Pulitzer Prize–winning author and New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert – a visiting fellow at Williams College’s Center for Environmental Studies – journeys to the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems, seeking answers to the climate change dilemma. She meets scientists dedicated to saving coral reefs, managing Louisiana’s coastline and solar geoengineering to slow global warming. Kolbert details how humanity excels at solving problems, but proves incompetent at predicting or managing unintended consequences.
In the early 20th century, the Chicago River, which flowed into Lake Michigan, overflowed with human waste, tainting the lake’s drinking water and causing cholera and typhoid outbreaks. The solution: Reverse the river’s flow via a canal to send the waste toward the Mississippi River, and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. This allowed the Asian carp – an invasive species that could devastate the Great Lakes fragile ecology – to enter Lake Michigan. The solution? Electrify the river to drive back the Asian carp.