Tag: Naomi Oreskes

The Real Ending

The genre of science fiction can be most frightening at times. The question of how the world (humanity) will end has been approached many different ways in literature and in media. Extraterrestrials invading the Earth or robots gaining AI, it is usually highly dramatic and theatrical. This can all be quite terrifying to the audience, but that fear will evaporate over time. We are aware (for the most part) that aliens are not going start blowing up our houses and eat our pets. It’s pretty safe to believe that an advanced robot army is not going to kill your family now or in the near future.

 

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future horrifies the reader more than the big dramatic robots. The text reeks with hard-hitting reality. This Cli-fi essay targets and explores the real consequences that our planet and mankind face from severe climate change. It paints a rather dry but painstakingly realistic report written from a historian from the year 2349. The narrator lacks engagement with the reader. The dry clinical like report is strictly facts and history from the historian. This however does not disengage the reader. Oreskes and Conway mix grim reality with projected disasters in an entertaining manner. The dramatic consequences are smoothly presented by the historian in a factoid way. This presentation lacks the over the top flare that many readers are used to. This allows for a subtle effect of authenticity and truth to come through the writing to the reader.

 

“To the historian studying this tragic period of human history, the most astounding fact is that the victims knew what was happening and why.” (35)

 

This is the most horrify fact and that it easy to see. Oreskes and Conway created a telling tale that demonstrates and presents the real major threat of climate change on the earth and the political and economic forces that seem to be unstoppable. Without extreme theatrics they were able to produce a horrifying work that is only half fiction. This is the text that should be keeping people up at night, for this is more likely to be the end of mankind.

Leading Climate Denier Found to be Funded by Fossil-Fuel Industry

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/us/ties-to-corporate-cash-for-climate-change-researcher-Wei-Hock-Soon.html?_r=0

This is a perfect example of what we discussed last class and what we saw in the documentary Merchants of Doubt. This story reveals that one of the leading “respected” figures on climate denial, Wei-Hock Soon a professor from Harvard, has been taking money from the fossil-fuel industry and specifically from Koch Industries. As we talked about in class, the Koch brothers are a leading force in the industry’s push to ignore climate change, and this story is an example. It is people like this that stand in the way of progress and they are utilizing the same playbook that the tobacco industry used a few decades back. These handful of extremely wealthy and powerful individuals are helping to set up humanity for a most epic downfall, and they are doing it right in front of our faces. My question is, how are there no repercussions for this kind of stuff?

 

Well, I guess that’s it then, isn’t it?

The idea of the end of the world and civilization is nothing new, I covered this in my review of The Earth Abides. It is a tried and true narrative that will always have an audience. However, having said that, The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read. It is very unique to find a fictional book written so matter of factly. The book just lays out the history of the future so dryly it seems as though it’s already happened. I think this is the books point, to lay out horrific event after horrific event, to make the reader think it’s already inescapable. Forcing us to deal with the consequences or change our ways.

It takes not only cli fi, but also the spread of disease, a topical threat at the moment given the outcry against vaccinations (another touchy subject which I could easily rant about for many many paragraphs). The book positions itself 400 years in the future, looking backwards, as though recounting the history of the future of western civilization. This device is very clever and works to the books advantage, being written as though it is nonfiction, however, it’s not exactly the most enjoyable read. The author has stated that he believed this book is very positive, I find it to be downright dour. Yes it is clearly a call to action against apathy, which is sorely needed.

Although, despite the book’s very clear omnipresent warning, the book does very little to say how the path may be deviated. Though I suppose this is to be expected. The book is intended as a warning, it is not written as such. It reads as a factual account, so it would make sense that no alternatives or solutions would be provided. The book as it stands presents the future as it is and says “This is it, it happened.” As a history book would. You wouldn’t open your history book to find it say “World War II could have been avoided had we provided more aid to Germany following the end of World War I.”

As it is, The Collapse of Western Civilization is a fascinating read, which kept me enthralled for all of its 50-odd pages. I definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in how climate change may affect the future, and what dangers may be in store for us. Just don’t expect it to make you feel good about yourself and how you’ve been going about it.

Hear No Evil

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future is lacking something important. Sure, it has sound logic and makes a thought-provoking polemic against the glacial pace of global action towards minimizing climate change. Likewise, it provides a thorough analysis of the political and economic ideologies that particularly reinforce American climate inertia. But despite the validity of its assertions, the bluntness of CWC is likely to keep it from reaching an audience beyond its own already earnest supporters. Climate change activists will marvel at the plausibility of Oreskes and Conway’s premonitions; stubborn climate deniers will scoff at their frequent condemnations of the free-market and their triumphant approval of eastern philosophy over western principles.

CWC spins a remarkably credible tale about the future, but it fails to analyze people’s emotional responses to climate change. CWC’s purpose is questionable given that it exists within an elite vacuum where it will likely never benefit those who need its wisdom most. Indeed, dramatic visions of the future are fairly common in literature, and while CWC distinguishes itself with a future historian’s hindsight perspective, its attempts to construe the erroneousness of contemporary thinking by framing it into the bigger picture does little that will win a warm reception from skeptics; the same people who will disagree with CWC will also feel brunt of its critique most personally. There is already plenty of science available that can rationally explain away the doubts of climate deniers, despite the strict standards required by the scientific community to accept empirical data, standards that Oreskes and Conway happen to criticize. There is, however, a dearth of material that can emotionally impact skeptics without being overly politicized or written off as “alarmist,” and CWC’s hard facts approach fails to remedy this problem.

This failure can be better understood through a comparison to Philippe Squarzoni’s Climate Changed, a graphic novel, which with varying degrees of success, seeks to connect to its readers in a way that CWC does not. While both works differ in their genres and precise functions, they share many of the same arguments and are especially keen to the problems of climate change that are already at work today. Squarzoni does what Oreskes and Conway struggle to do, however, as he is much more focused the emotional impact of climate change and his own individual coming to terms with its existential realities. His criticisms of the cultural, political, and economic systems that enable climate change are just as harsh and cynical as Oreskes and Conway’s, but he manages to make them while also sympathetically recognizing his own place within these systems. The reader then, through their connection with Squarzoni, is led to reflect upon their own role in climate change, which CWC never makes obvious. Oreskes and Conway’s construction of hindsight, in fact, may actually hinder their ability to connect with their readers, as it comes across in a condescending, “I told you so!,” sort of manner.

None of this is to say that CWC does not have a strong argument or that its key points are diminished because they do not compromise with readers who follow the same neoliberal ideologies that CWC argues against, but it is to say, however, that CWC only tells a part of the story. It is focused upon the academic disciplines of science, history, and political theory, but despite Oreskes and Conway’s emphasis on the virtues of interdisciplinary study, they fail to include a crucial humanities perspective. The goal of any good essay is to persuade its readers, not just with clear logic, but also through making a connection to the reader. Without this connection, however, Oreskes and Conway’s dire warnings may fall upon deaf ears.

Western Civilization is falling down, falling down, and no one seems to care.

The Collapse of Western Civilization offered an interesting perspective as far as Cli-fi is concerned. The most alarming part of this book for me was that it is not in any way very far off from a future that is quickly approaching. The overall tone of the book is a scientific retelling of events that led to a major change in the way people live, which is very well done; but it also has some elements missing that would necessarily earn it the title of “gripping”. The first major issue I had with this short book is the lack of plot. It certainly reads like a textbook, but the most interesting textbook you could ever read because all the information contained within is new and unheard of in our times. I think the authors did a really good job of looking at the past in a purely scientific way, but they certainly let us know that they thought it was foolish that we, as a species, were not better prepared for what happened. There is clear evidence as far as the science of the time is concerned pointing out that not only is climate change a problem, but it is in fact anthropogenic. I think it is interesting to get the impression of their minds boggling at our inaction, because that is how I feel when I think about our modern day responses to climate change.

One of the most interesting elements of the book for me was the way in which the authors decided to group the nations that banded together as the “Penumbral Age” descended upon us. These are not necessarily the groupings I would have pictured for alliance and it made the book all the more interesting for me. It was not necessarily an important facet of the book, but it provided me with something to really fascinate me and think about, so I did enjoy that.

I found the whole section about market failure to be quite confusing. I personally have a very poor grasp on economics and how they work, so I had a hard time understanding, but I think that it was certainly well explained as I was able to gleam some useful information from it.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the narrative bit about the professor in Japan creating the solution and then releasing it illegally, it sounded quite like the plot to another great Cli-fi book that is yet to be written.

I think that overall it is a well written book, and the interviews with the authors certainly help to shed some light on where the ideas for the book come from, and definitely gave the book a more personal look.

“Knowledge Did Not Translate Into Power”

            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.

 

Being Blunt Works

The stance of this work is very clear: Our present day civilization has been given the opportunity to change our actions and slow down the process of climate change, but because we are stubborn and ignorant people, we face a devastating future where the human population are close to becoming extinct. I find the approach to this topic as refreshing because of its unique point of view. I immediately noticed that the scientist who is looking towards the past to understand how his current situation came to be isn’t scared to be blunt. He often notes how the world, specifically America in most cases, could have done so much more to prevent sea levels to rise so drastically and create un-livable situations. He even notes how people wanted to be given signs that the climate was changing drastically, and yet when intense hurricanes and snowstorms and rising temperatures became apparent, they were attributed to normal fluctuations of nature (6). The scientist severely blames his current situation on the ability of past important figures to basically sit by and do nothing for the benefit of the environment.

It seems as though some of these predictions are exaggerated for the purpose of selling a story or proving a point, but it’s actually definitely possible. From 2010-20, Northern Europe is expected to see a “6 degree Fahrenheit drop in ten years,” a decrease in rainfall by about 30%, and winds “up to 15% stronger on average” (Schwartz 10). According to the same research, America is expected to have higher sea levels and drier climates, making agricultural life much more difficult to maintain. These conditions will restrict the country from keeping its international relationships in good shape and force it to focus on its internal needs (12). China is also noted to be effected by the change in monsoon season conditions; lack of rain, colder winters, and hotter summers all create decreases in energy and water, which then cause internal famines. Australia is expected to struggle with food supplies as well, though its location in the Southern Hemisphere makes its definite end result questionable (13). Oreskes and Conway take note of these predictions and respond accordingly.

The maps included in the work are extremely helpful in understanding just how much the world has physically changed. Living on Long Island originally, it was a real eye-opener to see the landmass almost non-existent on page 34 of Oreskes’ and Conway’s joint work. The authors also note how China made modifications to its way of living in order to survive the changing climates like restricting births and converting “its economy to non-carbon-based energy sources” (6). They make sure to emphasize how important it was that China made these changes despite no other country following its lead. Interestingly enough, the authors expect the human population of Australia as a whole to be completely non-existent by the year 2393 (33). To completely get rid of a whole continent and country is a large motion, but it definitely does the job of making the reader realize just how much things are going to change because of climate change. It’s also important to realize that the authors don’t give an endless list of suggestions of how circumstances could have differed; instead, they mention how the 20th century scientists and politicians had all the answers and potential solutions that they needed, the politicians were simply not concerned enough with the matter to make any substantial changes. This work is trying to tell readers that they are living in a period where change is still manageable, they just need to take the initiative to convince the people in power that this is a pressing matter that is most definitely going to make severe changes to the way everybody lives.

 

Schwartz, Peter, and Doug Randall. An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security. Web. Oct 2003.

Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Print.