Elizabeth Kolbert: “We climate changes” – With the manipulation of nature against the manipulation of nature

By Konstantin Sakkas

Informative, witty and subtly ironic: “Wir Klimawandler” by Elizabeth Kolbert. (Deutschlandradio / Suhrkamp)

Researchers want to stop global warming through geoengineering. Are artificially white skies or forests lightened by genetic engineering the solution? Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert expresses her skepticism in her new book.

Climate change must be tackled with geoengineering. For example, by fixing the CO2 emitted in the rock. Or by bringing particles of sulfur dioxide – even diamonds – into the stratosphere to reduce solar radiation and thus stop global warming. The sky would then no longer be blue, but white.

Albedo effects and genetic manipulation

In order to correct the consequences of his interventions in nature, man intervenes again in nature. This, in turn, has questionable consequences: in the United States, attempts are being made to keep the carp that have been introduced to the Great Lakes by electrifying certain sections of the water.

In Louisiana, the Mississippi has been heavily dammed since the 18th century – but at the same time it made it impossible for new deposits to form, so land was gradually lost there. And to capture CO2 by fixing it in rock, it would require extracting huge amounts of basalt.

Even the popular idea of ​​reforesting large areas of forest, which could also fix CO2, is not without its problems. Because green spaces reduce the albedo effect, which means that incoming sunlight is no longer reflected, but absorbed.

More forest therefore means more stored CO2, but also more heat that remains on the earth. In order to solve this dilemma, journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert suggests in her book “Wir Klimawandler” (Wir Klimawandler), to grow genetically modified and lighter trees.

Two drugs at once

Kolbert is skeptical of geoengineering. It’s like trying to treat a heroin addict with amphetamines. “At the end of the day,” she writes, it’s “addiction to two drugs instead of one.”

Nonetheless, she knows there is probably no way around it. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sees it that way as well. Reducing CO2 emissions alone will not be able to stop the escalation of global warming – this is common sense among scientists and politicians around the world.

Kolbert has managed to write an informative and also witty book, in many places subtle flashes of irony. Anyone who reads it is up to date with geoengineering concepts and learns all kinds of curiosities.

One lesson is sobering: Large climatic fluctuations also prevailed during the last Ice Age, when humans still lived in caves. The stability of the climate in the Holocene, that is, over the past 12,000 years, is unique. Now that constancy could be over. Self-inflicted, yes – but man-made climate change also ultimately confirms nature’s omnipotence.

Elizabeth Kolbert: “We are climate changers”
Translated from English by Ulrike Bischoff
Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2021
239 pages, 25 euros

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