For over 15 years, Elizabeth Kolbert has covered the impact of humans on the environment. Meanwhile, she says, her pace hasn’t changed as much as one might hope.
“When I started there was a kind of feeling that if people knew what was going on they would come to their senses and there would be that political change that we needed,” Kolbert said on a recent call. Massachusetts telephone. “It didn’t really happen.”
She adds, “Maybe this is happening now. We’ll see what happens over the next two years. “
Kolbert had long been interested in environmental issues. During her time as a reporter for the New York Times, she occasionally wrote on the subject because it intersected with politics. But his extensive coverage of climate change began in 2005 with “The Climate of Man,” a three-part series for The New Yorker. In 2014, she published the book “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” which would go on to become a New York Times bestseller and win the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.
“The unfortunate fact is that we have spent the last 15 years not doing what we should have done, and that means the task has become much more difficult in the face of climate change,” says Kolbert.
His most recent book, “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future”, is sort of a sequel to “The Sixth Extinction”. It is, as she writes, “a book about people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems.” In it, Kolbert travels extensively, exploring rivers, desert pools, and coral reefs while getting to know some people looking for solutions to global climate change and biodiversity crises.
This indicates something that has changed since Kolbert’s coverage of climate change began. In the early 2000s, she spent a lot of time reporting on the Arctic and edited a book on the subject. “It has always been predicted that the Arctic would see the effects of climate change first and most dramatically. It turned out to be true, ”she said. However, the impact of climate change has spread further since then. “Now I could go anywhere – that’s certainly true in California – and I would find some very solid data that would show me how climate change is impacting the world right now.”
It’s not exactly the change that people would like to see. This, Kolbert says, is perhaps one of the lesser-known stories of the past decade and a half. “A lot of these impacts that have been predicted for some time into the future, they are occurring faster and more dramatically, as a rule, than climatologists would have predicted 15 years ago,” says- it.
In a moving section of “Under a White Sky,” Kolbert writes about the pupfish of the Mojave Desert. Considered one of the rarest fish in the world, the Devils Hole pupfish can be found in a cave pool about an hour outside of Las Vegas. The modern story of this desert quirk is as much about humans as it is about fish. Human interference has led to habitat degradation. Yet over the past decades humans have worked, and often struggled, to save and replenish this small population of pupfish.
Kolbert visits both Devils Hole and a replica near the pool. While the Devils Hole pupfish are residents of Nevada, this story, like the Mojave, crosses state lines. In 1969, a California Department of Fish and Game biologist named Phil Pister moved the pupfish Owens from a shrinking pond near Bishop into two buckets. He remembers having in his hands “the existence of an entire species of vertebrates.” More recently, the Shoshone pupfish, named after the town in Inyo County where they were found, have been rediscovered after a perceived extinction. A local RV Park owner, Susan Sorrells, helped revive the people, using a hot spring system to make them swimming pools.
As disastrous as the messages in Kolbert’s work are, there is often a silver lining. This is certainly the case in the history of pupfish. “I think if there’s anything hope out there it’s the work of people like Phil Pister, who have really dedicated their lives to trying to save something or improve something, to let go. the world a better place than they found it, ”she said.
“I want people to be in awe of the seriousness of the problem and the extent of the problem, but it’s not really a viable option to give up and crawl under the bed,” Kolbert says. “So I really admire all of these people in the book, again, doing their best.”
And, when it comes to tackling these man-made problems, all humans can do is try to alleviate them. “Whether it will work or not, we don’t know. They do not know. It’s sort of part of the current conditions, ”says Kolbert. “We don’t even know if it will work or not, but we kind of have to try.”