Under a white sky The nature of the future

Elizabeth Kolbert

Book - 2021

"The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction returns to humanity's transformative impact on the environment, now asking: After doing so much damage, can we change nature, this time to save it? That man should have dominion "over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" is a prophecy that has hardened into fact. So pervasive are human impacts on the planet that it's said we live in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. I...n Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. She meets scientists who are trying to preserve the world's rarest fish, which lives in a single, tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave. She visits a lava field in Iceland, where engineers are turning carbon emissions to stone; an aquarium in Australia, where researchers are trying to develop "super coral" that can survive on a hotter globe; and a lab at Harvard, where physicists are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere in order to reflect sunlight back to space and 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. By turns inspiring, terrifying, and darkly comic, Under a White Sky is an utterly original examination of the challenges we face"--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Crown [2021]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
234 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780593136270
0593136276
9780593238776
059323877X
Main Author
Elizabeth Kolbert (author)
  • Down the river
  • Into the wild
  • Up in the air.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* In the future, nature will be even less "natural" than it is now, even more torqued by humankind. Following her Pulitzer Prize–winning The Sixth Extinction (2014), science writer extraordinaire Kolbert reports on man-made natural disasters and less-than-reassuring attempts and plans to ameliorate them. Writing with trenchant wit and stinging matter-of-factness, Kolbert observes "how much easier it is to ruin an ecosystem than to run one." Always game and curious, she accompanies scientists on expeditions to imperiled coral reefs; Greenland's melting ice sheet; Illinois waterways, where Asian carp are threatening ecosystems; Devils Hole, Nevada, where researchers are trying to preserve a unique species of desert fish; and an enormous indoor model of the Mississippi Delta used to study the region's severe land loss. Kolbert considers the implications of technological intervention, including "assisted evolution" and genetic engineering, to save at-risk species or eradicate such invasive species as the cane toad in Australia. As for the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, Kolbert meets with scientists working on extreme geoengineering countermeasures, including one that could turn the blue sky white. A master elucidator, Kolbert is gratifyingly direct as she assesses our predicament between a rock and a hard place, creating a clarion and invaluable "book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems." Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Kolbert, author of the best-selling The Sixth Extinction, invites us to explore the question of whether technological solutions are the only answers left to rectify human-generated environmental problems. Using several case studies, she illustrates how humankind has had to deal with environmental repercussions whenever it seeks to control nature, and how the first instinct is to apply more or different technology, which often exacerbates the problem. But simply removing or reversing the original "solution" may be too little, too late as the rate of the environmental impact accelerates past the capacity of nature to recalibrate itself. Whether it is invasions of exotic species, levee-induced erosion, climate-induced extinctions, or anthropogenic climate change, Kolbert investigates current efforts at mitigation not with optimistic boosterism, but with a resigned and questioning fatalism. It is a tale not of magic-bullet remedies where maybe this time things will be different when we intervene in nature, but rather of deploying a panoply of strategies big and small in hopes that there is still time to make a difference and atone for our past. VERDICT A sobering and realistic look at humankind's perhaps misplaced faith that technology can work with nature to produce a more livable planet. Similiar to her previous book, Kolbert's latest offers engaging popular science. —Wade Lee-Smith, Univ. of Toledo Lib. Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Pulitzer-winner Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction) focuses once again on the Anthropocene in this illuminating study of humans' "control of nature." Humans have already changed the natural world, she writes, and now are innovating to counter the fallout. As she surveys climate-related discoveries, Kolbert describes barriers erected to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes after the carp were brought to America in 1963 to "keep aquatic weeds in check." She also tells of the divers who conduct a yearly "census" on the Devil's Hole pupfish, a threatened species surviving in a single pond in the Mojave Desert. Kolbert notes the irony and ingenuity of humans battling natural processes to which they have contributed: the dams and levees along the Mississippi River, for instance, were "built to keep southern Louisiana dry" but have caused a massive "land-loss crisis" due to flooding elsewhere in the state. Along the way, Kolbert covers interventions on the cutting edge of science, such as "assisted evolution," which would help coral reefs endure warmer oceans. Her style of immersive journalism (which involves being hit by a jumping carp, observing coral sex, and watching as millennia-old ice is pulled from the ice sheets of Greenland) makes apparent the challenges of "the whole-earth transformation" currently underway. This investigation of global change is brilliantly executed and urgently necessary. Agent: Kathy Robbins, the Robbins Office. (Feb.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction returns to humanity's transformative impact on the environment, now asking: After doing so much damage, can we change nature, this time to save it? That man should have dominion "over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" is a prophecy that has hardened into fact. So pervasive are human impacts on the planet that it's said we live in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. In Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. She meets scientists who are trying to preserve the world's rarest fish, which lives in a single, tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave. She visits a lava field in Iceland, where engineers are turning carbon emissions to stone; an aquarium in Australia, where researchers are trying to develop "super coral" that can survive on a hotter globe; and a lab at Harvard, where physicists are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere in order to reflect sunlight back to space and 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. By turns inspiring, terrifying, and darkly comic, Under a White Sky is an utterly original examination of the challenges we face"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction returns to humanity’s transformative impact on the environment, now asking: After doing so much damage, can we change nature, this time to save it?RECOMMENDED BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND BILL GATES • SHORTLISTED FOR THE WAINWRIGHT PRIZE FOR WRITING • ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Time, Esquire, Smithsonian Magazine, Vulture, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal • “Beautifully and insistently, Kolbert shows us that it is time to think radically about the ways we manage the environment.”—Helen Macdonald, The New York Times  That man should have dominion “over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” is a prophecy that has hardened into fact. So pervasive are human impacts on the planet that it’s said we live in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.   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. By turns inspiring, terrifying, and darkly comic, Under a White Sky is an utterly original examination of the challenges we face.