'It is the question of the century': will tech solve the climate crisis – or make it worse?
Robots on coral reefs, vast barriers to hold back the glaciers, simulated volcanic eruptions to offset global heating ... Can technology repair the mess we have made? Elizabeth Kolbert is not convinced
Elizabeth Kolbert’s favourite movie is the end-of-the-world comedy Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. For those who need a quick recap, this cold war film features a deranged US air force general who orders a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union using weapons developed by a mad Nazi scientist played by Peter Sellers. A last-minute glitch almost forestalls an apocalyptic war, but a gung-ho B-52 pilot has other ideas. He opens the bomb doors and mounts the H-bomb as if it were a horse, waving his hat and whooping as he rides the missile towards the world’s oblivion. No heroism could be more misguided. No movie could end with a blunter message: how on Earth can we humans trust ourselves with planet-altering technology?
The same absurdly serious question lies at the heart of Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky. The Sixth Extinction, her previous book, won a Pulitzer prize for its investigation into how mankind has devastated the natural world. Now she has widened her gaze to whether we can remedy this with ingenious technological fixes – or make things worse. “There was definitely a question left hanging: now we have become such a dominant force on planet Earth, and created so many problems through our intervention, what happens next?”, she says.
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