Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future Hardcover – 9 February 2021

4.5 out of 5 stars 523 ratings

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Hardcover, 9 February 2021

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"To be a well-informed citizen of Planet Earth, you need to read Elizabeth Kolbert. . . . It's a tribute to Kolbert's skills as a storyteller that she transforms the quest to deal with the climate crisis into a darkly comic tale of human hubris and imagination that could either end in flames or in a new vision of Paradise."--Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone

"A superb and honest reflection of our extraordinary time."--Nature

"[Kolbert] has a marvelous eye for the quirky . . . and she wields figurative language in truly glorious ways. . . . Beautifully and insistently, Kolbert shows us that it is time to think radically about the ways we manage the environment; time to work with what we have, using the knowledge we have, with our eyes fully open to the realities of where we are."--Helen Macdonald, The New York Times Book Review

"Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert's beat is examining the impact of humans on the environment and she does it better than basically everyone."--Lit Hub

"What makes Under A White Sky so valuable and such a compelling read is Kolbert tells by showing. Without beating the reader over the head, she makes it clear how far we already are from a world of undisturbed, perfectly balanced nature--and how far we must still go to find a new balance for the planet's future that still has us humans in it."--NPR

"From the Mojave to lava fields in Iceland, Kolbert takes readers on a globe-spanning journey to explore these projects while weighing their pros, cons, and ethical implications."--Nation

"An eye-opening--and at times terrifying--examination of just how far scientists have already gone in their attempts to re-engineer the planet."--Gizmodo

"If you like your apocalit with a side of humor, she will have you laughing while Rome burns."--MIT Technology Review

"Brilliantly executed and urgently necessary."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"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.'"--Booklist (starred review)

"Every paragraph of Kolbert's books has a mountain of reading and reporting behind it . . . Urgent, absolutely necessary reading as a portrait of our devastated planet."--Kirkus Reviews (starred

"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. A sobering and realistic look at humankind's perhaps misplaced faith that technology can work with nature to produce a more livable planet."--Library Journal (starred review)

About the Author

Elizabeth Kolbert is the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change and The Sixth Extinction, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. For her work at The New Yorker, where she's a staff writer, she has received two National Magazine Awards and the Blake-Dodd Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.
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Product details

  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0593136276
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0593136270
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5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, Compelling, but not Preachy
9 February 2021 - Published on Amazon.com
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5.0 out of 5 stars Seeking Solutions for Global Survival
Reviewed in the United States on 7 March 2021
“A fine mess you’ve made. Now what are you going to do to clean it up?”

How many times have you heard those words, or some variation of them? Annoying, yes, but uncomfortably accurate, I bet.

And that’s the question Elizabeth Kolbert investigates in her new 2021 “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future” sequel to her 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” about how we affect our environment.

Kolbert’s new work reflects a shift from her earlier effort to point out with alarm the environmental and other species impacts of human actions made in the name of “progress”. Things have changed for her since then and there is no going back.

Quoting Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, “We are gods and might as well get good at it”, the author also includes his Revive & Restore group mission “to enhance biodiversity through new techniques of genetic rescue”.

And she adds: ”Rejecting such (new) technologies as unnatural isn’t going to bring nature back. The choice is not between what was and what is, but between what is and what will be, which, often enough, is nothing.”

This response is shaped by the historic and continuing impact of human globalization experience such as circulating pathogens from one part of the planet to another with unexpected consequences, e.g. American chestnut tree blight.

Kolbert sprinkles in unexpected humor throughout her narrative. During a trip to Nevada to observe conservation efforts to save small fish somehow surviving under extreme desert conditions, she drily notes upon returning to her hotel:

“I really wanted a drink. But I couldn’t bring myself to go back down to the lobby…to find a faux French bar. I thought of the Devil’s Hole pupfish in their simulated cavern. I wondered: Is this how they felt in their darker moments?”

The book is divided into three sections covering different environmental challenges:

• “Down the River”: two chapters looking at different American challenges at controlling invasive carp species near Chicago and relentless Mississippi River challenges in the Delta
• “Into the Wild”: three chapters examining different survival challenges for the aforementioned pupfish in Nevada, “assisted evolution” efforts to save corals around Hawaii and Australian Great Barrier Reef, and unexpected results from importing and releasing cane toads to solve a sugar cane grub problem into the Australian Outback
• “Up in the Air”: three chapters discussing more measures, some unusual and wildly imaginative, being considered by different international groups to control and stabilize CO2 emissions, climate change and the source of the book’s distinctive title “Under a White Sky”

Throughout the narrative journey various recent technologies are discussed, particularly CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats – yes, I wondered about that acronym, too), solar radiation management, SAILS (Stratospheric, Aerosol Injection Lofter – this one you have to read for yourself).

The author includes some tasty historical tidbits: the impact of early agriculture, Darwin’s musings about the variety and creativity of nature, and an entertaining, mind-blowing section about Camp Century, a Cold War effort by Americans to develop forward military monitoring bases in Greenland with overlooked challenges and impacts on base life.

Kolbert does a great job of presenting not just the big picture but getting into the details. Her quote from “The Leopard” (1958 by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) eerily sums up our present situation, for better or worse:

“If we want everything to remain as it is, everything must change.”

(Here’s the link to my Amazon posted review, “A Remembrance of Things Present”, for Kolbert’s 2014 “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”: https://www.amazon.com/review/RMHFCOUNOONKU/ref=cm_cr_srp_d_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8)
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