On August 19, Earth.Org had a conversation with environmental journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert, best known for her 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Sixth Extinction. We discussed Elizabeth’s most recent book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, released in February 2021. Click here for Earth.Org’s review for Under a White Sky.
Elizabeth spoke with Earth.Org about several topics, including:
- The state of technological solutions designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.
- Humankind’s tendency to encounter problems created from our previous efforts to control the natural world.
- How humanity’s relationship with nature has evolved over time.
- The argument for and against futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and geoengineering.
- The ethical and pragmatic arguments for humanity’s interventionist tendencies towards nature.
To write her book, Elizabeth spoke with scientists and experts in various fields related to emerging technologies that might spell our salvation. In our interview with her, Elizabeth shared her experiences while researching, and gave an insight into the main questions she asks in her book.
A main question was whether or not humans should be considered justified in their efforts to control nature and intervene in its proceedings. After speaking with a myriad of experts, Elizabeth has come to the conclusion that, at this choice, we have no choice but to intervene. If we do nothing, we could hit net-zero emissions tomorrow and the living world would still be devastated beyond repair and recognition. We need to be able to have some degree of control over the amounts of carbon in our atmosphere, and we need to help make endangered species more genetically and evolutionarily adaptable for the world to come. And we need to be sure that these technological solutions can work at scale. That requires research and experimentation.
For many of the solutions Elizabeth discusses in her book, research and experimentation is mostly harmless and free of controversy. For others, such as geoengineering, a consequence of which is what lends the book its title, to say it is controversial would be putting it mildly. In our interview, Elizabeth discusses the different sides of the argument, and gives her opinion on the ethical and pragmatic view of such interventions.
Elizabeth also discusses the difference between techno-optimism, what we often see from the Elon Musks and Bill Gates of the world, and techno-fatalism, what she mostly saw from the scientists and experts she interviewed. While the former are convinced that technology and innovation are inherently good things, the latter are somewhat resigned to the fact that we need these technologies, even though it is decidedly less than ideal that we even have to consider them, much less use them.
You can check out the full version of Earth.Org’s conversation with Elizabeth Kolbert below: