Under A White Sky

The continuing struggle to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes system has included solutions ranging from electrified water barriers to thrillingly impractical suggestions like stopping them with flying knives. Nerissa Michaels/Illinois River Biological Station, via Detroit Free Press

We have not featured any of her work since this review of H is for Hawk but we are happy to read Helen Macdonald’s work again with this review:

Can We Patch Up the Natural World We’ve Hurt?

The Nature of the Future
By Elizabeth Kolbert

A few years ago YouTube recommended I watch a video with the word “carpocalypse” in its title. I clicked the link — of course I did — and stared in awe at what resembled a mash-up of a video game, nature documentary and war movie. I saw a river full of fish leaping from the water like chaotic piscine fireworks and men in speedboats yelling and holding out nets to catch them as if they were wet and weighty butterflies. Fish hitting people in the face, fish landing in boats, fish flapping between people’s feet in a mess of slime and blood. This, the video informed me, was the annual Redneck Fishing Tournament in Bath, Ill., the object of which was to kill as many Asian carp as possible. An invasive species that has spread throughout the Mississippi basin since its introduction as a “safe” agent of biological control in the 1960s, Asian carp jump when they feel in danger, and the sound of boat engines is sufficiently alarming to push them en masse into the air.

The video was a startling coincidence of science, culture and environmental disaster, and I thought of it often as I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s excellent new book. I did so partly because her opening chapter deals with the continuing struggle to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes system, with solutions ranging from electrified water barriers to thrillingly impractical suggestions from members of the public to stop them with flying knives. But as I read on, I was reminded of the carp for a different reason. They seemed no longer just a sign of environmental disaster or a ready metaphor for xenophobia. In my mind they became proxies for us — creatures in mass panic, leaping out of their comfort zone, desperate to avoid catastrophe.

“Under a White Sky” is a fascinating survey of novel attempts to manage natural systems of all sizes, from preserving tiny populations of desert fish to altering the entire atmosphere (the title refers to the color the sky would turn were solar engineers to implement plans to spread mineral particles in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight and cut global warming).

One of the great science journalists, Kolbert has for many years been an essential voice, a reporter from the front lines of the environmental crisis. Her new book crackles with the realities of living in an era that has sounded the death knell for our commonly held belief that one can meaningfully distinguish between nature and humanity. Our world is too much changed for nature to be preserved simply by leaving it alone. “Humans,” she explains, are producing “no-analog climates, no-analog ecosystems, a whole no-analog future.” The systems that support us are now hybrid human-natural ones, and maintaining them increasingly requires us to adopt inventive strategies to correct for our previous attempts at control, efforts that have frequently led to highly unfortunate outcomes…

Read the whole review here.

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