Absent an Adjustment (2018)

coloratura soprano, clarinet, violin, viola, double bass

*Commissioned by Chamber Project St. Louis

Text adapted by written permission from "The Uninhabitable Earth"

by David Wallace-Wells

New York Magazine, July 9, 2017, New York Media LLC :

It is, I promise, worse than you think.

Many sober-minded scientists, few of them inclined to alarmism, have quietly reached an apocalyptic conclusion, too: No plausible program of emissions reduction alone can prevent climate disaster.

Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope. When it comes to contemplating real-world warming dangers, we suffer from an incredible failure of imagination.

The reasons for that are many:
the timid language of scientific probabilities;
the fact that the country is dominated by a culture that doesn’t see warming as a

problem worth addressing;
the way that climate denialism has made scientists even more cautious in offering

the simple speed of change and, also, its slowness, such that we are only seeing effects

now of warming from decades past;
our uncertainty about uncertainty, which stops us preparing as though anything worse

than a median outcome were possible;
the way we assume climate change will hit hardest elsewhere, not everywhere;
the discomfort of considering a problem that is very difficult, if not impossible, to solve;

the incomprehensible scale of that problem, which amounts to the prospect of our own


simple fear.

It is, I promise, worse than you think.

Absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

But climate scientists have a strange kind of faith: we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another, because we must. 


Composer's note:

“The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells is, to put it simply, an article detailing the catastrophic possibilities of climate change that extend beyond just the well-known narrative of melting glaciers. The article is a lengthy, intense read, and it left me reeling for hours when I first worked my way through it.

Absent an Adjustment serves as my own reaction to the article, and to our possible fate: the situation is dire, and every single move we make - as individuals, as corporations, as countries, etc - matters in ways we can’t even begin to know. I find it absurd that we have to debate the existence of climate change, and the legitimate factor that humans play in it. As I see it, this is not a partisan issue, nor has it ever been.

Many have criticized Wallace-Wells for his extremely alarmist tone throughout his article, but I agree with him: surely we are not alarmed enough. There are too many systems in place that will make actual solutions and change painstaking at best. These sentiments - the direness, the absurdness, the powerlessness in the face of systems outside of my control - are what inform the motivic and harmonic material throughout this piece. It is constructed in four sections that closely follow the text, building from ominous to frantic, then falling back to ominous, and finally hinting at possible hope. For, despite the alarmist tone of the text, there is a glimmer of hope in our actions. Every choice we make matters, and matters greatly.

Absent an Adjustment is ultimately a call to action, transferring this crucial message into the medium of music. It’s on every one of us to become informed, put pressure on our leaders, and support our scientists. Human ingenuity will triumph, because it must.