Oreskes and Conway’s book The Collapse of Western Civilization offers a harrowing view of the progression of Earth’s climate over 300 years. For the most part its explanations of the cause of the ‘Great Collapse’ are clear cut and concise — something that’s not easy to achieve when talking about climate change. The different phrases like carbon-combustion complex, positivism, and market fundamentalism summed up nicely how much of a monopoly businesses who thrive off of fossil fuel production have on making any real progress on positive climate change efforts. I’ve been waiting to see that whole process explained in an easy-to-follow manner and I think this book did it most effectively starting from the fossil fuels industries, going into manufacturers relying on that energy, and then to financial and advertising institutions that promoted the products made from fossil fuels (37).
One theme that stuck out to me throughout the book was relocation. It’s very terrifying to think about how unprepared a lot of places around the world are to relocate people whose places of living are inhabitable and what would happen if they couldn’t relocate them all. Like the book mentioned, “mass migration of undernourished and dehydrated individuals, coupled with explosive increases in insect population led to widespread outbreaks of cholera, dengue fever, yellow fever…” (25) and the quote “as food shortages and disease outbreaks spread and sea level rose, governments found themselves without the infrastructure and organizational ability to quarantine and relocate people” (51) both illustrate the terrible impact of not being able to relocate people and the subsequent consequences. It’s really scary to think about this actually happening all over the world and I think it effectively knocks a lot of people of the complacency of thinking things like that could never happen to them (or at least it did for me).
This book was a really great critique on some of modern society’s feelings towards climate change, especially when it talked about active and passive denial. There are those who believe in climate change and are trying to do something about it, then there are those who just outright don’t believe in it, and then there are those who kind of believe in it but don’t thinks it’s as bad as people make it out to be. I think I fall into the passive denial group, though I do think that more should be done about climate change. I just don’t see how the average person can really make a HUGE difference because it seems like it’s all up to the big fossil fuel companies and their rich supporters who don’t want to lose money. So, my biggest question is: what can a regular person do in the meantime?
A slight critique on the book would be some of its more subjective predictions of the future. Such as Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy being the most enduring piece of science fiction literature. Though they say in the interview his trilogy was a great influence to their work, it still seems weird that that’s the only fictional work mentioned. I think I would’ve preferred them making up a book and titling it something ironic, similar to the ‘Sea Level Rise Denial Bill’’s name. Another (super nitpicky, I’ll admit) critique would be why only Australia and Africa are wiped out population wise. I’m no scientist by any means and maybe I missed some major scientific/geographical explanation as to why, but they seemed like two random continents to choose to wipe out their population. It says, “survivors in northern inland regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, as well as inland and high-altitude regions of South America, were able to begin to regroup and rebuild” (33). Seems weird that there were no survivors in inland Africa or Australia. There are high altitudes in both regions, although I’m not 100% sure as to whether or not they are or will be inhabitable.
I think this book explains the possible future very persuasively, especially with the carbon-combustion complex mentioned and the themes of relocation, or governments’ inability to achieve it, throughout the book. Its effectiveness comes from the clear, layman’s terms used, not some complicated scientific terms that you’d have to google. It was also a very quick read, which is always a plus, especially when you’re dealing with topics on climate change.