Crown Publishing 2021 $28, 234 pages.
Book review by N.R. Mallery
Most of us have probably heard of or read Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Sixth Extinction. In it, she brought our attention to the climate emergency in a way that leaves us alarmed and desperately searching for solutions. Hopefully we will find them in time to prevent the worst of the impending devastation that will come if we do not get our emissions under control.
Under a White Sky is about available solutions. They are what the people most involved have been working on as the climate continues to change at an alarming speed. Scientists had hoped it would not turn into an emergency so quickly, but here it is.
After days of thinking about what I learned from the book, I really don’t think it is a doom and gloom portrayal of what to expect for our future and our ability to tackle the climate emergency. Kolbert writes about the latest and (perhaps) greatest research and trials in attempts to prevent the worst case scenario for the future of our planet and our existing lifestyle from unfolding.
Learning about the research and work on the problem currently under way is somewhat comforting. But there is so much at stake if they get it wrong. We surely need to put much more attention to the toughest problem humanity will likely ever have to deal with.
Kolbert’s research and personal experiences with the differing solutions brought out in the book present an incredible sense of reality. Some of the solutions being explored made me a bit hopeful because they are being seriously explored. Some made me cringe and have nightmarish visions, nearly in tears for what my grandchildren might face.
Kolbert writes about effects of a changing climate that have already become real, effects that go beyond drought, floods, and wildfires. There is an Asian Carp explosion around Chicago, while the Devils Hole pupfish near Death Valley in Nevada are driven to extinction. Corals are dying in Great Barrier Reef and off the coast of Hawaii, and giant toads are invading Australia.
But she also looks into solutions, including negative emissions. She bought into one of the ways that is currently in use by a company called Climeworks. This company made it possible to bury some of her own emissions, and that enabled her to write this book.
Climeworks launched its “pioneer” program in Iceland, after much research and development with their direct-air-capture operations. Kolbert explained that once captured, CO₂ has to go somewhere, and the place it goes needs to be secure. The technology this company is using is really quite simple and actually not new, having been implemented for 50 years in applications like submarines. The captured CO₂ can be deposited into basaltic rock in underground storage, where it is turned into stone in two years. The book explains the details of this.
Kolbert even explores geoengineering from labs in AU and in the USA. The information is frightening, concerning, and enlightening at the same time. She discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly she has seen in her research and travels.
Under a White Sky made me understand that we still do not have to jump into options that could possibly go very wrong. But we surely cannot waste any time either. There are many knowledgeable, intelligent teams of people who are working hard to find solutions. Hopefully, we will not need what Andy Parker, the project director for the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, was talking about when he said, “We live in a world where deliberately dimming the f***ing sun might be less risky than not doing it.”
I wish I could say that the book left me more hopeful. It did not. But do I recommend that you pick up a copy and read it? Absolutely. I just pray that humanity can still live under a blue sky, instead of one that is white.
N.R. Mallery is the publisher/founder of Green Energy Times. She lives and works sustainably in Vermont from an off-grid, solar-powered high-performance home where she grows most of what she eats from the permaculture-encouraged landscaping.