Path to Zero
Path to Zero
4.15 - The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert on the Unintended Consequences of Human Interventions in the Natural World

In this episode, Tucker has the opportunity to talk to one of the foremost writers of climate change and the state of the earth.

You might be familiar with Elizbeth Kolbert as an environmental journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker since 1999. But she may be best known for her Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Sixth Extinction.

Under a White Sky

Tucker talks to Elizabeth about her latest book, Under a White Sky, which looks at human intervention with nature and how our efforts to fix the environment can cause even greater problems. Kolbert traveled around the world to meet with scientists and other experts to discuss their plans to counteract climate change.

The title refers to the most extreme climate change mitigation strategy, solar geoengineering, designed to reflect sunlight from the earth. Some scientists propose using chemicals and particles to dim the sun in order to cool the earth.

Kolbert reporting from the Jakobshavn icefjord, Greenland’s largest outlet glacier
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Kolbert visits a research site off of One Tree Island, a tiny island along the Tropic of Capricorn at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
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Kolbert talks to Tucker about how she wrote the book in the tone of a dark comedy.

“A lot of these stories fall within law of unintended consequences,” says Kolbert. “People have done interventions and they’ve turned out to have surprising effects. Then they go searching for a fix and many have a comic element built into them even though these are serious issues.”

For example, Kolbert starts the book by exploring the Asian Carp problem in the Chicago River. In the 19th century, Chicago had to reverse the direction of Chicago River to protect the water quality of Lake Michigan. The reversal connected two of the world’s largest freshwater ecosystems – the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

The connection opened a new pathway for invasive species. One of the famous invasive species is Asian carp, which eat other plants and fish up Mississippi River. Today, Asian carp area recognized as a threat to the Great Lakes and the region’s $7 billion fishing industry.

Tucker also talks to Kolbert about her research on carbon removal, as well as some of her recent stories in The New Yorker, including her summary of three major climate reports released this year.