Under a White Sky

The Nature of the Future

Elizabeth Kolbert

288 pages April 2021 Proofs in English Current Affairs

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?

From her coverage in The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert has become one of our most important writers on the environment. Now she investigates the immense challenges humanity faces as we scramble to reverse, in a matter of decades, the effects we’ve had on the atmosphere, the oceans, the world’s forests and rivers–on the very topography of the globe.

In her trademark persuasive and darkly comic prose, Kolbert introduces myriad innovations that offer ways to avert disaster–or may produce new disasters, ones that haven’t been and perhaps cannot be anticipated. We encounter the scientists attempting to save the Devil’s Hole pupfish, the rarest fish species in the world, who occupy a single pool in a limestone cavern in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone; resilient “super coral” created via assisted evolution to survive a hotter globe; and researchers who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to scatter sunlight back to space, changing the sky from blue to white.

One way to look at human civilization, says Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. Paradoxically, the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the only hope for its salvation.