Should we dim the sun? Will we even have a choice

E. Klein,  New York Times,  2021.

I’m Ezra Klein, and this is “The Ezra Klein Show.”So it’s only February, but I’m pretty sure Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Under a White Sky” is going to be on my best books of 2021 list. It’s a wonderful work. Kolbert is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Sixth Extinction,” which you may have read. She is a staff writer at The New Yorker and just one of the great science journalists of this time, and particularly one of the great climate journalists of this age. But this book, this book’s existence is evidence of how badly that fight is going. This is a book about what we are going to need to contemplate in the coming years that we don’t want to. It’s a book about taking responsibility for how irreversibly we have altered the natural world; how often we have tried to control it, and then watched those attempts at control fail; how often the best most scientific minds of the age have come up with some brilliant solution, implemented it, and then watched calamity result. And at the same time — and this is what makes the book so worthwhile — it is a book about how there is no going back. Not now, not ever. We are in the Anthropocene. The future from here is an endless layering on of new efforts to control the consequences of our past efforts. We don’t get to flinch or pretend we don’t have to contemplate any of this. We’ve gone too far. One of the hardest things to do as a writer — and I tell you this from personal experience — is to write ambivalence. It’s easy to write a polemic or a sharp take. It is hard to write down the middle path, where you are simply describing things as they are, knowing that every possible obvious answer you can come to is probably a bad one, knowing that the hubris embedded in past attempts to solve this problem means any future brilliant idea is likely to end that way, too, but that doesn’t mean we can do nothing. But Kolbert walks that path really beautifully here, which is why I wanted to talk to her for the show. As always, my email is theezrakleinshow@nytimes.com. I’m always interested to know who you’d like to see on the show. The weirder, the better. So send me your guest suggestions. Here’s Elizabeth Kolbert.


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