".[18] The major criticism is that David Wallace-Wells was trying to scare people.[11] This theme was then explored by journalists and commentators with some saying they thought fear was necessary given the reality of the problem, while others thought scaring people was counter-productive.[17][18][11][16][19] For example, Eric Holthaus said that "scaring the shit out of [people] is a really bad strategy" for getting them to want to address climate change.[20]

In a later interview, Wallace-Wells said that "it didn’t seem plausible to me that there was more risk at scaring people too much than there was at not scaring them enough ... my feeling was, and is, if there's a one percent chance that we’ve set off a chain reaction that could end the human race, then that should be something that the public knows and thinks about."[21]


  1. ^ a b c Mann, Michael; Wallace-Wells, David (November 20, 2017). "The 'Doomed Earth' Controversy" (Interview). Interviewed by Hotz, Robert Lee. Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  2. ^ Miller, Laura (26 July 2017). "What Kind of Novel Do You Write When You Believe Civilization Is Doomed?". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 23 May 2020. 'The Uninhabitable Earth,' the most-read story in New York magazine's history
  3. ^ Wallace-Wells, David (17 March 2020). The uninhabitable earth: life after warming. New York, USA: Tim Duggan Books. ISBN 978-0-525-57671-6. Paperback version.
  4. ^ David Wallace-Wells (July 10, 2017). "'The Models Are Too Conservative': Paleontologist Peter Ward on What Past Mass Extinctions Can Teach Us About Climate Change Today". New York. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  5. ^ David Wallace-Wells (July 11, 2017). "Scientist Michael Mann on 'Low-Probability But Catastrophic' Climate Scenarios". New York. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  6. ^ David Wallace-Wells (July 10, 2017). "The Man Who Coined the Term 'Global Warming' on the Worst-Case Scenario for Planet Earth". New York. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  7. ^ David Wallace-Wells (July 12, 2017). "'The Planet Could Become Ungovernable': Climate Scientist James Hansen on Obama's Environmental Record, Scientific Reticence, and His Climate Lawsuit Against the Federal Government". New York. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  8. ^ David Wallace-Wells (July 13, 2017). "'Personally, I Would Rate the Likelihood of Staying Under Two Degrees of Warming As Under 10 Percent': Michael Oppenheimer on the 'Unknown Unknowns' of Climate Change". New York. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  9. ^ David Wallace-Wells (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. Penguin RandomHouse. ISBN 9780525576709. Retrieved February 7, 2019.
  10. ^ David Wallace-Wells (February 2, 2019). "'The devastation of human life is in view': what a burning world tells us about climate change". The Guardian. Retrieved February 7, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d Kevin Drum (July 10, 2017). "Our Approach to Climate Change Isn't Working. Let's Try Something Else". Mother Jones. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  12. ^ Samenow, Jason (July 12, 2017). "New York Magazine climate doom piece is a case study in how not to communicate risk". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 19, 2022.
  13. ^ "Review: 'The Uninhabitable Earth' explores climate doomsday". AP NEWS. 2019-02-20. Retrieved 2022-05-19.
  14. ^ Meyer, Robinson (2017-07-10). "Are We as Doomed as That New York Magazine Article Says?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2022-05-19.
  15. ^ "Scientists explain what New York Magazine article on "The Uninhabitable Earth" gets wrong". Climate Feedback. July 12, 2017. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  16. ^ a b Emily Atkin (July 10, 2017). "The Power and Peril of "Climate Disaster Porn"". New Republic. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  17. ^ a b Robinson Meyer (July 10, 2017). "Are We as Doomed as That New York Magazine Article Says?". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  18. ^ a b Susan Matthews (July 10, 2017). "Alarmism Is the Argument We Need to Fight Climate Change". Slate. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  19. ^ Dino Grandoni (July 11, 2017). "The Energy 202: Trump could start his infrastructure push at Energy Department". Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  20. ^ Eric Holthaus (July 10, 2017). "Stop scaring people about climate change. It doesn't work". Grist. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  21. ^ Rebecca Fishbein (July 10, 2017). "Are Humans Doomed? A Q&A With The Author Of NY Mag's Terrifying Climate Change Story". Gothamist. Archived from the original on July 10, 2017. Retrieved July 11, 2017.

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