Under a White Sky

Elizabeth Kolbert

Under a White Sky



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Identifying and understanding the environmental challenges that human beings must face in the immediate future will enable us to have a clearer idea of how humanity has contributed to the current environmental crisis and what we will be called to do to try to remedy it. The solution is neither simple nor unambiguous, and the debate is still wide open about how and whether we should intervene. In her book Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert tells a story that combines data with field research, about how some people are looking for innovative solutions to solve problems created by others who were also trying to solve a problem. Thus begins the discussion on assisted evolution, genetic editing, geoengineering methods and hybrid systems created by anthropic action. It is time we rethink the way we look at nature itself: no longer as something pure and uncontaminated, but a product of human control over the environment.

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Analysis and key concepts


We live in the era of the Anthropocene, where every human action has a consequence that is not always predictable, neither locally nor globally


The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the importation of Asiatic carpe are two examples of anthropic actions that still have a strong impact on the local ecosystem


The construction of cities on morphologically unstable lands is an example of anthropic action that has given rise to a hybrid system between nature and human beings


In the Anthropocene era, the rate of extinction is marching on at a fast pace despite conservationist efforts, because human beings have altered the balances established by nature


‘Stockholm Species’ are a new conservation class of creatures which rely on human intervention to ensure their survival


Assisted evolution also aims to ensure the survival of a species, while making it independent from humans


Genetic engineering can help put things right but its use is still highly controversial


Negative emission technologies can help limit the average increase in world temperatures but there are still some issues to be solved




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Understand the weight of the human impact on the environment.
  • Reframe the concept of nature in the Anthropocene era.
  • Discover the challenges involved in making the Earth more habitable.

Elizabeth Kolbert is an environmental journalist and writer. After graduating from Yale University with a degree in literature and studying at the University of Hamburg on a Fulbright scholarship, she went to work for The New York Times. She has been on the staff of The New Yorker since 1999, where she writes about the environment, climate change and global warming. She is the author of several books including Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change and The Sixth Extinction, which won her the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2015.

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