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In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world's rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a super coral that In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world's rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a super coral that can survive on a hotter globe; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth. One way to look at human civilization, says Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. In The Sixth Extinction, she explored the ways in which our capacity for destruction has reshaped the natural world. Now she examines how the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation.


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In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world's rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a super coral that In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world's rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a super coral that can survive on a hotter globe; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth. One way to look at human civilization, says Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. In The Sixth Extinction, she explored the ways in which our capacity for destruction has reshaped the natural world. Now she examines how the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation.

30 review for Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

  1. 4 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    Check out my review on Booktube. Check out my review on Booktube.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Suppose that the world — or just a small group of assertive nations — launched a fleet of SAILs (Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Lofters). And suppose that even as the SAILs are flying and lofting more and more tons of particles, global emissions continue to rise. The result would not be a return to the climate of pre-industrial days or to that of the Pliocene or even that of the Eocene, when crocodiles baked on Arctic shores. It would be an unprecedented climate for an unprecedented world, w Suppose that the world — or just a small group of assertive nations — launched a fleet of SAILs (Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Lofters). And suppose that even as the SAILs are flying and lofting more and more tons of particles, global emissions continue to rise. The result would not be a return to the climate of pre-industrial days or to that of the Pliocene or even that of the Eocene, when crocodiles baked on Arctic shores. It would be an unprecedented climate for an unprecedented world, where silver carp glisten under a white sky. I have a friend who’s an eco-fatalist (she would call herself a “realist”) and she has long teased me for being a naive optimist: while it’s true that I have hope that human ingenuity will think us out of our various anthropogenic-caused crises, my friend believes that humans are inherently brutish and selfish and willfully committed to profiting off destruction unto the end of the Earth. Wading into this debate, author and journalist Elizabeth Kolbert (whose last successful book, The Sixth Extinction, didn’t really inspire me as much as I had hoped it would), returns with Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. In her latest offering, Kolbert revisits familiar material (hopping around the globe to report on species at risk), but of even more interest to me, she reports on the work of scientists who are racing against the doomsday clock, using cutting-edge science to repair the damage we humans have wrought and knowingly changing the planet in order to save the planet. Ultimately, this book is hopeful — smart people are at work behind the scenes — and it also asks us to consider the consequences of our interventions: If lofting tons of calcium carbonate into the atmosphere would cool the planet, would we even notice (or care) if the sky slowly turned white? And to those who would complain that a white sky isn’t natural, scientists can point to every square meter on Earth to show that it has already been changed by the presence of mankind; changing nature is what we do. Overall: an informative work that left me much to think about and employ in debates with my more fatalistic friend. (Note: I read an ARC through NetGalley and passages quoted may not be in their final forms.) The way (Klaus) Lackner sees things, the key to avoiding “deep trouble” is thinking differently. “We need to change the paradigm,” he told me. Carbon dioxide, in his view, should be regarded much the same way we look at sewage. We don’t expect people to stop producing waste. “Rewarding people for going to the bathroom less would be nonsensical,” Lackner has observed. At the same time, we don’t let them shit on the sidewalk. One of the reasons we’ve had such trouble addressing the carbon problem, he contends, is the issue has acquired an ethical charge. To the extent that emissions are seen as bad, emitters become guilty. “Such a moral stance makes virtually everyone a sinner and makes hypocrites out of many who are concerned about climate change but still partake in the benefits of modernity,” he has written. Shifting the paradigm, he thinks, will shift the conversation. Yes, people have fundamentally altered the atmosphere. And, yes, this is likely to lead to all sorts of dreadful consequences. But people are ingenious. They come up with crazy, big ideas, and sometimes these actually work. Under a White Sky is all about the crazy, big ideas. Kolbert starts with scientists who are trying to fix the unintended consequences of past scientists’ best-intended interventions (like dealing with the Asian carp infestations in American waterways — fish that were intentionally introduced after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring called for the end of chemical pesticides — and efforts to protect New Orleans from future flooding — apparently decades of diverting water away from the city has prevented the natural deposits of sediment that underpin it). And there’s quite a bit on species at risk due to climate change — and just like in The Sixth Extinction, I found it sometimes hard to get worked up over what Kolbert chose to write about. Here, she reports at length on the fate of the Devils Hole pupfish (a minnow-sized fish that lives in one small cavern in the Nevada desert), and while their numbers in the wild range between fifty and two hundred, there is also a multi-million dollar facility nearby that houses a climate-controlled replica of the Devils Hole cavern, with scientists working around the clock to support a captive-bred population. Personally, I am moved by the tragedy of rhinos being hunted into extinction by human greed, but I can’t really connect with the fate of this over-specialised, and biologically isolated, species; the Devils Hole pupfish seems like an evolutionary failure and I’m gobsmacked by the resources devoted to keeping it around (yet I am philosophically challenged by the defender of the similarly-fated Owens pupfish, Phil Pister, who when asked, “What good are pupfish?”, replied, “What good are you?” Touché.) Kolbert travels to Australia to visit a coral research/breeding facility (which I can totally get behind, a coral reef having more biodiversity per square meter than the Amazon Rainforest and performing an unclear function in the oceans), and while in the country, she visits with those scientists who are working on eradicating the invasive cane toad (another unintended consequence of someone in the past intervening in nature) and those scientists who are gene-editing mice to try and eradicate their presence in habitats where they don’t belong (rats and mice having followed humans everywhere they’ve travelled, often to the devastation of local species). Kolbert flies all around the continental US, goes to Hawaii and Greenland, and after thusly circling the globe, Kolbert visits with scientists from Climeworks in Iceland — a company she subscribes to that offsets personal carbon footprints by capturing carbon in the air and fixing it in the rock deep underground. What I most appreciated in this book (and what I thought was missing from The Sixth Extinction) was the discussion around the morality of personal behaviour and the ethics of large-scale scientific intervention in nature (and especially when so much of Under a White Sky deals with our current efforts to fix past scientific errors); I remain hopeful that the smart people working on these problems have thought through the consequences. The strongest argument for gene-editing cane toads, house mice, and ship rats is also the simplest: What’s the alternative? Rejecting such technologies as unnatural isn’t going to bring nature back. The choice is not between what was and what is but between what is and what will be, which, often enough, is nothing. This is the situation of the Devils Hole pupfish, the Shoshone pupfish, and the Pahrump poolfish, of northern quolls, yellow-spotted monitor lizards, and the Tristan albatross. Stick to a strict interpretation of the natural and these — along with thousands of other species — are goners. The issue, at this point, is not whether we’re going to alter nature but to what end? Everything about this book was interesting to me and I found it well-written and engaging, but if I had a small complaint, it would be that it feels just a bit unfinished (and as Kolbert writes about research trips that ended up being cancelled due to COVID travel restrictions, this abruptness is understandable). Again, there’s hope to be found here, and that’s no small thing today.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Numidica

    Elizabeth Kolbert has written a book that tells us all the ways in which we are destroying the natural world which gave humans the chance to create civilization. That's not a flippant description. She uses examples, and she starts with our attempts to control the Mississippi River, which have resulted in the gradual dissolution and sinking of southern Louisiana, and moves on to the introduction of exotic species to that river, notably Asian Carp, which are destroying the ecosystem of the Mississ Elizabeth Kolbert has written a book that tells us all the ways in which we are destroying the natural world which gave humans the chance to create civilization. That's not a flippant description. She uses examples, and she starts with our attempts to control the Mississippi River, which have resulted in the gradual dissolution and sinking of southern Louisiana, and moves on to the introduction of exotic species to that river, notably Asian Carp, which are destroying the ecosystem of the Mississippi Basin's waterways. From there she moves on to examine the endangered fish which populate the waters of desert caverns in the western US and the attempts to save them by creating artificial environments, and thence to the story of scientists trying to breed hardier corals to withstand warming oceans. I've seen beautiful and diverse coral reefs diving in the Caribbean, but something the author said stopped me: the degree of biodiversity per cubic meter on a healthy tropical coral reef exceeds that of the healthiest patch of Amazonian rainforest, which would be its closest terrestrial competition. Coral reefs are, as far as is known, the most biodiverse places on Earth. Approximately one in four fish on the planet live at least part of their lives on a coral reef. And the reefs are dying, worldwide, because of the warming of the oceans. The scientists who are working on breeding hardier corals view their work as a way to save, not everything, but at least a portion of the reefs that are so vital to ocean life, so as to bridge to a future where we have somehow stabilized the climate. And that way of thinking among scientists is a theme that runs through the book. Kolbert next describes how frighteningly easy it is to modify the genetic code of an organism with CRISPR, to the point that one is put in mind of Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam books. And yet, used responsibly, genetic modification can solve problems; it can give us back the American Chestnut, which was killed off by, wait for it, an invasive species in the form of an imported Asian fungus. The genetically modified blight-immune chestnuts already exist at a New York university, but are confined by law to greenhouses for now, as transgenic species requiring federal permitting. Conversely, genetic modification can also produce bacteria that are immune to antibiotics, or viruses that are more deadly than Ebola and spread more rapidly than the South African variant of COVID. Might these tools fall into the wrong hands? Finally, the crux of the book is in asking the question, what now? Forget about mankind's dangerous fiddling with the ecosystems of pretty much everywhere via introduction on non-native species, or even our so far modest actions in creating genetically modified organisms of various types. It is quite likely that the global warming that mankind has put in motion is too big to control without drastic measures, if it even can be controlled. And given our admittedly poor record at anticipating the consequences of our actions, what do we dare do? Shoot particulates into the stratosphere to dim the sun? Well, maybe. Because even if we do everything else we must do: decarbonize, deploy technology to scrub CO2 from the air, change our farming techniques, et cetera ad nauseam, it's not enough. We will still go through a period of time when temperatures rise to levels unseen in millennia, i.e., since before human civilization existed. But we could possibly avoid maximal disaster, including the collapse of most agriculture, by the "white sky option" of injecting a reflective particulate into the upper atmosphere. Which is an option fraught with risk and uncertainty. Just as no one who was cancer-free would ever voluntarily submit to chemotherapy, in the world of the past with a "normal" climate we would not even think of doing such a thing as dimming the sun. Because safety is not guaranteed. The problem is, as one scientist put it, that we live in a world where "dimming the f-ing sun" might actually be the better option; it's where we are, sadly; we might have to use it to save ourselves, so we better understand it as well as we can. And yet....if one looks at Greenland ice cores (and Ms. Kolbert tells an interesting story of how the US Army produced the first such cores, incidental to a Cold War initiative involving shuttling ICBM's around in ice tunnels), they tell us something both interesting and frightening: the last seven thousand years have been a tremendously unusual climactic period in Earth's history. The climate has been far more stable in the current period than at any time in the previous hundred thousand years, and that stability is the key to why human civilization exists. Because the climate of the last seven thousand years was relatively reliable, relatively dependable in terms of rainfall, agriculture came into existence, and cities, and universities, and science, and all the rest. And the conditions that made it possible appear to have been a fluke, a lucky roll of the dice. Easily destabilized. Which we have done. Whatever happens, whatever decisions are made, the next ten years will be critical to humans and to nature, of which we are a part, whether we think so or not. A very good book, and important for as many people as possible to read and understand, because hard decisions await.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dana Berglund

    4.5 stars. It must be hard to be a science reporter in 2020. Finding the right balance between presenting the research, exploring the background, and trying to get your readers to care (or critique, or mobilize) would be quite the struggle. If, as scientist Dan Schrag says in the book, a scientist’s job is to describe the world as accurately as possible, then I think the job of *making people care about it* falls to the science reporters. Elizabeth Kolbert has picked up this mantle, showing us bo 4.5 stars. It must be hard to be a science reporter in 2020. Finding the right balance between presenting the research, exploring the background, and trying to get your readers to care (or critique, or mobilize) would be quite the struggle. If, as scientist Dan Schrag says in the book, a scientist’s job is to describe the world as accurately as possible, then I think the job of *making people care about it* falls to the science reporters. Elizabeth Kolbert has picked up this mantle, showing us both the small and the gargantuan efforts to fix the environmental mistakes/disasters/problems that people have caused. She has made it interesting, accessible, and grounded, so that we can see both some possible “good news” and also some serious cause for alarm. Humans have so thoroughly altered the patterns of flora, fauna, and climate that it may only be through more human action that we can mitigate the problems we’ve created. Some of the proposed actions may sound like Franken-science: electrified rivers! Genetically engineered invasive species! Spraying the stratosphere with diamonds particles! But each chapter tells the story of scientists who are diligently working to solve a problem or answer questions left by our other decisions. They are thinking up the big ideas that may save parts of the world’s coral reefs, or the whole peninsula of New Orleans. There was a lot to learn, be interested in, and look up more information on while reading this book. Though Kolbert threads together the idea of human intervention, some of the chapters still feel more like separate articles, and your interest level may wax or wane with the particulars of that chapter. (But who wouldn’t want to learn more about destructive carp?) The final section, called Up in the Air, tackles three angles on global climate, temperature and carbon dioxide, coming together in a more cohesive section. It was a little more technically dense, but also more about the bigger picture. Invasive carp, or toads, won’t much matter if the global temperature raises 4 or 5 degrees. The ending feels a little abrupt, perhaps because of the timing of COVID, or perhaps not. We’re left wanting more--more data, more solutions, and more connections. But overall, a great science read for a non-scientist. I received an ARC of this book from Crown as part of Goodreads Giveaways, but the opinions in this review are my own.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brendan Monroe

    Have you ever watched any of those famous British documentary series on our planet? If you haven't, you absolutely should — they're phenomenal (how do they get that amazing footage??). Narrated by the incomparable David Attenborough, most — "Planet Earth," "Frozen Planet," "Blue Planet" — have aired on the BBC, but the most recent, "Our Planet," was released on Netflix. Much of these series, particularly "Our Planet," focuses on the harm that humans are doing to the environment and the creatures Have you ever watched any of those famous British documentary series on our planet? If you haven't, you absolutely should — they're phenomenal (how do they get that amazing footage??). Narrated by the incomparable David Attenborough, most — "Planet Earth," "Frozen Planet," "Blue Planet" — have aired on the BBC, but the most recent, "Our Planet," was released on Netflix. Much of these series, particularly "Our Planet," focuses on the harm that humans are doing to the environment and the creatures and habitats that are threatened by man-made climate change. But to avoid being entirely all gloom and doom, there's always a few minutes towards the end where the producers make room for a bit on the effort a few good humans are trying to make to rehabilitate decimated coral reefs, save some species from extinction, or develop some sort of waste-reducing technology. Many books in the climate change genre are the same way. Everything's looking very bad indeed, as David Wallace-Wells' The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming tells us, but let's spend a few lines talking about this technology that may offer up some hope. Elizabeth Kolbert's previous book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, was the same way — around 300 pages of pretty bleak stuff with a dozen or so more hopeful pages tacked on at the end so we don't all just go kill ourselves. This, then, is her sort of elaborating on those dozen or so pages. This is those few minutes in "Blue Planet" talking about the attempted restoration of bleached coral reefs blown up into book length form ... or something like it. Because, in fact, "Under a White Sky" is a rather slim read. Clocking in just around 250 pages, or about six hours in the audiobook format, which is how I chose to imbibe it, it's tellingly shorter than many of those "we're completely fucked" climate change tomes that get released on an increasingly routine basis. And if this does pass as the "good" news on the climate change front, that just goes to show how dire the situation really is. Because this book is full of ideas that scientists and others are working on that might help reverse some of the effects of global warming ... or that might make everything much, much worse. There's just no telling. Towards the end, Kolbert writes that "Under a White Sky" is “a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems,” and that sums it up perfectly. As a result, "Under the White Sky" is a sort of travelogue of doom, in which Kolbert treks from place to place to see firsthand the effect that invasive species have had or measure exactly how many acres of Louisiana have been swallowed by the sea in recent years. In one case, Kolbert investigates the city of Chicago's attempt back in the year 1900 to divert waste from Lake Michigan — the city's main source of drinking water — by reversing the flow of the Chicago River. The city did succeed in reversing the flow of the river, but in doing so they connected the basin of the Great Lakes with that of the Mississippi River, which in turn resulted in an ecological calamity when invasive species from one poured into the other. The message, in any case, is clear: for every possible solution that may exist to lessen the damage already being caused by global warming, there is an equally bad, if not significantly worse, outcome that may result. So what are we to do? Depending upon the scientists you're listening to, we've already reached a degree and a half Celsius of warming, meaning that surpassing the 2°C goal set by the Paris Climate Accords is already a foregone conclusion. Many scientists believe that we're well on our way to 4°C of warming, and possibly more, unless we take immediate measures to curb our carbon output, something that is, let's be honest, not going to happen. So as scary as, say, "dimming the fucking sun" is, Elizabeth Kolbert asks the key question — “What’s the alternative?” “Rejecting such technologies as unnatural isn’t going to bring nature back," she writes. "The choice is not between what was and what is, but between what is and what will be, which, often enough, is nothing.” We could pine for what was, agonize over the things we should have done 10, 20, 30 years ago, but none of that matters anymore because the chance to preserve that planet is already gone. So, in an effort to preserve today's planet, do we experiment with gene-editing tools like CRISPR (clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) in the hope that by doing so, we can edit the genes of a few invasive species and release them back into the wild so that'll hopefully eliminate their kin? What climate change has left us with, then, is a 21st century version of the trolley problem. Would you dim the sun, experiment with gene editing technology, deploy light-reflective particles into the atmosphere — risking severe and in some cases certain negative consequences — if there's a possibility that doing so might save the planet? In the words of Andy Parker, the project director for the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, “we live in a world where deliberately dimming the fucking sun might be less risky than not doing it.” With hopes like these, who needs despair?

  6. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    in her first book since the pulitzer prize-winning the sixth extinction: an unnatural history, elizabeth kolbert delves once more into our anthropocenic epoch. under a white sky: the nature of the future finds the new yorker staff writer moving beyond a chronicling of the myriad calamities ahead and instead focusing on mitigation attempts, large and small, currently underway and/or under consideration. the underlying (if largely unspoken) question posed by kolbert's new book (so named for the bl in her first book since the pulitzer prize-winning the sixth extinction: an unnatural history, elizabeth kolbert delves once more into our anthropocenic epoch. under a white sky: the nature of the future finds the new yorker staff writer moving beyond a chronicling of the myriad calamities ahead and instead focusing on mitigation attempts, large and small, currently underway and/or under consideration. the underlying (if largely unspoken) question posed by kolbert's new book (so named for the blue-less skies that would likely result from widespread solar geoengineering) is that if human-induced climate change, habitat loss, biodiversity crashes, the proliferative destruction of invasive species, etc. were wrought by our own collective hand, what makes us think any attempt at benevolent meddling would actually work out the way we intended or even hoped it might? [spoiler: hubris springs eternal] kolbert offers sobering, but fascinating looks into asian carp, the louisiana delta, pupfish, coral reefs, cane toads, crispr & gene-editing, and negative-emissions technologies to exemplify and explore the situations of and our responses to some very dire environmental consequences. kolbert's writing is always incisive, illuminating, and beautifully composed, often with traces of wit and humor to lighten an otherwise altogether distressing subject. kolbert foregoes an alarmist bent, presumably because she trusts her readers to infer the urgency of her work. curiously, she doesn't explicitly situate her most recent reporting within an overarching or unifying context, which would almost certainly have benefitted both the narrative and readers unfamiliar with such subjects (sections of the book appeared previously in the new yorker, but it's lacking a thematic summation or intro/outro of some kind). nonetheless, kolbert's writing remains ever timely and engrossing, and under a white sky is another work of grave import. the choice is not between what was and what is but between what is and what will be, which, often enough, is nothing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Katz

    Kolbert is one of the few science writers whose articles in The New Yorker I always read as soon as they appear, and I'm not a big science reader. Her last book, The Sixth Extinction, won a Pulitzer in 2015 and was a bestseller. Deservedly on both counts. Her new book, Under a White Sky likewise explores what mankind is doing to the world. It is sobering and serious -- even terrifying -- but it's written in with humor, lively curiosity, and a sensitive tone throughout. It's like hearing bad news Kolbert is one of the few science writers whose articles in The New Yorker I always read as soon as they appear, and I'm not a big science reader. Her last book, The Sixth Extinction, won a Pulitzer in 2015 and was a bestseller. Deservedly on both counts. Her new book, Under a White Sky likewise explores what mankind is doing to the world. It is sobering and serious -- even terrifying -- but it's written in with humor, lively curiosity, and a sensitive tone throughout. It's like hearing bad news from a really good friend. That's rather akin to the "spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down" paradigm, I suppose, but it works well. The point is, after all, to get people to read the book, to pay attention. Kolbert describes 'White Sky" as being "about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems." That is, an examination of unintended consequences. Early in the book, for example, she talks about one of the seminal texts of the environmental movement, Silent Spring. In that work, Rachel Carson roundly criticized what she described as an arrogant effort to try to control nature through the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides like DDT. Rather than chemicals, Carson advocated "biological controls:" selected parasites, useful predators, and so on. She wasn't wrong, of course -- the chemicals were doing horrible damage to wildlife, particularly birds. Reaction to the book and its argument was immediate, Kolbert tells us: "One year after Silent Spring's publication, in 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought the first documented shipment of Asian carp to America. The idea was to use the carp, much as Carson had recommended, to keep aquatic weeds in check." (She notes parenthetically that some of these weeds were themselves "introduced species.") A valiant effort, and clearly well-intentioned. But: Today the Great Lakes, Illinois River, and even the Mississippi are plagued or threatened by an exploding population of voracious Asian carp that out-competes all indigenous species and has no predators. One, the so-called "silver-carp," actually jumps out of the water when startled (by, for example, outboard motors), injuring fishermen, boaters, Jet Skiers, and swimmers -- even knocking them out, because they're pretty big fish. All manner of interventions have been attempted to reduce the carp population and stop the spread. One such effort resulted in signs being posted along waterways warning people from, well, pretty much all water activities. One bright red sign reads "DANGER: ENTERING ELECTRIC FISH BARRIERS. HIGH RISK OF ELECTRIC SHOCK." Spoiler alert: The problem hasn't been solved. Under a White Sky explores similar ill-fated efforts at controlling nature -- and what's being pondered now that global warming becomes more and more assured. There have been many examples of "global change" over the course of earth's history -- the extinction of dinosaurs, for one -- but nothing like what we're facing now. Kolbert's description is succinct: "Humans are producing no-analog climates, no-analog ecosystems, a whole no-analog future... And so we face a no-analog predicament." Kolbert's book covers a lot of territory, conceptually, historically, and geographically: • an endangered small species of fish, the Devil's Hole pupfish, which "may well be the rarest fish in the world." (This is the part of the book where I learned that Edward Abbey wrote most of Desert Solitaire, one of my favorite books, sitting in the bar of a brothel near Devil's Hole. That sounds about right.) • efforts to save and revive the Great Barrier and coral reefs ("It's estimated that one out of every four creatures in the oceans spends at least part of its life on a reef.") • genetic engineering technology (she mails away for a "bacterial CRISPR and fluorescent yeast combo kit" from a company in California and performs an experiment. "It felt a little creepy," Kolbert writes, "engineering a drug-resistant strain of E. coli in my kitchen.") • ice core readings in Greenland that demonstrate jaw-dropping variations in temperature over as little as 50 years. ("It was as if New York City had suddenly become Houston, or Houston had become Riyadh, and then flipped back again.") The possible significance of these readings is, let's say, shattering, but I won't go into it here. • research into what we might do to halt, slow, or reverse global climate change through solar geoengineering (Kolbert quotes one scientist as saying, "We live in a world where deliberately dimming the fucking sun might be less risky than not doing it.") One avenue of research might change our skies from blue to white (hence the book's title), but the sunsets would be glorious. • and a whole lot more (I particularly enjoyed her discussion of cane toads, another "introduced specie:" they can grow to be the size of a chihuahua, are toxic -- "the list of species whose numbers have crashed due to cane-toad consumption is long and varied" -- and are expanding their habitats by some 30 miles a year! There's actually a device called "The Toadinator" used to try to slow their population growth. I can't wait for the SYFI-TV movie. ) Our "no-analog" situation is dire, Kolbert notes, but a lot of people are spending a lot of time thinking about what we can do about it. The challenge is perhaps best captured on a poster she saw at LSU, words attributed to Albert Einstein: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." My thanks to Crown Books for providing a digital ARC in return for an honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ivana

    Elizabeth Kolbert gives us a bird’s eye overview of many, many ways in which the man fucked up this planet in his hubristic philosophy that we, Homo sapiens, can control the nature and bend it to our will. The book is full of such examples. It’s not one of those books that, in the end, offers a path toward a solution. Although it mentions various technocratic fixes to all the problems (the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess is being used to get us out of it), the experts she interv Elizabeth Kolbert gives us a bird’s eye overview of many, many ways in which the man fucked up this planet in his hubristic philosophy that we, Homo sapiens, can control the nature and bend it to our will. The book is full of such examples. It’s not one of those books that, in the end, offers a path toward a solution. Although it mentions various technocratic fixes to all the problems (the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess is being used to get us out of it), the experts she interviewed do not sound hopeful. Instead, they are resigned. Resigned to the faith that, if we do nothing, we will perish while all along acknowledging the same hubris behind the “non-solution” solutions, such as carbon captures and cloud seeding, which are apparently needed if we’re to stay alive on this planet.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Cobb Sabatini

    I won an Advance Uncorrected Proof of Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert from Goodreads. In Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, author Elizabeth Kolbert delivers scientific insight in a way that even the most unscientific reader understands the concepts. Both alarming and hopeful, the ideas and projects Kolbert presents are at once impossible and promising, with all the possibilities, both good and bad, to address Climate Change. As the author interviews exp I won an Advance Uncorrected Proof of Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert from Goodreads. In Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, author Elizabeth Kolbert delivers scientific insight in a way that even the most unscientific reader understands the concepts. Both alarming and hopeful, the ideas and projects Kolbert presents are at once impossible and promising, with all the possibilities, both good and bad, to address Climate Change. As the author interviews experts in each field and visits laboratories and natural sites, readers gain comprehension into the causes of a variety of issues that negatively affect our world, and the efforts to fix, or head off, impending quandaries. Under a White Sky is essential reading for the average person who desires to fully grasp the difficulties of and efforts to address Climate Change.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mano Sundaresan

    “First you reverse a river. Then you electrify it,” Kolbert writes. It’s the Cliff Notes for over a century of human intervention in the Chicago River, which was once so filthy it barely resembled a river. By boring out a canal, engineers literally reversed the river and its gunk away from Lake Michigan -- one of Chicago’s main water sources -- into the Mississippi river basin. But in doing so, they introduced a bunch of invasive species to the Chicago, namely Asian carp -- which, ironically eno “First you reverse a river. Then you electrify it,” Kolbert writes. It’s the Cliff Notes for over a century of human intervention in the Chicago River, which was once so filthy it barely resembled a river. By boring out a canal, engineers literally reversed the river and its gunk away from Lake Michigan -- one of Chicago’s main water sources -- into the Mississippi river basin. But in doing so, they introduced a bunch of invasive species to the Chicago, namely Asian carp -- which, ironically enough, were imported by the U.S. government as a sort of natural cleanup crew. So, they electrified parts of the canal. And in the first chapter of Under A White Sky, Kolbert finds herself in a vessel bobbing down it. Later in the chapter, she hangs with some guys who are basically Asian carp contract killers, and then with some chefs who are trying to perfect Asian carp cuisine. You get the gist? This, and the rest of Under A White Sky, is about how humans have created environmental problems, tried to solve those problems, and created more problems as a result. Kolbert is often bitingly funny, matching the subject matter’s pervasive techno-nihilism with barbs that often land precisely because of how sadly true they are. In one section, she compares the artificial Vegas hotel she’s staying at to the replica desert environment that scientists have engineered for an endangered fish species. This kind of “control of the control of nature,” as she puts it, can be at once hopeful, absurd and sad, but most of all, it’s revealing. It leaves me feeling that, despite conquering this planet, we know little about it. Here's the NPR interview with Kolbert I produced: https://www.npr.org/2021/02/11/967079...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    “Yes, people have fundamentally altered the atmosphere. And, yes, this is likely to lead to all sorts of dreadful consequences. But people are ingenious. They come up with crazy, big ideas, and sometimes these actually work.” Kolbert burst onto the scene with the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sixth Extinction. A book I enjoyed immensely. She has returned here with a collection of eight essays, exploring the ways in which our capacity for destruction has reshaped the natural world and how scientists “Yes, people have fundamentally altered the atmosphere. And, yes, this is likely to lead to all sorts of dreadful consequences. But people are ingenious. They come up with crazy, big ideas, and sometimes these actually work.” Kolbert burst onto the scene with the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sixth Extinction. A book I enjoyed immensely. She has returned here with a collection of eight essays, exploring the ways in which our capacity for destruction has reshaped the natural world and how scientists and biologists are fighting back. These very inventive measures may only slow the bleeding but it is at least a start. Kolbert traveled the world for these stories and did not mind getting her hands dirty along the way. It must be tough to be a science writer in 2021 but she has pulled it off once again, with this eye-opener.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    When I saw that Elizabeth Kolbert's newest book was coming out I was quite excited - The Sixth Extinction was a fantastic book. Sadly, Under a White Sky did not captivate me the same way. It wasn't really what I was expecting, either. It's essentially a collection of science journalism focused on the environment - specifically, the ways that humans are interfering with the environment in an attempt to solve the problems created by previous attempts. It's quite interesting...but it's missing somet When I saw that Elizabeth Kolbert's newest book was coming out I was quite excited - The Sixth Extinction was a fantastic book. Sadly, Under a White Sky did not captivate me the same way. It wasn't really what I was expecting, either. It's essentially a collection of science journalism focused on the environment - specifically, the ways that humans are interfering with the environment in an attempt to solve the problems created by previous attempts. It's quite interesting...but it's missing something. Under a White Sky's 'thesis' is certainly more subtle...but it's missing the passion and sense of urgency that made The Sixth Extinction so compelling. I can easily imagine each of the three segments of this book as pop-science documentaries - which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Audrey (audreyapproved)

    Reading this kind of made me kind of happy that I won't be alive when the world sees the true wide scale human, economic and environmental impact of what we are doing to our planet. Like many, I read and absolutely loved Kolbert's Pulitzer-Prize winning The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, and for those that are looking for a sequel I do think Under a White Sky mostly delivers. What I really like about Kolbert is her almost compulsively-readable tone and writing style, which is likely why Reading this kind of made me kind of happy that I won't be alive when the world sees the true wide scale human, economic and environmental impact of what we are doing to our planet. Like many, I read and absolutely loved Kolbert's Pulitzer-Prize winning The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, and for those that are looking for a sequel I do think Under a White Sky mostly delivers. What I really like about Kolbert is her almost compulsively-readable tone and writing style, which is likely why she appeals to the masses. Unfortunately, it also means that she rarely dives technologically deep into subjects, and provides pretty dumb-downed versions of how things work. Those looking for a deep dive in the potential technologies to mitigate climate change should look elsewhere. But for those that want a little glance into some of the technologies being used to alleviate a wide range of environmental issues, this is great. I really enjoy how Kolbert inserts herself - and the scientists - into the stories. She provides a super humanistic approach to environmental reporting, and in this book she's gone slightly deeper than her previous work to question the moral and ethical implications of both how we got into this environmental disaster - and how we'll get out of it. The book is sectioned into three parts. The first deals with American interventions with rivers and lakes, a second about the impact of humans on nature and our continued control of nature to *return* to pre-human conditions (spoiler: it cannot be done), and a third dealing with some future-looking ways to mitigate climate change. Much of the book deals with the idea that humans and the environment are so enmeshed that our only option is even more anthropogenic control to prevent irreversible destruction. One quote that stood out to me was: "The choice is not between what was and what is, but what is and what will be - which often enough is nothing". Overall, there were a few things that prevented this from being a 5-star read for me. Firstly, she has less hard science in here than she did in The Sixth Extinction, so it definitely reads a lot lighter in terms of details. Secondly, the title is broad and misleading - we don't deal with "the nature of the future", only small mini slices of it. Thirdly, and connected to this, I feel this was way too short for what she was trying to do, and I wished that it was easily double the length. Fourthly, the sections didn't feel super cohesive and I would have appreciated a conclusion chapter wrapping and summing up what comes next for humanity and/or the need for a shift in frame of mind. Lastly, the cover is so ugly (seriously, I could make this in powerpoint!!!).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael Payne

    Herein lies an ode to Cassandra. This is an epic poem of the Anthropocene. There needs to be a “Future Prize”, more important than any Nobel, more heralded than any Pulitzer, more celebrated than any Golden Globe, and more widely acclaimed than all the box office hits. Tragically, it is the curse of Cassandra that such prizes do not exist and such wisdom is hardly read, recognized or known. Elizabeth Kolbert would win this prize, not once but twice over for her prophecy of the profound truth arou Herein lies an ode to Cassandra. This is an epic poem of the Anthropocene. There needs to be a “Future Prize”, more important than any Nobel, more heralded than any Pulitzer, more celebrated than any Golden Globe, and more widely acclaimed than all the box office hits. Tragically, it is the curse of Cassandra that such prizes do not exist and such wisdom is hardly read, recognized or known. Elizabeth Kolbert would win this prize, not once but twice over for her prophecy of the profound truth around us all in plain sight that we are witness to a global heating and dying on a mass scale of rapid despeciation. This truth is predicated on the fact that one species of humans has engineered the planet and all its life to bend to its wishes. Daily our skies are regarded as open sewers, pumped with 50 billion tons annually of greenhouse gases. Despite all the global accords the burning of fossilized remains of much that was in the ground for millions of years before now continues unabated as the parties proceed. As the ancients burn, we fill our skies with gases of their remains raining down acids on the oceans, changing their ph balance, impacting the fish, the animals, the corals, and the weather. In spite of this evidence and prophecy, the world remains preoccupied by the happenings of the ‘now’, as the prize processions proceed. Under A White Sky, is where the Anthropocene may live out its era as the only hospitable way to engineer a liveable planet. This harsh reality may well require a geo-engineered planet where climate engineering has ‘seeded’ the high atmosphere with yet more pollutants to reflect the sunlight back into space. A side effect of this tale, is not just the loss of millions of bison, and passenger pigeons, or the death of corals, or the threatened extinction of the pup fish in Devils Hole. We may lose so much more than just our climate, our fishes and forests. An unwelcome side effect of this planetary engineering would be the unfortunate future that the skies are no longer blue and we are cursed to live out our days ‘under a white sky’. Read this book. Make it number one on the New York Times bestseller list, nominate it for a Pulizer and Booker both. Or, dismiss this as Cassandra ignoring all at our collective peril. Our moment is now, we should think deeply about the future to avoid repeating the past.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ezechel

    For those who've read The Sixth Extinction and liked it, this book won't disappoint. True, the science is dumbed down a bit too much for informed readers, but I bet that's on purpose, to appeal to everyone, not just to fans of scientific non-fiction. And that's fine, because everyone should know this stuff. I have only 2 points of criticism, probably connected: it's a bit too short, and the the title is a bit too grand. "The nature of the future" sounds like the title of a book that will have som For those who've read The Sixth Extinction and liked it, this book won't disappoint. True, the science is dumbed down a bit too much for informed readers, but I bet that's on purpose, to appeal to everyone, not just to fans of scientific non-fiction. And that's fine, because everyone should know this stuff. I have only 2 points of criticism, probably connected: it's a bit too short, and the the title is a bit too grand. "The nature of the future" sounds like the title of a book that will have something to say about medical technology, pandemics, artificial intelligence, feeding the future humanity, space exploration. But it doesn't. "Future of Nature" would be more accurate. It has very specific stories about how humans are trying to "save the nature" or to reverse damage already done by humans. Some at a grand scale, others at a smaller scale, but all sharing the theme. A very vivid description of what the "anthropocene" age is quickly becoming. She is ambiguous about whether she supports these efforts or not, and lets her characters speak instead, like a good journalist, not like an activist. In a way, it's an extension of The Sixth Extinction (spoiler alert: the coral spawn is back), and it makes good sense when you take it that way. I found myself wishing again she'd talk more from published scientific research and less from interviews with scientists... But her style is undeniably captivating, and gets the message across. So maybe research papers don't help with that. Highly recommend, 4.5 stars.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Luca Tanaka

    A thought-provoking examination of the state of our fight struggle agains climate change. Grim at times, but with a bent towards creativity (as the situation requires), Kolbert questions whether we are beyond not just reversal, but mitigation, and squarely in the realm of "addictive" and inescapable countermeasures. Kolbert is concerned with our role in Nature and how unnatural we have driven Nature to be and what that means for our fight against climate change going forward. This is a valuable A thought-provoking examination of the state of our fight struggle agains climate change. Grim at times, but with a bent towards creativity (as the situation requires), Kolbert questions whether we are beyond not just reversal, but mitigation, and squarely in the realm of "addictive" and inescapable countermeasures. Kolbert is concerned with our role in Nature and how unnatural we have driven Nature to be and what that means for our fight against climate change going forward. This is a valuable contribution to current climate thought and literature, though I dearly hope Kolbert's fears are not fully realized.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Talley

    As with anything written by Kolbert, this was both endlessly interesting and concerning about the state of our environment. Basically a must-read for anyone even remotely engaged with what we’re doing to this planet we call home.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Great mix of bizarre facts (pupfish, Camp Century) and upsetting info about where the climate is headed. It’s not heavy handed but an air of gravitas runs through it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Unique view of a complex topic, also fun to read Although the synopsis may sound depressing (it is), Elizabeth presents a unique point of view that will likely become more mainstream in the near future. She is a great writer and has woven humor, science and story together into a great read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    This short, quick read about nature is comprised of eight chapters that each read like fascinating articles out of a great magazine (such as The New Yorker, which has long published Kolbert's work). Each one is a kind of case study or example, and together they add up to portrait of where we find ourselves as a species today. She begins with the reversal of the Chicago River and what that did to much of North America. Living in Chicago, I've heard about this "engineering marvel" before, but this This short, quick read about nature is comprised of eight chapters that each read like fascinating articles out of a great magazine (such as The New Yorker, which has long published Kolbert's work). Each one is a kind of case study or example, and together they add up to portrait of where we find ourselves as a species today. She begins with the reversal of the Chicago River and what that did to much of North America. Living in Chicago, I've heard about this "engineering marvel" before, but this chapter taught me much about it that I never understood before. I won't list any more of the topics, because part of the joy of reading this lucidly-written book is encountering them as you go. Basically, overall here the idea is that human intervention into nature has progressed so far that we have no choice now but to intervene even further in order to solve what problems we can. The risks of these interventions are jaw-droppingly intense. And if nothing else, they make for fascinating reading. I kept thinking vaguely of the line MacBeth says when he realizes he's too far gone in his course to turn back. (Thanks, internet: "I am in blood stepped so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er.") The things that people (mostly visionary scientists) are cooking up around the world in order to provide some hope for the survival of our species (and so many other species on the planet) are amazing, bonkers, ludicrous, and inspiring. Kolbert's latest book is a testament to human ingenuity that wonders if it could possibly outperform human stupidity and folly?

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carla Harlin

    This is a comprehensive book about the present's current environmental issues. I'm now up-to-date with the good and the bad of our efforts to make a better living. If you're a researcher, you'll find this book satisfying. ★ For free-self-help-book seekers, I recommend this list: https://alexamood.com/list-of-free-se... This is a comprehensive book about the present's current environmental issues. I'm now up-to-date with the good and the bad of our efforts to make a better living. If you're a researcher, you'll find this book satisfying. ★ For free-self-help-book seekers, I recommend this list: https://alexamood.com/list-of-free-se...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Venky

    Elizabeth Kolbert is to environmental journalism what Norman Borlaug was to the agricultural revolution. Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, “The Sixth Extinction” could be placed on the same pedestal as Rachel Carson’s immortal conscience awakening work “Silent Spring”, in so far environmental awareness and revolution are concerned. While Silent Spring poignantly pulled the lid over the pernicious impact of DDT and other pesticides on the ecology, “The Sixth Extinction” brought to bea Elizabeth Kolbert is to environmental journalism what Norman Borlaug was to the agricultural revolution. Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, “The Sixth Extinction” could be placed on the same pedestal as Rachel Carson’s immortal conscience awakening work “Silent Spring”, in so far environmental awareness and revolution are concerned. While Silent Spring poignantly pulled the lid over the pernicious impact of DDT and other pesticides on the ecology, “The Sixth Extinction” brought to bear with brute force the imperilment that the “Anthropocene” era brought along, as its handmaiden. Kolbert is back again at her seraphic best, exquisitely blending wisdom and wit with wistfulness in her latest work, “Under a White Sky”. Kolbert in this concise book (just under 210 pages), illustrates a few instances of innovative endeavours instituted by man to resolve climate issues, which in the first place were created, courtesy ingenious plans implemented by man himself! In Kolbert’s own words, this is a book, “about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems.” “Under The White Sky” is divided into three parts: Down The River; Into The Wild, and Up in the Air. Down The River begins with Kolbert making a boat trip, traversing up the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The main purpose of the trip is to inspect electric barriers put in place by The United States Army Corps of Engineers to keep away the invasive breed of Asian Carp fish from the river. But how did this particular breed of fish that is considered to be a delicacy in China, reach the shores of the United States? Asian carp were imported into the Mississippi River basin in the 1960s as a biological Weed Wacker to control invasive plants. But the cleanser turned out to be the most consummate predator. Both consuming and conceiving with a vengeance, the carp wreaked havoc voraciously, “outcompeting the native fish until they’re practically all that’s left.” As Kolbert informs her reader, “be careful what you wish for. Atmospheric warming, ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea level rise, deglaciation, desertification, eutrophication-these are just some of the by-products of our species’ success.” From the Mississippi river, Kolberg sets off to New Orleans. Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has what seems like an insurmountable task ahead of it. Plaquemines, a parish with a population of 23,042 as per the latest census of 2010 has the distinction—a dubious one, at best—of being among the fastest-disappearing places on earth. “A few years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officially retired thirty-one Plaquemines place names, including Bay Jacquin and Dry Cypress Bayou, because there was no there anymore. And what’s happening to Plaquemines is happening all along the coast. Since the 1930s, Louisiana has shrunk by more than two thousand square miles. If Delaware or Rhode Island had lost that much territory, America would have only forty-nine states. Every hour and a half, Louisiana sheds another football field’s worth of land. Every few minutes, it drops a tennis court’s worth.” “Into the Wild” has one of the most interesting and thought provoking chapters in the book. The Devils Hole pupfish’s (Cyprinodon diabolis), entire population is restricted to a single desert pool in Nevada. With a view to preventing the Devils Hole pupfish from being driven to extinction, researchers have constructed a $4.5 million simulacrum of the Devil’s Pool to accommodate a backup population. This imitation that impersonates the minutest intricacies of the original pool, warrants constant caretaking. But the conservation of the Devils Hole pupfish, as Kolbert illustrates has not always been an exercise in conscious foresight. In January 1952, President Harry S. Truman added Devils Hole to Death Valley National Park. Truman envisaged the protection of “peculiar race of desert fish” that lived in the “remarkable underground pool” and “nowhere else in the world.” as meriting the utmost priority. But that very spring, the Department of Defense detonated eight nuclear bombs at the Nevada Test Site, about fifty miles north of Devils Hole. The following spring, it detonated eleven more bombs. These nuclear tests were directly at cross purposes with the proclamation of conservation of an endangered species. To make matters worse, an egregious developer named Francis Cappaert, nursing a dream of transforming the desert into an alfalfa paradise, began pumping water from the aquifer. The water level in Devils Hole began a dangerous trend of depletion. By the end of 1970, the pupfish’s spawning area had shrunk to the size of a galley kitchen. Up In The Air deals with urgent efforts instituted or proposed to be implemented in the realm of geoengineering to suck CO2 out of the air. This logic of “negative emissions” has found favours with many physicists and geoengineers, prominent among them being Klaus Lackner of the Arizona State University, and David Keith, a professor of applied physics at Harvard. Although sounding outlandish, some of the geoengineering methods proposed by its advocates seem to be part of the scanty arsenal available to humanity to reduce Carbon emissions. Just consider this proposal that has at its nub the employ of machines called, “auxons.” To paraphrase Kolbert, “The auxons would be powered by solar panels and, as they multiplied, they’d produce more solar panels, which they’d assemble using elements, like silicon and aluminum, extracted from ordinary dirt. The expanding collection of panels would produce ever more power, at a rate that would increase exponentially. An array covering three hundred eighty-six thousand square miles, an area as large as Nigeria but, as Lackner noted, “smaller than many deserts,” could meet all the globe’s electricity demands many times over. This same array could also be put to use scrubbing carbon. An even more fantastic suggestion is the use of specialised custom made aircrafts flying at extraordinarily high altitudes (as high as 60,000 feet) to inject Aerosols into the stratosphere. Dubbed a Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Lofter, or SAIL, these aircraft would entail development costs would of about $2.5 billion. Deploying a fleet of SAILs would cost another $20 billion or so per decade. Kolbert illustrates with astounding perspicacity both the enormity of the global warming challenges staring humanity squarely in the face and the woefully inadequate tools and techniques available to counter them. Paradoxically, the more absurd a proposed solution, the more is the compulsion to adopt the same and adapt to it. From shooting diamonds into the sky (literally) to replicate the cooling effects of a gargantuan volcanic eruption to CRISPR technologies to engineer genes of invasive species which once were touted to be of indispensable value, our tryst with the environment surrounding us has been a Quixotic comedy of errors. But we as a species have transcended the realms of tolerable experimentation and progressed into the touchy terrain of tyrannical extinction. We have succeeded beyond imagination in driving so many species to their extinction, that we are forced to resort to the only method of “assisted evolution” to least preserve the breed that are still living and breathing. “As for the forms of assistance they rely on, these, too, are legion. They include, in addition to supplemental feeding and captive breeding: double-clutching, head starting, enclosures, exclosures, managed burns, chelation, guided migration, hand-pollination, artificial insemination, predator-avoidance training, and conditioned taste aversion. Every year, this list grows.” And as Kolberg somberly reminds us, we are still none the wiser in our deeds, or rather misdeeds.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    For at least 200,000 years, homo sapiens enjoyed the bounty of the Earth, rendering only minimal damage to the planet. That began to change with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century. Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, explains. “The pressures we exert on the planet have become so great that scientists are considering whether the Earth has entered an entirely new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, or the age of humans. It m For at least 200,000 years, homo sapiens enjoyed the bounty of the Earth, rendering only minimal damage to the planet. That began to change with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century. Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, explains. “The pressures we exert on the planet have become so great that scientists are considering whether the Earth has entered an entirely new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, or the age of humans. It means that we are the first people to live in an age defined by human choice, in which the dominant risk to our survival is ourselves.” Now, steps we have taken to better our lives are coming back to haunt us. It’s high time to change the habits that threaten the future of life on Earth. Today, all but the most isolated individual is aware of the climate crisis. It’s the most dramatic and far-reaching consequence of our continuing efforts to control nature. But the damage our species has inflicted on Planet Earth goes far beyond the carbon emissions that accelerate climate change. And it’s that damage, and what men and women are doing to reverse it, that’s the subject of Elizabeth Kolbert’s absorbing new book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. As she explains, it’s “a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems.” Exploring the efforts to reverse the control of nature In a previous book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert eloquently demonstrated how human activity has triggered a massive reduction in the diversity of life on Earth. It’s only the sixth mass extinction in our planet’s history. Now she has turned her discerning eye to the efforts by scientists (and some people in business) to tackle such problems as invasive species and the loss of coastal land through flooding as well as rising carbon emissions. She has traveled widely, touching down in Death Valley, Iceland, Australia, and Switzerland. And she did not conduct typical journalistic interviews that may last an hour or three. Kolbert hangs out with her subjects for as long as a week at a time. And she gets her hands dirty. Invasive species Kolbert opens with the reversal of the Chicago River in the nineteenth century that “upended the hydrology of roughly two-thirds of the United States.” One of the consequences was the ever-present threat that Asian carp will make their way into the Great Lakes. Asian “carp were first introduced to control nuisance algae blooms and aquatic vegetation in aquaculture facilities, farm ponds and sewage lagoons.” Now, four invasive species of carp native to Asia are leaving “a trail of environmental destruction in their wake” on the Mississippi River. “A well-fed grass carp can weigh more than eighty pounds,” Kolbert explains. “In a single day it can eat almost half of its body weight, and it lays hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time.” And since the Chicago River, and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, were diverted to connect to the Mississippi through the Illinois River, wildlife scientists are fighting a desperate battle to keep Asian carp out of the channel. Should they reach the Great Lakes, the damage to the regional economy will be massive. This is just one dramatic example of the high stakes on the table in the efforts to reverse the control of nature. Flood control gone awry The United States Army Corps of Engineers is actively engaged both on the Mississippi’s northern reaches and on its southern. Though little known in much of the country, the Corps of Engineers has played a pivotal role in our history. The Panama Canal. The St. Lawrence Seaway. The Bonneville Dam. The Manhattan Project. The Corps built them all. But now, as Kolbert explains, “the Corps finds itself increasingly involved in backward-looping, second-order efforts” like erecting and managing electric barriers on the Sanitary and Ship Canal to block Asian carp from escaping to the Great Lakes. But the Corps of Engineers’ highest-profile work these days is its management of the levees, floodgates, and spillways on the lower reaches of the Mississippi. In decades past, the Corps diverted the river to minimize flooding. In part as a result, “Louisiana has shrunk by more than two thousand square miles” since the 1930s. The “vast system, built to keep southern Louisiana dry, is the very reason the region is disintegrating, coming apart like an old shoe.” Saving endangered species and reversing global warming In each of these scenes, Kolbert introduces us to “engineers and genetic engineers, biologists and microbiologists, atmospheric scientists and atmospheric entrepreneurs.” They’re struggling to come to grips with the unintended consequences of man’s folly and to reverse the control of nature. Every one of the people we encounter comes across as a three-dimensional human being in the author’s skillful presentation. Later, she explores what dedicated scientists are doing to save endangered species such as the Devils Hole pupfish in Nevada and coral reefs in the Caribbean. She visits a company pioneering negative-emissions technologies to absorb and sequester carbon dioxide in rocks. She shows how another invasive species, the poisonous cane toad, is wreaking havoc in Australia. There, scientists hope to use parasites and toad communication signals to combat the menace. Using genetic engineering Others Kolbert interviews in Australia are exploring genetic engineering. As she contends, “The strongest argument for gene editing cane toads, house mice, and ship rats is also the simplest: what’s the alternative? Rejecting such technologies as unnatural isn’t going to bring nature back. . . The issue, at this point, is not whether we’re going to alter nature, but to what end? ‘We are as gods and might as well get good at it,’ Stewart Brand” insists. The damage we do to the planet we share How on Earth have we managed to come so close to extinguishing life on Planet Earth? Let me count the ways. ** Introducing invasive species like the Asian carp in the USA and rabbits in Australia, whether intentionally or not ** Building cities and expanding the reach of forage for animals, thus causing us to strip the Earth bare of trees and encroach on millions of acres of arable land ** Polluting the atmosphere—and our bones—with radiation from decades of nuclear testing ** Contaminating the soil, the water, and our bodies alike with immeasurable quantities of manufactured chemicals ** Despoiling the seas with torrents of plastic waste ** And, of course, burning colossal tonnages of fossil fuels that spew forth carbon emissions which now girdle the skies above us The problems are legion. “Atmospheric warming, ocean warming, ocean acidification, eutrophication—these are just some of the by-products of our species’s success,” Kolbert notes. At the root of much of this misbehavior lies overpopulation—and all the human “progress” that has enabled it. Yes, we pay an enormous price for the comfortable lives we live. And the reckoning is upon us. It’s high time to reverse the control of nature that our species has pursued since the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution. About the author New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert (born 1961) received the Pulitzer Prize for her sweeping survey of The Sixth Extinction. Both that book and Under a White Sky as well as other examples of her writing examine aspects of the environmental chaos caused by human action in the Anthropocene. Under a White Sky is her fifth book to date.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Glynn

    I won an Advanced Readers Copy (or ARC for short) of this book. I didn't know what an ARC was until I got this. The version I received has notes but no page numbers to look up where the notes came from. Also no index or bibliography, and the pictures in the book don’t have captions. This is a fascinating look at the state of nature and climate change today and what the future entails. The author was traveling to different places in the world and reporting on things like the problem of Asian Carp I won an Advanced Readers Copy (or ARC for short) of this book. I didn't know what an ARC was until I got this. The version I received has notes but no page numbers to look up where the notes came from. Also no index or bibliography, and the pictures in the book don’t have captions. This is a fascinating look at the state of nature and climate change today and what the future entails. The author was traveling to different places in the world and reporting on things like the problem of Asian Carp in the great lakes, the slow demise of the coral reefs, etc. Later in the book we get a glimpse of what ideas are being looked at in the fight against climate change, such as bioengineering to help creatures survive in a changing world (known as “assisted evolution”) and ideas for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using a mechanical device and deploying it on a gigantic scale. The wildest idea is known as “geoengineering” where we would launch drones to inject something into the atmosphere to diffuse the sunlight and cool the planet. This would result in the sky turning from blue to white (thus the title of the book.) I enjoyed reading about all of this but it doesn’t give you a warm, fuzzy feeling that things are going to get better. It seems like this book is incomplete and that’s probably due to the onset of Covid-19. The author writes “Suddenly everyone’s plans were upended, including my own.” I am looking forward to reading the final version of this book when it finally gets published.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jack Hicks

    Under A White Sky, The Nature of The Future, Elizabeth Kolbert, 2021 In 2015 Elizabeth Kolbert won the Pulitzer Prize for her book the Sixth Extinction. In my review of that book, I wrote: Kolbert is not a scientist but a reporter and writer for The New Yorker magazine and as such her book is structured as a series of bylines as she travels around the world reporting on scientists investigating extinctions in both the present and the past. As in that book she adopts the same format but this time Under A White Sky, The Nature of The Future, Elizabeth Kolbert, 2021 In 2015 Elizabeth Kolbert won the Pulitzer Prize for her book the Sixth Extinction. In my review of that book, I wrote: Kolbert is not a scientist but a reporter and writer for The New Yorker magazine and as such her book is structured as a series of bylines as she travels around the world reporting on scientists investigating extinctions in both the present and the past. As in that book she adopts the same format but this time investigating “how the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation”. Ice cores from the Antarctic and Greenland have shown that the last 10,000 years of earths history have been the most benign and stable climatological periods in the last 100,000 years. During this time, we have been able to develop agriculture, an amazing technological and a pervasive globe encompassing culture with a population now of almost 8 billion people. Without this unusually stable climate most of our current civilization would probably have not evolved or been possible. Up to this point we humans have taken this for granted thinking that this benign state will somehow last forever. In Kolbert’s last book she emphasized that due to our own rapacious destruction of earth’s ecosystems and our destabilization of climate stability, this situation is coming to an end and not responding is not an option. Facing an unimaginable crisis of our own making how should we respond? When we intervene, are we smart enough not to cause newer unanticipated problems greater than the original problem we sought to solve? Kolbert travels around the world seeking an answer to this question. She visits places and examples where we historically have tried to solve problems such as sewage in Chicago or taming floods on the Mississippi only to create larger problems such as invasive species or sinking cities such as New Orleans. The most interesting part of her book is when she addresses the people and places that are using current cutting-edge technology to save ecosystems and reverse global warming. One such example is on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, one of the most diverse and prolific ecosystems on earth, which is under dire threat from oceanic warming and acidification. Faced with the real possibility of extinction of the reef in just decades, scientists are turning to genetic modification of Corals to make them more resistant to these fast-changing conditions. Since 2012 a new gene editing technology called CRISPR-Cas has become ubiquitous. In fact, so ubiquitous that you can buy your own “genetic engineering home lab kit” from a company in California called Odin for $1800. Kolbert buys her own kit and is able to engineer a colony of E. coli bacteria into a strain that is resistant to streptomycin antibiotic. She then inserts a jellyfish gene into yeast which then glows in the dark. Sound dangerous? Yes, what could possibly go wrong, but this is also the technology to develop new global warming resistant corals or destroy malaria carrying mosquitos, control rapacious rodents on Pacific Islands or control a plague of Cane Toads in Australia, not to mention breakthrough medical benefits. We have so altered natural systems with invasive species, with climatological chaos that the only solution is further intervention. She quotes a scientist at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory: “What people are not seeing is that this is already a genetically altered environment. Invasive species alter the environment by adding entire genomes that don’t belong. By contrast Genetic engineers, by contrast, alter just a few bits of DNA here and there”. “The classic thing people say with molecular biology is: Are you playing God? Well no. We are using our understanding of biological processes to see if we can benefit a system that is in trauma”. Do you feel guilty about all the carbon you are emitting into the atmosphere when you drive around in your SUV or eat a filet mignon? Now there is a way to assuage your guilt. There is a now a company called Climeworks that will do just that for the price of $1000 per ton of sequestered CO2. Being that each American emits about 20 tons per year following the American way of life and to totally assuage your guilt will cost you a cool $20,000 per year. Do you feel that guilty? Kolbert purchases one ton of sequestration and then visits the place where the deed is done which turns out to be at a geothermal power plant in Iceland. There they inject CO2 into the hot molten basalt at the bottom of their well to form limestone. This is a way the earth has been doing this process for millions of years without payment. In fact, it is the very process that transpired when the Himalayas were pushed up by the Indian subcontinent million of years ago, sequestered billions of tons of carbon into limestone and enabled the ice ages to begin 3 million years ago. Is this process a feasible solution to our current crisis? According to the latest UN climate report at this point, some form of sequestration is almost certainly required to avoid a catastrophic global temperature rise above 2 degrees regardless of what green technologies are introduced. Almost certainly the cost of that sequestration will have to be drastically reduced. Is there another way to approach the problem? Here Kolbert interviews scientists who are studying a process called solar geoengineering which involves shooting reflective compounds or crystals into the stratosphere to reflect sun light and reduce the earths albedo or heat absorption. This the same process that occurs when large volcanic explosions expel billions of tons of dust and S02 that block incoming sunlight and cool the planet. Last time a truly global volcanic eruption occurred was Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 and caused catastrophic cooling causing mass famine in various places around the world. Is this a feasible solution? Maybe, certainly not to the extent of Tambora and one side effect might be changing the sky from blue to white and hence the title of the book. Sunsets might be improved however. This a short book and quick read and one gets the sense that it was somewhat truncated because of the pandemic restricting travel. However, there is still a lot of interesting information about the future fate of our planet and what can be done to ameliorate the damage that we have inflicted. JACK

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt Mansfield

    Seeking Solutions for our Global Planetary Survival “A fine mess you’ve made. Now what are you going to do to clean it up?” How many times have you heard those words, or some variation of them? Annoying, yes, but uncomfortably accurate, I bet. And that’s the question Elizabeth Kolbert investigates in her new 2021 “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future” sequel to her 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” about how we affect our environment. Kolbert’s new work Seeking Solutions for our Global Planetary Survival “A fine mess you’ve made. Now what are you going to do to clean it up?” How many times have you heard those words, or some variation of them? Annoying, yes, but uncomfortably accurate, I bet. And that’s the question Elizabeth Kolbert investigates in her new 2021 “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future” sequel to her 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” about how we affect our environment. Kolbert’s new work reflects a shift from her earlier effort to point out with alarm the environmental and other species impacts of human actions made in the name of “progress”. Things have changed for her since then and there is no going back. Quoting Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, “We are gods and might as well get good at it”, the author also includes his Revive & Restore group mission “to enhance biodiversity through new techniques of genetic rescue”. And she adds: ”Rejecting such (new) technologies as unnatural isn’t going to bring nature back. The choice is not between what was and what is, but between what is and what will be, which, often enough, is nothing.” This response is shaped by the historic and continuing impact of human globalization experience such as circulating pathogens from one part of the planet to another with unexpected consequences, e.g. American chestnut tree blight. Kolbert sprinkles in unexpected humor throughout her narrative. During a trip to Nevada to observe conservation efforts to save small fish somehow surviving under extreme desert conditions, she drily notes upon returning to her hotel: “I really wanted a drink. But I couldn’t bring myself to go back down to the lobby…to find a faux French bar. I thought of the Devil’s Hole pupfish in their simulated cavern. I wondered: Is this how they felt in their darker moments?” The book is divided into three sections covering different environmental challenges: • “Down the River”: two chapters looking at different American challenges at controlling invasive carp species near Chicago and relentless Mississippi River challenges in the Delta • “Into the Wild”: three chapters examining different survival challenges for the aforementioned pupfish in Nevada, “assisted evolution” efforts to save corals around Hawaii and Australian Great Barrier Reef, and unexpected results from importing and releasing cane toads to solve a sugar cane grub problem into the Australian Outback • “Up in the Air”: three chapters discussing more measures, some unusual and wildly imaginative, being considered by different international groups to control and stabilize CO2 emissions, climate change and the source of the book’s distinctive title “Under a White Sky” Throughout the narrative journey various recent technologies are discussed, particularly CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats – yes, I wondered about that acronym, too), solar radiation management, SAILS (Stratospheric, Aerosol Injection Lofter – this one you have to read for yourself). The author includes some tasty historical tidbits: the impact of early agriculture, Darwin’s musings about the variety and creativity of nature, and an entertaining, mind-blowing section about Camp Century, a Cold War effort by Americans to develop forward military monitoring bases in Greenland with overlooked challenges and impacts on base life. Kolbert does a great job of presenting not just the big picture but getting into the details. Her quote from “The Leopard” (1958 by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) sums up our present situation, for better or worse: “If we want everything to remain as it is, everything must change.”

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tejas Sathian

    This was an engaging book that combined good reporting and evocative storytelling with a clear thesis about the present and future of the planet: 'nature' is a relative concept and has been shaped by human activity for centuries, and while attempts at geo-engineering (defined here as the control of the control of nature) can be complicated and baffling, they likely represent the best hope for a better planetary future. Kolbert's determination to drive home this message is clear, though she does This was an engaging book that combined good reporting and evocative storytelling with a clear thesis about the present and future of the planet: 'nature' is a relative concept and has been shaped by human activity for centuries, and while attempts at geo-engineering (defined here as the control of the control of nature) can be complicated and baffling, they likely represent the best hope for a better planetary future. Kolbert's determination to drive home this message is clear, though she does a good job of highlighting the ambivalence such an approach necessitates - people have caused a lot of problems for nature over time, and our record of engineering solutions isn't a great one. But her main target in this book seems to be environmentalists who oppose bold innovations that may be the only way forward for the planet. Some of the cases she relates throughout the book: -Fish in the Mississippi basin and Great Lakes: early in Chicago's development, the Chicago River had to be rerouted so the city's waste wouldn't flow into Lake Michigan (its only source of drinking water). In order to prevent fish migrating in the wrong direction, waters needed to be electrified. Similarly, the introduction of Asian carp (several varieties imported from China) followed by overpopulation and destruction of local fauna has created plenty of new challenges. -Drainage of the Mississippi around New Orleans: this was one of the best looks at the dynamics of New Orleans's natural geography that I've encountered. The ebbs and flows of the Mississippi help to build the land around the river - and structures that prevent the city from being flooded prevent this building from occurring. Projects to support healthy marshland around the city to enable this drainage are helpful - but nearly impossible to achieve at significant scale. -Temperature resistant coral in the Great Barrier Reef: rising temperatures make the death of coral reefs inevitable, which would make the ocean a less biodiverse (and much dirtier) place. Kolbert applies the concept of breeding/manmade selection to corals, and chronicles the efforts of scientists to breed coral varieties that can better withstand hotter temperatures. One scientist frames these efforts as giving the oceans a chance at a future by buying time until people can better mitigate climate change. -A look at the Devil's Hole pup fish, the vertebrate with the smallest habitat range in the world, and efforts to protect the fish from encroachment/destruction of their habitat by development. Stockholm species - the concept of species that are now entirely reliant on humans to maintain their existence. This was an interesting study and a nice extension of Kolbert's look at planetary extinctions in The Sixth Extinction. -Carbon capture: Kolbert makes the case that limiting emissions is difficult for many reasons (eg equity), and the simple fact that this only slows the rate of change - therefore technologies that do something to reverse this are important. She recounts a visit to a company in Iceland capturing carbon to put into rock - a potentially scalable activity. -Other interventions: many are discussed, including gene editing (more commonplace via CRISPR), sprinkling diamond dust into the air from planes (replicating the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions e.g. Mount Tambora), and firing particles at polar clouds to impact reflectivity of ice. The cost estimates of some of these seem within the realm of reason - but Kolbert cautions that enduring credible commitments are needed (as doing some of these things for several years then pausing could then unleash worse warming). Kolbert concludes the book with a look at ice cores and the geological history encoded in them, and an interesting argument that climate history and human history are one and the same. The reason human history began (and accelerated) when it did may have a lot to do with climactic stability - previous eras of instability prevented more advanced development, and human civilization emerged during a stable period and then quickly shaped the climate.

  28. 5 out of 5

    David D. Knapp, Ph.D.

    I absolutely devoured and loved Elizabeth Kolbert's Pulitzer-Prize Winning "The Sixth Extinction." So I was really excited to read this follow-up to that work. In it, Kolbert picks up where "Extinction" leaves off. Basically, she chronicles how humans - having recognized how badly they're destroying nature - are trying to save nature through further intervention. Of course, that raises the question: is it still "nature" if humans have manipulated it so much? It's that irony that makes the book so I absolutely devoured and loved Elizabeth Kolbert's Pulitzer-Prize Winning "The Sixth Extinction." So I was really excited to read this follow-up to that work. In it, Kolbert picks up where "Extinction" leaves off. Basically, she chronicles how humans - having recognized how badly they're destroying nature - are trying to save nature through further intervention. Of course, that raises the question: is it still "nature" if humans have manipulated it so much? It's that irony that makes the book so good, especially for someone who constantly preaches about the downfalls of "Fixes That Fail" to his clients. This archetype from systems thinking is rampant in human-created systems. In a nutshell, it involves humans attempting to solve very complex, systemic problems with overly simplistic solutions that do one (or both) of the following: 1) only treat the symptoms, not the real problem and/or 2) create unintended consequences with their "fixes" that often are worse than the original problem they were attempting to solve. And while Ms. Kolbert doesn't use the terminology, "Fixes That Fail" is really what this book is all about. That's good news for me, because it provides many examples of high-priced, borderline ridiculous scientific and technological "fixes" to environmental problems we've created as a species. Some of these examples include the extreme measures being taken to stop the Asian carp infestation here in the U.S. and the cane frog infestation in Australia, the convoluted and incredibly expensive approach the Army Corps of Engineers is deploying in what is certain to be a losing battle to save New Orleans and much of southern Louisiana, and the concept of solar geoengineering (shooting materials up into the stratosphere to block the effects of the sun). BTW...that final example is where the book gets its title, because doing so will turn the sky from blue to white. Ultimately, Kolbert argues that no matter how insane these ideas sound, we're rapidly reaching a point where they may be the only options, given how climate change is accelerating. As one of the experts she quotes colorfully puts it: "We live in a world where deliberately dimming the fucking sun might be less risky than not doing it." [p. 200] While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I couldn't give it five stars for two reasons. First, it's just not as well-written or enjoyable as "The Sixth Extinction." Perhaps it's unfair to compare the sequel to a book that won the Pulitzer Prize, but I can't help it. Also, the ending of the book is abrupt. The final chapter literally stops about halfway through. Due to travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Kolbert had to cut back on her final chapter on geoengineering, something she acknowledges with the wry observation: "Here I was, trying to finish a book about the world spinning out of control, only to find the world spinning so far out of control that I couldn't finish the book" [p. 197]. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope she IS able to update and finish it for the paperback edition, which I'll probably reread if she does.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    I loved this book. It was at once infuriating and inspirational, disappointing, and hopeful. Infuriating because of the damage humanity has done to the Earth's environment, but nspirational because of those who spend every day working to fix that damage. Disappointing that every solution has its own, possibly worse consequences, hopeful because even one success can lead to more. Elizabeth Kolbert rightly won the Pulitzer for her last book (Sixth Extinction - of you haven't read it, you should) a I loved this book. It was at once infuriating and inspirational, disappointing, and hopeful. Infuriating because of the damage humanity has done to the Earth's environment, but nspirational because of those who spend every day working to fix that damage. Disappointing that every solution has its own, possibly worse consequences, hopeful because even one success can lead to more. Elizabeth Kolbert rightly won the Pulitzer for her last book (Sixth Extinction - of you haven't read it, you should) and with this book, is well on her way to another. To research this book, Kolbert traveled around the world to where scientists are doing the engineering and physicians the negotiations to try and, if not reverse the damage humans have done, at least to mitigate that damage. My favorite quote from this book, while lengthy, shows well why the political side of this can be so complicated: "Since carbon emissions are cumulative, those most to blame for climate change are those who’ve emitted the most over time. With just four percent of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for almost thirty percent of aggregate emissions. The countries of the European Union, with about seven percent of the globe’s population, have produced about twenty-two percent of aggregate emissions. For China, home to roughly eighteen percent of the globe’s population, the figure is thirteen percent. India, which is expected soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation, is responsible for about three percent. All the nations of Africa and all the nations of South America put together are responsible for less than six percent. To get to zero, everyone would have to stop emitting—not only Americans and Europeans and Chinese, but also Indians and Africans and South Americans. But asking countries that have contributed almost nothing to the problem to swear off carbon because other countries have already produced way, way too much of it is grossly unfair. It’s also geopolitically untenable. For this reason, international climate agreements have always been based on the premise of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Under the Paris accord, developed countries are supposed to “lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets,” while developing countries are called on, more hazily, to enhance their “mitigation efforts.”" The road to saving our place on our planet will be long. But, thanks to the work of those highlighted by Kolbert, I am a little more hopeful that there will be a recognizable world for my kids to grow old in. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of this book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    André

    “Another desert pupfish, the Owens pupfish, was thought to be extinct, only to be rediscovered in 1964. By 1969, it was just barely hanging on, in a pond the size of a rec room, when, for reasons no one could quite explain, the pond shrank to a puddle. Someone alerted Phil Pister, a biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, who rushed to the site—a spot known as Fish Slough. Pister collected all the Owens pupfish left at Fish Slough, with the intention of moving them to a nearby “Another desert pupfish, the Owens pupfish, was thought to be extinct, only to be rediscovered in 1964. By 1969, it was just barely hanging on, in a pond the size of a rec room, when, for reasons no one could quite explain, the pond shrank to a puddle. Someone alerted Phil Pister, a biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, who rushed to the site—a spot known as Fish Slough. Pister collected all the Owens pupfish left at Fish Slough, with the intention of moving them to a nearby spring. They fit into two buckets. “I distinctly remember being scared to death,” he would later write. “I had walked perhaps fifty yards when I realized that I literally held within my hands the existence of an entire vertebrate species.” Pister spent the next several decades working to save the Owens pupfish and also the Devils Hole pupfish. People would often ask him why he spent so much time on such insignificant animals. “What good are pupfish?” they’d demand. “What good are you?” Pister would respond.” Thoughts: Uplift, alarm, and existential dread are standard ingredients for any book about climate change, and this one—chiefly a glimpse of what, God help us, our future may hold—is no exception. As always, reading about CRISPR makes me despair for the future of humanity (it seems tailor-made for the sort of banal, commercialized evil many of our current tech companies excel at). On the other hand, the most hopeful I’ve felt about humans in many moons was reading about an Australian post-doc separating the eggs and sperm of several species of coral in an effort to breed an acidity- and heat-resistant super coral that can survive the apocalyptic climate change we’re inflicting on the planet and its life. The CRISPR section also has a chapter about cane toads: a large, ravenous species of poisonous toad originally introduced to protect sugar cane crops from beetles that has, in the ensuing decades, ravaged Australia’s biodiversity. In junior year of high school I took AP environmental science (the only AP science class I took, because it featured practically no math, was passable (ish) while doing close to no homework, and has an exam that could be conquered the same way as its non-STEM counterparts—by remembering trivia); our delightful and eccentric teacher made us watch a 1988 documentary about Cane toads, and it remains one of the most bizarre, charming, and unintentionally hilarious films I’ve ever seen. It wasn't, I think, a coincidence that the class involving an accidentally Lynchian documentary and discussing the ethics of murdering toxic toads with golf clubs and poisonous dog food to save quolls and monitor lizards ranked among the most informative of my disinterested academic career.

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