counter create hit Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future - Download Free eBook
Hot Best Seller

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Availability: Ready to download

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.


Compare

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. 5 out of 5

    Henk

    A book about people trying to solve problems created by people who created problems when trying to solve other problems Pissing your pants will only keep you warm for so long A fascinating peek at geo engineering, gene drives and the overall ethics of humanity's relationship with technology and nature. The adagium of the road to hell being paved with good intentions is very clearly shown in Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert. The anthropocene is real, here to stay and A book about people trying to solve problems created by people who created problems when trying to solve other problems Pissing your pants will only keep you warm for so long A fascinating peek at geo engineering, gene drives and the overall ethics of humanity's relationship with technology and nature. The adagium of the road to hell being paved with good intentions is very clearly shown in Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert. The anthropocene is real, here to stay and will give us a lot of hard questions. Nature Louisiana losing more land to erosion than the whole of Rhode Island In essence the book is about the control of the control of nature. From unintended side effects from rivers being connected by canals to the introduction of a carp to reduce nutrients in water (and loo and behold an invasive species kills of all other fish in a major river area), the effects of human interventions seem to be more impactful and multifaceted than beforehand imagined. Untangling the great lakes and Mississippi river would cost 25 years and USD 18 billion according to some estimates from the army corps of engineers for instance. Kolbert visits New Orleans, and zooms into the fact that the Mississippi is not setting of enough sediments due to human interventions controlling the river. The whole tale of Louisiana shrinking and being effected by ground settling in, doesn’t impress me as much from my Dutch background and our country already being far below sea-level and managing that. Animals First you ship a species all over the world and then you poison it from a helicopter. How difficult it is however to keep species and ecosystems alive, and how easy it is to upset the balance, is very clear. Even a very small population of fish in the vicinity of Death Valley brings about more efforts than one can possibly imagine upfront. No wonder that some scientist are turning to new technologies to make species more adaptive to changing circumstances, for instance by "assisted evolution" of corals (in response to The Great Barrier Reef, which is greater than Italy, losing 50% of its coral through a heat shock in the past decade) and other attempts to harness CRISPR’s enormous power. Margaret Atwood like situations however lurk in this field, for instance male chickens who glow green by spliced jellyfish genes, leading the species to be easier and more effectively bred, might be more sustainable in a sense, but gives me a deep sense of unease. Or ideas on how suppression gene drives can kill off a whole animal (invasive) species, with 100 of such genetically manipulated mice being able to eradicate a population of 50.000 mice on a island according to simulations. All in all it's a grim reminder that we live in a world were people outweigh wild mammals 8 to 1, and including our livestock and the ratio increases to 22 to 1. The environment One of every 3 Co2 molecules is emitted by people. In the last part of the book Kolbert turns her attention to climate change. Already in 1965 the first report on potential climate changes was issued to Lyndon Johnson. And still the figures are sobering: 250 billion ton of ice melting on Greenland in a year, with 95% of the ice sheet impacted in a year. And despite concerns about China's economic rise 30% of cumulative emissions are by the 4% of people in the USA and 22% being due to the 7% of people in the EU. Negative emissions (literally sucking Co2 out of the atmosphere) on gigantic scale would be needed in 101 of the 116 IPCC scenario’s, capturing Co2 in a myriad ways to compensate 40 billion tons of Co2 production a year (which is still rising even taken the Covid-19 blip into account). Some people have innovative ways of seeing the problem, with someone for instance making the following comparison: See Co2 as sewage, no one will tell you don’t need to produce it, but you are also not allowed to shit everywhere And some take ideas to a whole new level with stratospheric geo engineering, emitting huge amounts of little diamond dust through airlifts to up the reflective properties of the atmosphere (hence the White Sky of the title) and buys us some extra years. It is however clear that the "natural world" is not magically going to return without large changes in either behaviour or in our dealing with the side effects of behaviour. Kolbert ends hence with a quote that is very fitting: If we want everything to remain as it is, everything needs to change. And all this while we as a species do not have a very strong record of taking into account all the complexities and extremities of ecosystems, as shown in every chapter of Under a White Sky. An important, highly readable and interesting book for our current times.

  2. 5 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. 4 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

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

  4. 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Not a direct quote, but it is stated that this is a book about solving the problems created by those trying to solve problems. Problems we humans have caused either through tampering with nature or our lack of caring enough to take care of what we have been given in our natural world. From the Asian carp to the tiny pup fish in Nevada, from the coral in the barrier reefs which is dying due to the warming of the oceans, to the huge frogs imported to the Caribbean, which have now spread to Austral Not a direct quote, but it is stated that this is a book about solving the problems created by those trying to solve problems. Problems we humans have caused either through tampering with nature or our lack of caring enough to take care of what we have been given in our natural world. From the Asian carp to the tiny pup fish in Nevada, from the coral in the barrier reefs which is dying due to the warming of the oceans, to the huge frogs imported to the Caribbean, which have now spread to Australia. Looking at the long range effects of our climate change in many different areas, and what is being done to combat this devastation. Carbon exchangers, assisted evolution, Crisper and its gene editing, man made habitats to replace those that have been lost, attempts to grow hardier coral hoping to replace what has died. This book takes one on a journey to see what is being done by various scientists, engineers, hoping to stave off further damage. Interesting and informative though I did see a few PBS specials in some of the areas discussed. Others were eye opening. It is such a shame that climate change, like Covid has become politicized. No one wins when this happens. ARC from edelweiss.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    A big dissapointment compared to The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Feels like the author gathered some articles and put them together, the only common point being, as she put it, "people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems." And that's exactly what this book is about: people messed with the environment and now they are trying to fix it. Asian carp, brought to solve algae problems in US rivers, are now a like a plague, and all efforts are directed to keep A big dissapointment compared to The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Feels like the author gathered some articles and put them together, the only common point being, as she put it, "people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems." And that's exactly what this book is about: people messed with the environment and now they are trying to fix it. Asian carp, brought to solve algae problems in US rivers, are now a like a plague, and all efforts are directed to keep them out of the Great Lakes. Cane toad in Australia, brought to deal with a cane bug, are now everywhere, and being toxic, wipe out local species. Carbon acumulation in the athmosfere is another huge problem, one which I don't see it ever to be solved. Even if all these issues are indeed of utmost importance, none of them are new, and neither the efforts to solve them. Felt like a book made on demand, and rushed to meet the deadline. There are better documentaries on these topics anyway.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Yeah we're basically screwed. I loved Kolbert's book The Sixth Extinction about the anthropocene and this one seems like a followup and serves as a catalogue of all the crazy things humans are doing and have done to shape the environment. It's not data driven--but rather she focuses on individuals and communities and the habitats they are changing--for good and for bad. It's all pretty bleak. Yeah we're basically screwed. I loved Kolbert's book The Sixth Extinction about the anthropocene and this one seems like a followup and serves as a catalogue of all the crazy things humans are doing and have done to shape the environment. It's not data driven--but rather she focuses on individuals and communities and the habitats they are changing--for good and for bad. It's all pretty bleak.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    Near the end of this book the author offers a succinct summary of the book, "This has been a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems." One would think that the lesson here is to stop trying to solve problems and stop messing with nature. But humans have been messing with nature for millennia and can't quit now. Ever since humans learned how to start fires, practice agriculture, and transform heat into energy to perform work (a.k.a. industrial revoluti Near the end of this book the author offers a succinct summary of the book, "This has been a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems." One would think that the lesson here is to stop trying to solve problems and stop messing with nature. But humans have been messing with nature for millennia and can't quit now. Ever since humans learned how to start fires, practice agriculture, and transform heat into energy to perform work (a.k.a. industrial revolution), humans have been messing with nature. Consequently the stability of earth's climate is now threatened, and we have no choice but to engineer a solution. In order to illustrate this point the author reviews a number examples where earlier solutions to problems led to new problems that needed to be solved. The first example went back to the 1960s when new rising concerns about the use of chemicals raised by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. led to the importation of Asian Carp as a "natural" nontoxic way to keep aquatic weeds in check. They escaped their original pond in Arkansas, entered the Mississippi River, and proceeded to outcompete the native fish until they’re practically all that’s left. Normally, the carp would now be confined to the Mississippi River watershed, but due to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal opened in 1900 there is a waterway connection to the Great Lakes. Naturalist have warned that if Asian Carp enter the Great Lakes it would devastate its aquaculture. Thus complicated and expensive electric fish barriers now need to be maintained in order to keep the carp from passing into Lake Michigan. Here's A LINK to a NYT article about the Chicago River, Lake Michigan, and climate change. The book then moves on to other examples of efforts to solve problems caused by earlier solutions. Any reader who knows anything about science will know where this book is headed—to climate change. After describing several examples of saving threatened species she visits some scientists that are trying to speed up evolution by developing coral that can tolerate the changing chemistry and temperature of the oceans. Then she deals directly with possible ways keep the climate from going out of whack. In the long run the best solution would be to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees do it naturally but there's not enough arable land to do the job. Energy is required to artificially remove it from the air so ultimately the deserts need to be filled with solar collectors powering CO2 removal equipment converting it to calcium carbonate rock. But there's no realistic possibility of this happening in the near future. A more technically feasible solution in the near term is solar radiation management, most frequently referred to as solar geoengineering. This involves scattering reflective material in the stratosphere to cut down the level of energy entering the atmosphere. You need to read the book to see the arguments of this solution, but for those who question the wisdom altering the earth's climate it needs to be remembered that we already are doing that. This is an effort to undo what we've already done. The need to eventually reach net-zero is still exists. Geoengineering is a way to mitigate problems while long term solutions involving CO2 removal are developed and implemented. How Oman’s Rocks Could Help Same the Planet, (NYT article that describes one method for removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.)

  9. 5 out of 5

    marta the book slayer

    "I was struck, and not for the first time, by how much easier it is to ruin an ecosystem than to run one.” 4.2/5 Absolutely informative from start to finish. Elizabeth Kolbert begins this novel in the Chicago river. She discusses the history of the Chicago ecosystem and the project to reverse the flow of the river to prevent invasive species from migrating into Lake Michigan. This sets the scenes for her journey into finding out ways humanity is trying to reverse the destruction they have caus "I was struck, and not for the first time, by how much easier it is to ruin an ecosystem than to run one.” 4.2/5 Absolutely informative from start to finish. Elizabeth Kolbert begins this novel in the Chicago river. She discusses the history of the Chicago ecosystem and the project to reverse the flow of the river to prevent invasive species from migrating into Lake Michigan. This sets the scenes for her journey into finding out ways humanity is trying to reverse the destruction they have caused before it's too late. She travels the world and interviews various scientists to discuss topics ranging from: ∙invasive species of carp in Mississippi ∙the city of New Orleans ∙pupfish in Death Valley “What good are pupfish?” they’d demand. “What good are you?” Pister would respond. ∙carbon capture ∙geoengineering coral to withstand hot temperatures ∙ways to decrease the temperature of the planet. This novel is fascinating from start to finish. Despite the wide range of topics, I did not lose focus reading this book and it was extremely difficult to read anything else (I even took it to my hair colorist, where I spent the 20 min waiting for my hair to bleach trying to understand CRSPR) I love the way she writes because the science background she provides is sufficient enough to understand the issue. I'm looking forward to eventually reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. TL;DR: "This has been a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems." ∙ part of race against time challenge (aka read all 2021 releases before the year ends.)

  10. 5 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?

  11. 5 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.

  12. 5 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    14th book for 2020. A disappointing follow-up to her previous Pulizer winning book The Sixth Extinction. A much better exploration of the possible future of geo-engineering in the Anthropocene can be found in Oliver Morton's The Planet Remade. 14th book for 2020. A disappointing follow-up to her previous Pulizer winning book The Sixth Extinction. A much better exploration of the possible future of geo-engineering in the Anthropocene can be found in Oliver Morton's The Planet Remade.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    At the heart of Elizabeth Kolbert's Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future readers will find a line from Stewart Brand: "We are as gods and might as well get used to it." He has since amended to "we are as gods and have to get good at it." Under a White Sky is about human interventions, intended and unintended, into ecological and planetary systems. Whether it's climate change or the introduction of Asian carp into American water systems (where they now threaten to become a sprawling invasi At the heart of Elizabeth Kolbert's Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future readers will find a line from Stewart Brand: "We are as gods and might as well get used to it." He has since amended to "we are as gods and have to get good at it." Under a White Sky is about human interventions, intended and unintended, into ecological and planetary systems. Whether it's climate change or the introduction of Asian carp into American water systems (where they now threaten to become a sprawling invasive species), these interventions are often misadventures. And yet. Our greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric concentration keeps going up. Even in isolated reductions of annual emissions, as we saw in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the overall concentration of greenhouse gases rises because it takes so long for CO2 and other gases to break down. We need to get to net zero emissions and then to negative emissions or else we need to change the amount of solar radiation we absorb. (Maybe we need both.) How do we meet this difficult task? Interventions will almost certainly be required and sometimes they will lead to unintended misadventures. Perhaps the most interesting lines came from the scientists studying solar radiation management. They don't see a political will to take solar radiation management seriously today. They also don't see sufficient political will to seriously mitigate greenhouse gas emissions today. Therefore, the climate change problem will get worse and worse until some governments will demand solar radiation management--maybe in 20 or 30 years. So they are studying solar radiation management and other interventions now to try to find the unintended consequences. IMHO, Kolbert has hit on one of the most important questions we should ask when we think about the environment today. We cannot easily answer "What are we saving?" or "What are we heading towards?" without also thinking about "to what extent is there a natural environment?" If we take ideas like the Anthropocene seriously, as Bill McKibben did back in the 1980s, we end up in an End of Nature framework. If people have indeed taken over, then how plastic should our conception of the planet, of ecosystems, and of our genetic code be? Right now, my sense is that the conventional wisdom remains mostly nostalgic for a time in which "Mother Nature" was still fully in charge of a stable atmosphere in which a bunch of nifty creatures lived in a rough equilibrium. Like guilty children, we are reluctant to admit that we have overturned that system and are now responsible for ushering in a time of massive change. Because we cannot make that admission, we each day condemn ourselves to a very plastic future in our fantasy that we live in or can recreate a stable past. We'd be further ahead letting go of the stable concept, if only because it would allow us to see the changes happening now. Here, I mean not only the changes within our climate system, which are very concerning, but also the ways that we are tinkering with our genetic code. Maybe it doesn't matter if people become luminescent, but I don't think there is a general awareness of these technologies. I finally note that Kolbert is an outstanding writer. I recommend this work as well as her two previous books, The Sixth Extinction and Field Notes From a Catastrophe. Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Discipline and Oliver Morton's The Planet Remade might be useful to read alongside Under a White Sky. For novels, Kim Stanley Robinson's Martian trilogy is an optimistic take on human interventions into "natural" systems, while Margaret Atwood's dystopian Oryx and Crake raises concerns. (For better or worse, it continues to chart the course of this century for me.) Finally, much of this review is a bit down. If you're looking for some more optimistic works, I recommend Paul Hawken's Drawdown and Bill Gates' How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. Notes: (view spoiler)[ "I am a realist," [Ruth]Gates told me at one point. "I cannot continue to hope that our planet is not going to change radically. It already is is changed." People could either "assist" corals in coping with the change they'd brought about, or they could watch them die. Anything else, in her view, was wishful thinking. "A lot of people want to go back to something," she said. "They think, if we just stop doing things, maybe the reef will come back to what it was. "Really what I am is a futurist," she said at another point. "Our project is acknowledging that a future is coming where nature is no longer fully natural." 94. "With CRISPR, biologists have already created, among many, many other living things: ants that can't smell, beagles that grow superhero-like muscles, pigs that resist swine fever, macaques that suffer from sleep disorders, coffee beans that contain no caffeine, salmon that don't lay eggs, mice that don't get fat, and bacteria whose genes contain, in code, Eadweard Muybridge's famous series of photographs showing a racehorse in motion. A few years ago, a Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, announced that he had produced the world's first CRISPR-edited humans--twin baby girls." 117. "If you look at the output of ice cores, it has really changed the picture of the world, our view of past climates and of human evolution," [J.P. Steffensen] told me. "Why did human beings not make civilization fifty thousand years ago? "You know that they had just as big brains as we have today," he went on. "When you put it in a climatic framework, you can say, well, it was the ice age. And also this ice age was so climatically unstable that each time you had the beginnings of a culture, they had to move. Then comes the present interglacial--ten thousand years of very stable climate. The perfect conditions for agriculture. If you look at it, it's amazing. Civilizations in Persia, in China, and in India start at the same time, maybe six thousand years ago. They all developed writing and they all developed religion and they all built cities, all at the same time, because the climate was stable. I think that if the climate would have been stable fifty thousands years ago, it would have started then. But they had no chance." 197. (hide spoiler)]

  16. 5 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Kolbert, who is rightly well-known for her book on the mass extinction event as a result of human activity, now turns to "the nature of the future". Where her previous book discussed the inadvertent effects of human behavior on natural systems and biomes, this collection of shorter essays (or longform journalism, published in The New Yorker) is on attempts to bring nature or human effects on nature under control. Part One, Down the River, contains two chapters: one on attempts to prevent the fur Kolbert, who is rightly well-known for her book on the mass extinction event as a result of human activity, now turns to "the nature of the future". Where her previous book discussed the inadvertent effects of human behavior on natural systems and biomes, this collection of shorter essays (or longform journalism, published in The New Yorker) is on attempts to bring nature or human effects on nature under control. Part One, Down the River, contains two chapters: one on attempts to prevent the further spread of invasive species, and the second on the retreat of the Mississippi River Delta - which was the unintended result of attempts to control the river's flow in the early 20th century. Part Two, Into the Wild covers the efforts to save endangered species - coral and a type of pupfish - and attempts to save them. One being a sweeping campaign covering thousands of miles of reef, and the other, a small geothermal pool in Nevada. Part Three, Up In The Air, covers solar radiation management - also known as geoengineering. This includes the possibility of spreading aerosols into the atmosphere to deflect sunlight away from earth. In this volume, Kolbert does not spell out her point dramatically. She shows what she reports on, and leaves the reader to think about it. The reporting comes at a human scale, but it invited me to think about what exactly can be done in the aggregate. Think of it like the old thought experiment with the runaway trolley. You see people tied on the tracks, and a trolley barreling towards them. You can pull the lever, diverting the trolley to another set of tracks. On the one hand, we know that not doing anything will leave the trolley to pulverize human lives and so many other species. We pull the lever to change course, and we don't always know what happens next.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Annikky

    This is not quite as good as The Sixth Extinction, but as The Sixth Extinction is amazing, it means that Under a White Sky is still a very good book. The set-up is similar (Kolbert picks case studies that illustrate her chosen theme and then reports from the ground), but instead of examining how we fucked up the natural world, she is exploring how we are now trying to fix it. Unsurprisingly, there is a large overlap between the 'fucking up' and 'saving' sides of the story. Some of the chapters w This is not quite as good as The Sixth Extinction, but as The Sixth Extinction is amazing, it means that Under a White Sky is still a very good book. The set-up is similar (Kolbert picks case studies that illustrate her chosen theme and then reports from the ground), but instead of examining how we fucked up the natural world, she is exploring how we are now trying to fix it. Unsurprisingly, there is a large overlap between the 'fucking up' and 'saving' sides of the story. Some of the chapters worked better for me than others, but overall it's all fascinating and Kolbert is a wonderful journalist (albeit one with a very clear template). I would have actually liked to read more of her own analysis of the situation - she is, obviously, very intelligent and well-informed and every time she does display her own views, they seem exceedingly reasonable. Also, the final image of the book is haunting.

  19. 4 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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Meagann

    I have a BS in Environmental Science and its a hot debate on whether you are for or aganist geoengineering. Its often called the Wizards vs thr Prophets. The wizards believe we will engineer our way out of it all and come up with technology that can combat climate change because look at all we have done in the past 30 years with tech. While the prophets take on the role of reducing carbon dioxide emission (and other greenhouse gases) of top polluters as well as reducing our own carbon footprint. I have a BS in Environmental Science and its a hot debate on whether you are for or aganist geoengineering. Its often called the Wizards vs thr Prophets. The wizards believe we will engineer our way out of it all and come up with technology that can combat climate change because look at all we have done in the past 30 years with tech. While the prophets take on the role of reducing carbon dioxide emission (and other greenhouse gases) of top polluters as well as reducing our own carbon footprint. We do not have the time to tinker with technology. We do not have the time to see whether this outlandish invention that could have more unintended consequences might work. The issue with geoengineering at the core is they believe we have all the time in the world. We dont. We are on a time budget and based on the rate at which their tech is advancing, it is far to slow for what is needed. Moreover, we have the means to tackle climate change now and that is reduce GHG, but politicans need to be ruthless to companies in slashing subsidies, tax breaks, holding them accountable, and investing in renewable energy with local companies and not punishing other conpanies who decide to do the same (which has happened). Geoengineering is very risky. There are so many unintended consequences that could make our situation worse. You might have stabilized your environment for a couple of years or cooled the earth with sulfuric acid particles but what happens when it rains and now you have sulfuric acid in your water cycle. What about growing crops when thr UV light is scattered- and how will that affect ecological communities and dynamics? I swear some scientists do not think beyond their inner circle. I think technology over time can be beneficial in creating a more sustainable society, but I don't think we should be altering our world for it. I wish the author had included more warning or opposition to geoengineering throughout the book because this felt very geoengineering leaning even with some opposite opinions thrown in. I gave it three stars because it was important for me to hear the opinions and thoughts of geoengineers and I enjoyed the first section of the book with Kolbert's commentary on how humans solve problems. I would recommend just picking this up from your library instead of purchasing. Last thought: I see it this way. When you are driving down the road and you hydroplane and end up jerking the wheel hard left (dont do this) this represents climate change. We made a giant mistake and we are in trouble so we try geoengineering. This represents jerking the wheel entirely to the right which fishtails your car. You are still in the same terrible position and maybe in a worse one.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kawai

    Exactly what I was looking for in a modern-day analysis of the implications of the anthropocene. Kolbert always manages the difficult task of achieving depth and complexity along with brevity, and her tone achieves the perfectly appropriate mix of ambivalence and a certain gallows humor. There’s a reason she won a Pulitzer.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    Do you like on-the-scene reporting? Rain blowing sideways, umbrellas turning inside out, waves tossing the reporter around a little bit. It can be fun. But do you like on-the-scene reporting when on-the-scene means literally on top of a miniature model of a place? Because there's a lot of that in this book. It was unexpected for me, the on-the-scene reporting in general. But the author was funny, so that made the descriptiveness easier to swallow. The thesis of this book is very simple. In the past Do you like on-the-scene reporting? Rain blowing sideways, umbrellas turning inside out, waves tossing the reporter around a little bit. It can be fun. But do you like on-the-scene reporting when on-the-scene means literally on top of a miniature model of a place? Because there's a lot of that in this book. It was unexpected for me, the on-the-scene reporting in general. But the author was funny, so that made the descriptiveness easier to swallow. The thesis of this book is very simple. In the past whenever we messed with nature, nature always came back to bite us in the ass. But then when we tried to fix the problems we caused, that ended up causing more problems. Kolbert brings up a lot of examples of this. But she's not discouraging the fixing of nature, actually. It seems like her opinion is that we probably HAVE to modify nature for climate reasons, but we also must be very cognizant of the possible consequences (even just guessing all of the consequences is difficult!). Because doing nothing doesn't seem like a livable option, and human intervention is actually factored into the climate models. But it's okay, maybe an asteroid will hit soon and cool us off.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Wenli

    I love nature! This kind of reminded me of another book, The Invention of Nature, which takes a more historical/biographical perspective on similar themes: humans' relationship with nature. This book made me sad, but also made me feel somewhat inspired and ultimately shifted my perspective of humans' impact on nature. The title comes from the part in the book where Kolbert describes the solar geo engineering idea that we will have to continuously spray particles into the atmosphere in order to r I love nature! This kind of reminded me of another book, The Invention of Nature, which takes a more historical/biographical perspective on similar themes: humans' relationship with nature. This book made me sad, but also made me feel somewhat inspired and ultimately shifted my perspective of humans' impact on nature. The title comes from the part in the book where Kolbert describes the solar geo engineering idea that we will have to continuously spray particles into the atmosphere in order to reflect/block the sun to prevent the planet from warming too much and thus live under a white sky. When I read that part, I felt incredibly sad. I wondered how soon this would be our reality and if there will be kids who grow up never seeing a blue sky. Kolbert tells a series of stories about humans trying to control nature as a response to humans’ already outsized impact on the natural world. From invasive species that humans have introduced into various ecosystems to pumping carbon under the earth in Iceland and shooting diamond dust into the sky, Kolbert brings together some really interesting tales of current human endeavors. I really liked the analogy of a bath tub filling up regarding CO2 emissions, “Declining emissions and rising atmospheric concentrations point to a stubborn fact about carbon dioxide: once it’s in the air, it stays there. How long, exactly, is a complicated question; for all intents and purposes, though, CO2 emissions are cumulative. The comparison that’s often made is to a bathtub. So long as the tap is running, a stopped tub will continue to fill. Turn the tap down, and the tub will still keep filling, just more slowly…..Cutting emissions is at once absolutely essential and insufficient. Were we to halve emissions - a step that would entail rebuilding much of the world’s infrastructure - CO2 levels wouldn’t drop; they’d simply rise less quickly.” She then goes on to talk about the “negative emissions” idea, the idea of removing CO2 from the air. There are some wacky ideas out there, but none implemented at scale, and all would be quite costly. I found it exciting that there are some solutions (at least ideas) out there! I feel like the takeaway of this book is that humans have already changed the earth to the point where our impact is irreversible and in order to survive, we have to work hard to create a new path forward ourselves. Humans turned the tap on and inaction is like leaving the water in the tub to overflow. There is no status quo left to preserve.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    What seems at first a book with no focus makes that focus apparent soon enough: "This has been a book about problems created by people trying to solve problems," as Kolbert summarizes it on the next-to-last page. Along the way I veered from despair, to optimism, to hope, to fatalism, as solution upon solution for carbon emissions, invasive species, extinction, and sea-level rise were described, celebrated, attacked, and defended. Kolbert herself seems to want to embrace the solutions: she quotes What seems at first a book with no focus makes that focus apparent soon enough: "This has been a book about problems created by people trying to solve problems," as Kolbert summarizes it on the next-to-last page. Along the way I veered from despair, to optimism, to hope, to fatalism, as solution upon solution for carbon emissions, invasive species, extinction, and sea-level rise were described, celebrated, attacked, and defended. Kolbert herself seems to want to embrace the solutions: she quotes Stewart Brand, saying, "We are gods and have to get good at it." But she also realizes "how much easier it is to ruin an ecosystem than to run one." Bubbling up, mostly unspoken, under the entire book (and adding to the fatalism) are all of the people who don't even believe that anything bad is happening: "...implementation is a political decision. You might hope that such a decision would be made equitably with respect to those alive today and to future generations, both human and nonhuman. But let's just say the record here isn't strong." I am giving this book five stars for its clarity, conciseness, its humor, and its hope, which is, in one sense, a handful of dust flung into the stratosphere. Also in the hope that everyone will read it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    "This has been a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems," Kolbert writes at the end of her tour d'horizon of the ways in which human beings are trying to mitigate or even reverse the ruination of our planet. Whether we can solve those secondary problems without creating new and even more terrifying tertiary problems remains a question that Kolbert herself does not (and probably cannot) answer. But dispassionate, balanced, and brilliantly written acc "This has been a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems," Kolbert writes at the end of her tour d'horizon of the ways in which human beings are trying to mitigate or even reverse the ruination of our planet. Whether we can solve those secondary problems without creating new and even more terrifying tertiary problems remains a question that Kolbert herself does not (and probably cannot) answer. But dispassionate, balanced, and brilliantly written accounts like hers will go a long way toward informing the public about how to approach that question. Is it too risky, say, to seed the sky with diamond particulates, or gene-drive cane toads into extinction -- or is it riskier NOT to do these things? It's getting increasingly hard to identify the lesser of two evils.

  26. 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.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Koh

    Fans of Elizabeth Kolbert’s previous Pulitzer Prize winning effort, The Sixth Extinction will find Under A White Sky a commendable follow up. Still within the domain of nature writing as it connects to the devastation our species has wrought, her new book focuses on new ways in which scientists are attempting to save earth’s biodiversity. Some choose to focus on planting new populations of critically endangered species in mimicking environments, such as the Devil’s Hole pupfish. This unique spec Fans of Elizabeth Kolbert’s previous Pulitzer Prize winning effort, The Sixth Extinction will find Under A White Sky a commendable follow up. Still within the domain of nature writing as it connects to the devastation our species has wrought, her new book focuses on new ways in which scientists are attempting to save earth’s biodiversity. Some choose to focus on planting new populations of critically endangered species in mimicking environments, such as the Devil’s Hole pupfish. This unique species only exists in one aquifer in Nevada desert, and are small, yet very cute looking creatures that were on the brink of total annihilation in the 60s (there now number about 300 - both in the Devil’s Hole and it a mock aquarium). Other think on evolutionary terms, such as a team of researchers who are trying to mate different species of polyps from the Great Barrier Reef. These corals are usually too geographically spread to ever get the chance of naturally breeding. Yet, in bringing them together, science might be able to produce a hardier species of coral able to withstand the travails of climate change. Throughout the book, Kolbert’s limpid prose tracks the joys and fears of these researchers who are truly on the forefront of saving our planet and its inhabitants. Kolbert is inquisitive and probing, her genuine sense of wonder at those working at the forefront of science is truly electrifying. I only wish that a stronger sense of connectivity could be built between these essays, which when observed in their own silos I still judge to be very good. Anyone familiar with Kolbert’s work in the New Yorker will also notice some essays originated there. Still, Kolbert’s unique voice is crucial for us laymen to better understand the world which we are slowly destroying.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chaitra

    This isn’t a cohesive whole of a book. It’s a series of essays that speak mostly of well intentioned projects gone wrong and will need to be (or already in the way of being) fixed by more human intervention. I loved it. I got to know of so many things that I didn’t know of prior to this - Louisiana actually losing quantifiable amount of land for example. It technically doesn’t make sense that they’d just continue building walls against a rising sea or river ad infinitum, but if I was living smac This isn’t a cohesive whole of a book. It’s a series of essays that speak mostly of well intentioned projects gone wrong and will need to be (or already in the way of being) fixed by more human intervention. I loved it. I got to know of so many things that I didn’t know of prior to this - Louisiana actually losing quantifiable amount of land for example. It technically doesn’t make sense that they’d just continue building walls against a rising sea or river ad infinitum, but if I was living smack dab against that river or sea, I’d need the wall anyway. And so it goes. I knew of the carp, and of the devil fish, but so many were unknown. I didn’t know I could pay to take carbon dioxide and pump it into stone, and that’s something I will surely consider. And I like the idea of not framing net zero emissions as the end all. I like there are some scientists exploring things that are sure to be temporary bandaids even if there is a situation dire enough that they are needed, may they continually be funded. We can’t deal with more ‘making the Mississippi go where it listeth not’, so it’s nice to know the pros and cons of a dire necessity decades prior to when they will be needed. I enjoyed the book a whole lot, even though it’s full of dire predictions and speaks of hopelessness and human futility.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Leif

    Elizabeth Kolbert has brought the terrible success of Asian carp in Michigan to life - she has illustrated the disappearing Louisiana lands around New Orleans and found the sense of joy in the tiny pupfish of Devil's Hole in Nevada. In this Eastern USA atlas of mysteries, Kolbert traces the forces of environmental degradation, climate change, and human hubris. Her recurring question is always will more human interventions help to rebalance or restore a world thrown into disarray? This suspicion Elizabeth Kolbert has brought the terrible success of Asian carp in Michigan to life - she has illustrated the disappearing Louisiana lands around New Orleans and found the sense of joy in the tiny pupfish of Devil's Hole in Nevada. In this Eastern USA atlas of mysteries, Kolbert traces the forces of environmental degradation, climate change, and human hubris. Her recurring question is always will more human interventions help to rebalance or restore a world thrown into disarray? This suspicion carries her into discussions with the advocates of climate engineering whose voices will only become louder and more empowered. If many of the chapters here sound more like vignettes than science journalism, the effects of COVID-19 have been felt as Kolbert's curtailed ability to travel and to discuss with interlocutors essentially ends the book. This is less substantial than some of her previous work but it is still remarkably fluent and accessible.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mindy

    Really more of a 3.5 but I love Kolbert's work so I rounded up. Not nearly as scary as The Sixth Extinction but not as engaging either. I suppose I wanted more details. Still a good read. Really more of a 3.5 but I love Kolbert's work so I rounded up. Not nearly as scary as The Sixth Extinction but not as engaging either. I suppose I wanted more details. Still a good read.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.