The Collapse of Western Civilization is a short book that describes one of the most complicated yet simple problems that humanity faces. In a modern age where everything has become globalized, industrialized, commercialized, and commoditized, we face one of the first true global and communal tests that will largely determine how secure our species’ future will be on this planet, which we like to think we have total control over. The authors describe the paradox of our situation perfectly on the very first page of the book: “Even today, two millennia after the collapse of the Roman and Mayan empires and one millennium after the end of the Byzantine and Inca empires, historians, archaeologists, and synthetic-failure paleoanalysts have been unable to agree on the primary causes of those societies’ loss of population, power, stability, and identity. The case of Western civilization is different because the consequences of its actions were not only predictable, but predicted (1).” The most advanced empires and societies in human history have fallen at some point, but if they were to be resurrected at least they could claim ignorance. What is our excuse? Historians will look back at this time period and they will either say this is the point where a society made a change, or they will say nothing because there are no historians to even look back because we could not get our act together. The US and the world have a chance to utilize knowledge and power to make a real difference. Can we get past inertia and complacency? In this situation can knowledge translate into power?
Simply put, the issue boils down to whether we as people can help ourselves. Can we do ourselves a favor and carry out what we know or ought to know to be necessary? Part of the problem comes down to a question for each and every industrialized nation: can we rethink our entrenched mindset so that we can make aiding humanity’s survival profitable? There seems something inherently wrong about needing to make survival and protecting our one and only planet profitable in order to make changes. But, alas, this is the world we live in, and this is the economic system we have adopted. For the most part, momentum must begin here in America, a nation that is all too comfortable in claiming that it is the land of the free and the leader of the free world. In modern culture, advanced nations must place emphasis on science, math, and education as a whole in order to excel. This is how it encourages and builds a population from the ground up. In order to be the leaders of the free world, America must first lead. It cannot continue to be a self-proclaimed title. One could compare our nation’s situation with the story of Narcissus. As a culture we love to look back at our great accomplishments. It is safe to say that from the mid 20th century to present day America has had great influence in shaping what the world has become. We spread our sphere of influence across the world, impacted real change, and our economy reached unparalleled heights. We continue to stare lovingly and narcissistically at our own reflection as we reminisce to a time when we can say that we stood for freedom and progress. America has reached a point where gridlock cripples Congress and politicians become further and further entrenched in ideologies that do nothing to advance our nation. Meanwhile, life continues and nations pass us without looking back. America has fallen behind in mathematics, science, reading, graduation rates, and education as a whole. I am not quite sure how much longer America can claim to be the leader of the free world when our country ranks behind Iceland, Poland, and Czech Republic in math and science. Not to say there is anything wrong with these countries, but it is hard to ignore the fact that we are losing our grip on leading the world. Much like Narcissus, America is drowning in its own self-affection, as it loses focus on what made it great in the first place. It is a scary concept to think that America is the first domino that needs to fall in order to start the progress on climate change, yet we continue to slip in educational standards.
Many countries have attempted to get America to cooperate in global efforts, but seeing as the coal and oil lobby has a stranglehold on our economy we cannot participate. America is largely one of the only advanced nations where politicians regularly claim that climate change is a myth, despite the fact that the science proves otherwise. When asked about it, politicians such as Marco Rubio and John Boehner say things like, “I am not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision.” Well maybe its time to start listening to the people who are actually qualified. We have a large-scale, behind the scenes war going on in America that no one can see on the surface. Industrialists have an enormous amount to lose if America and other nations decide to move away from fossil fuels, so studies are funded solely for the purpose of discrediting a close to unanimous idea that climate change is real and happening all around us. Lobbyists and Super PACS pay off politicians to say that it does not exist. It is almost like a slight of hand trick that oil lobbyists and industrialist play, particularly in America, even though it does happen in other countries as well. They say, “okay there are these studies saying that we are slowly and steadily suffocating ourselves, but ,WOAH, hey look over here, if we move away from fossil fuels we’ll lose jobs. And let’s not forget there’s no real proof climate change is even real. I’m not a scientist, but I mean, come on people, do you really not care about your countrymen’s livelihood?” This issue should have nothing to do with jobs. While jobs at coal mines, oil rigs, fracking stations, etc. may go away, it is the role of the economy and any country that hopes to advance to create new, better jobs in more advanced fields. The way this is done is by creating a culture where education can be easily accessed by any and all citizens. Advancement lies in an educated populace. In the end, the scales should balance out or even create more jobs than before. The genius of the Industrialists’ media campaign is that they recognize that they don’t have to prove or show you anything real; they just have to plant that seed of doubt in your mind, and then buy influence in Washington so they can have assurances that their interests will be protected. In the latest Rolling Stone issue, Jeff Goodell talks about how, prior to 2008, Republicans and conservatives in America were able to at least discuss climate change. This was at a time when The Pentagon continued to release reports saying that it would eventually become a military, infrastructure, and migration problem. At a certain point lobbyists found this threatening. Goodell writes, “This kind of talk vanished from the party after 2008, when the GOP turned into a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Since then, Republicans have worked hard to undermine any connection between climate change and national security.” The Koch brothers are part of a family that owns Koch Industries, a company that works to produce oil and other fossil fuels. They have used their money to buy influence in government. And their money has gone a long way. The Pentagon continues to write reports warning Congress and our government as a whole of the threats that will come with climate change. What is Congress’ response? Climate deniers in the House of Representatives and Senate threaten to cut their budget. They also passed a bill that prohibited any Pentagon spending on implementing any recommendations from any U.N. panels on climate change. Out of these restrictions comes a political paradox. Conservatives feel the need to throw obscene amounts of money at our defense budget and military complex. It is known that they try to prevent any efforts to curb climate change, but at the same time climate change threatens nearly every Navy and Air Force base along the East Coast, and this is just due to sea level rise. Other bases will surely be at risk as well. Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, recently called climate change a “threat multiplier that has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today- from infectious disease to terrorism (Goodell 51).” He was later blasted in conservative media for this statement. During the years that Bush was in office, there was a clear and concise effort on the behalf of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and the Bush administration to prevent any information on climate change from being released. Their goal was to mislead the American public from the facts. A side note that cannot be ignored is the fact that Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice and other members of the Bush administration have personal ties to the oil business. There are endless examples of a conservative effort to completely smother any partisan efforts to slow down climate change, not by proving anything with facts but by creating an aura of confusion around the topic in general. In an economic system where money reigns supreme, how can an industry that equals much more than most nations’ GDP not have an incredible influence on governmental decisions? Oreskes and Conway provide an example of this: “Then legislation was passed (particularly in the United States) that placed limits on what scientists could study and how they could study it, beginning with the notorious House Bill 819, better known as the “Sea Level Rise Denial Bill,” passed in 2012… Meanwhile the Government Spending Accountability Act of 2012 restricted the ability of government scientists to attend conferences to share and analyze the results of their research (11-12).” I am not sure about anyone else but I do not want my governmental officials, many of who personally claim they are not scientists, telling scientists what should and should not be analyzed and shared. That is a blatant violation of the first amendment of the US Constitution.
In conclusion, if America cannot begin to gets its bloated, ideological system in check, we as citizens must educate ourselves about this topic that, if not now, will later influence our lives. We have amazing resources at our fingertips that did not exist 20 years ago; people can teach themselves new topics at the click of several buttons. The information is out there, and progress must be made if we have any hope of slowing climate change down. It will become our personal responsibility to educate others and ourselves. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” We cannot sit back and wait for disasters to force our hand. Knowledge can translate into power if we learn to think for ourselves and remove ourselves from political boundaries.
Goodell, Jeff. “The Pentagon & Climate Change.” Rolling Stone. 26 February, 2015: page48-55. Print.
Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Print.
Weisenthal, Joe. “Here’s The New Ranking Of Top Countries In Reading, Science, And Math.” Business Insider. 3 December 2013. Web. Accessed 2 February 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/pisa-rankings-2013-12.
Froomkin, Dick. “Cheney: Neither here nor there.” Washington Post. 21 June 2007. Web. Accessed 2 February 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2007/06/21/BL2007062101075.html?nav=hcmodule.