Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Crown. Feb. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9780593136270. $28. SCI
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.
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