Book Review: Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

under a white skyIn The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert told us about the current, ongoing, human-created mass extinction event we find ourselves in. It was an engrossing and alarming read, both things that can be said about her follow-up, Under a White Sky. Here she looks at the very specific actions humanity has taken to try and “fix” nature, and how doing so seems to all too often spiral out of control. One particularly memorable section follows how we reversed the flow of the Chicago River in 1887, and now have to spend vast quantities of money trying to keep the invasive Asian Carp from infesting additional waterways. It’s a long, winding path, filled with well-intentioned human interventions designed to fight the damage we were already doing to the environment, only to continually find that by solving one problem we seemed to create several more. At this point, there is no choice but to keep intervening in that particular ecosystem, as we have long since crossed the threshold in which simply letting nature take its course is still feasible. This seems to be the overriding point of all the cases cited in the book from all around the world. Humanity has meddled so much with nature, that it could be argued that there are few, if any, truly natural habitats left anywhere on Earth, and as a result of our meddling, we have no choice but to continue to do so if the planet is to remain habitable. It’s a depressing thought, but ultimately this isn’t a complete downer of a book. The final sections detail the many large-scale ideas being looked into to try and fight climate change. Many of them can seem pretty frightening, especially having just learned about the rather poor track record we have when it comes to this sort of thing, but at least some of these projects are likely going to be necessary if we are to avoid the worst of climate change’s possible effects. We can at least take some comfort from knowing that beginning to look into them now, means we won’t just be rushing into them blindly. ★★★★★ – Sean Farrell

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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