Elizabeth Kolbert

Dec 1, 2022

The Nature of the Future

A Discussion with Elizabeth Kolbert

New Books Network 2022

How should humans respond to our ongoing human-made climate catastrophe? To answer that question, Recall this Book turned to prize-winning climate reporter Elizabeth Kolbert, who visited Brandeis this Fall. The topic was Under a White Sky, her recent book that documents the responses to the climate crisis ranging from a form of climate engineering that shoots reflective particles into the air to cool the atmosphere, to negative emission technologies that capture and inject carbon dioxide underground.

"You'd have to be pretty hard-hearted not to feel called to some kind of action when you see what we humans have done." But Elizabeth wonders what the best alternatives are. Should we set aside half the earth for biodiversity? Why is it that genetic engineering has become the cultural flashpoint for fear of unintended consequences? There are no easy answers at this point. Elizabeth thinks that if you're not frightened by what's going right now, including American politics around vaccination refusal, you're not paying attention.

Because this episode is associated with the annual Brandeis New Student Book Forum, first-year students Hedy Yang and Srinidhi Sriraman (who also goes by Nidhi) jump in with some thoughts.

Noticing repeated mentions of Henry David Thoreau in the book, Nidhi inquires about his role in inspiring Elizabeth's writing. Hedy's question about environmental justice and the comparative agency of rich and poor countries moves Elizabeth to talk about the staggering inequities in consumption and the goal of convergence in carbon emissions. What is the mechanism by which this happens, though? Do humans have the right to implement these technologies? Is the solution to issues created by human control really more control?

Mentioned in the Episode

Listen to the episode here.

Read the transcript here.

Special credit and thanks for this episode goes to Hedy Yang and Srinidhi Sriraman, who took part in the audio editing and the preparation of the show notes, respectively.

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Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz

Free-ranging discussion of books from the past that cast a sideways light on today's world. Recall This Book is hosted by Elizabeth Ferry, Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University and John Plotz, Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative.

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