Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the FutureUnder a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has penned a book that is at the same time disturbing, engaging, and hopeful. It is not just a book about climate change, although that plays a big part. It is, rather, about scientists’ various attempts to undo man’s damage to our environment by making other changes, perhaps more radical and damaging. It begins, for example, with current efforts to introduce non-native species to control other, previously introduced non-native species. One thing I learned on the hopeful side is that Asian carp, considered an invasive species in the U.S., make good eating. Let’s all dig in.

The style of writing is surprisingly entertaining and almost in the form of a travelogue. She describes where she went, how she got there, whom she talked to, and what the surroundings were like. She has a knack for description. She isn’t preachy. She doesn’t seem to promote a view of her own; rather she presents what scientists, scholars, and technologists have told her and does so in a balanced manner. She gives equal voice to those who contradict and oppose others whose work she has just described. It’s clear she has no idea whether or not some of the more radical ideas proposed should be carried out. What is clear is that radical change on a massive scale is ahead. If we do nothing to change our human behavior, or otherwise intervene, climate change and all the “natural” disasters it entails will continue. If we take some of the steps recommended by some in the book, we could start a cascade of unfortunate and unforeseen events on a global scale. Or, nature could send us a surprise – a pandemic that would make Covid look like the sniffles, a series of world-blanketing volcanic eruptions, another ice age, the magnetic poles switching, Greenland’s ice sheet, or the Ross Ice Shelf breaking free and raising the worldwide sea level overnight by hundreds of feet. The book presents no moral, no plan for how to proceed, but makes for fascinating reading.

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