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Elizabeth Kolbert on the Nature of the Future

Part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story

Evening Program on Zoom

Wednesday, March 17, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0385
$25 - Member
$30 - Non-Member
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Journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert is best-known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, The Sixth Extinction, which vividly portrayed the rich and diverse world disappearing rapidly before our very eyes. It led to an inevitable question: “But is there any hope? Is there anything we can do?”

Drawing on her new book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Kolbert offers a powerful, resonant, counterintuitive response. She explores the possibility that—paradoxically—the feats of human innovation that have imperiled our planet may now be the only hope. Because so much environmental damage is irreversible, we will be increasingly compelled to use what we know to manipulate—not save—nature. 

Some of the most innovative and promising ideas—for maintaining livable space in New Orleans, for protecting endangered species around the globe, for slowing the speed of melting glaciers, and more—could be described as brilliant, visionary, or crazy. Whichever it is, she argues, rejecting these ideas isn’t going to bring nature back. The issue is not whether we’re going to alter nature, but to what end?

In conversation with Joe Palca, science correspondent for NPR, Kolbert describes fascinating discoveries she made while researching her book, including cutting-edge scientific projects ranging from a plant in Iceland where carbon dioxide is being turned into stone, to a fake cavern in the Mojave that houses the world’s rarest fish, to the halls of Harvard, where researchers are contemplating shooting tiny diamond particles into the stratosphere to lower the earth’s temperature—potentially turning blue skies white.

Copies of Under a White Sky (Crown) are available for purchase.



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Inside Science

American Women's History Initiative

This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.