Tag: The Collapse of Western Civilization

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.

The Collapse of Civilization… at the Hands of the Government

If one wanted to understand what Cli-Fi truly is, they would be doing themselves a favor by reading The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Noami Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. The futuristic novel, however short, provides the reader with a fascinating story that revolves around both climate change and science fiction, making it the perfect example of a Cli-Fi novel. In a sense, it reminded me of Plant of the Apes film or even The Great Gatsby, where the characters or narrator (Nick Carraway in Gatsby) reflect on past events and explain how those past events led to a doomed future. This is exactly how the narrators in The Collapse of Western Civilization work to create an intriguing history and story.

 

The novel itself follows a future historian in the year 2349 who reflects and studies past events from what is our present time and conceives theories about why today’s society failed on many fronts to tackle the growing problems that coincide with climate change. The authors, Oreskes and Conway do an incredible job of illustrating many problems that are taking place currently from a futuristic point of view. In a sense, I believe they did this to try and create an image/argument that supports the idea that today’s society needs to spend more time on battling climate change issues on a larger front. One of the most moving quotes of the entire piece sheds light on the notion that today’s society has the capabilities and technologies to alter or change the course of climate change but has failed to do so. The quote is as follows: “To the historian studying this tragic period of human history, the most astounding fact is that the victims knew what was happening and why. Indeed, they chronicled it in detail precisely because they knew that fossil fuel combustion was to blame. Historical analysis also shows that Western civilization had the technological know-how and capability to effect an orderly transition to renewable energy, yet the available technologies were not implemented in time.” (35)

 

By examining this previous quote, it is obvious that it makes a very valid as well as a scary point. Today’s superpowers such as the United States and China specifically have the technological and financial capacity to elicit change in society but so far have failed to do so. There are many campaigns to move to different renewable energy sources such a solar or waterpower and society has even seen the development of vehicles that run on renewable energy. However, although these campaigns can create change, they are all too minor in nature to create a significant difference in altering climate change on a worldwide scale. Coinciding with this idea is what I personally believe is the best part of the proceeding quote is that the “available technologies were not implemented in time.” As we have all seen, there are numerous renewable energy initiatives on many different levels that are attempting to create change but I think that unless the government addresses the issue more seriously then there will never be any significant advances in the fight against climate change.

 

This idea of government and the power it has over many facets of society leads to another point that the historian sheds light on. The historian illustrates how the governments never focused time on making any significant campaigns aimed to battle climate change because there was too much financial involvement. What this means is that too many fossil fuel supporters are tied in financially with representatives in government who would never burn a bridges to support a change. Basically, representatives and therefore the government as a whole would never fully support any kind of significant climate change agendas based on the sole fact that representatives would never ruin person relationships with friends involved with ownership and distribution of fossil fuels.

 

I think as a whole, The Collapse of Western Civilization is a great piece of Cli-Fi literature because it does an incredible job of proving a point about our society and its’ downfalls by focusing on what this society may become in the future. The only problem is, I think this piece and similar pieces need to be broadcast to a larger audience if the authors really want to see any type of significant change. Yet even if they were to broadcast to a larger audience, I feel as though society is doomed because the government controls everything whether people believe it or not and it is the only force that has enough influence or power to change anything in terms of climate change.

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.

The Scariest Story I’ve Ever Read

Of all of the dystopian futures, the scariest is the one that is most likely to happen. In The Collapse of Western Civilization, the end of our current civilizations seems all too realistic. Setting the story in the year 2393, we learn of the collapse of western civilization told by a Chinese academic. The collapse has occurred due to global warming, pollution, and the ignorance of mankind. The academic addresses the fact that the West understood the damage they were committing but never made the correct moves to address it such as China did. It is unfortunate how realistic this retelling actually feels. The sentiment that the West is in denial about climate change is so ripe and apparent in reality today. Most Americans understand that climate change is here and affecting us, but still refuse to give it the attention and urgency it deserves.
While the book is captivating in its realistic view of the future, there is little substance besides history being retold by an outsider’s perspective. There is no story to stretch this out to a wider audience than people actually interested in the subject. It is unfortunate that a wider audience will not see this because the scientific language used to explain what has occurred to cause this nightmare is well explained and simple enough for the average reader to understand. The worst part is that the setting, time period, and demise of society are beautifully put together. A story set in this world would have been extremely captivating and gave more to the cause of actually examining today’s issues that could cause this type of future than only a recounting of the imaginary history did. The interviews at the end of the book gave more of an emotional connection to a rather dry read, but regardless this was an informative tale that should be read by any climate fiction fan.

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.

A Future Not So Bright

Authors and scientists Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway give us a view of what exactly the year 2393 looks like on our planet and the thorough history behind why it does in the science-fiction cli-fi piece, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future. It portrays a history, our time, full of denial and unwillingness to do something about the seriousness of climate change. While reading this book, you can’t help but see this type of behavior when looking at our present day society and finding the amount of repudiation about climate change to be immense. It is not till everything begins to fall apart for humanity that we start believing the predictions of the future impacts of climate change to be extremely true and enacting climate projects made years ago. Authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway show us what happens when we ignore all the warnings that were presented to us so obviously years and years ago. Our time is the beginning of what is recorded as a “tragic period of human history.” If that phrase about our time on this earth doesn’t send shivers down your spine, then I don’t know what will. This short yet greatly detailed book embodies science-based fiction and history all into a thought-provoking and truly frightening piece. In my own opinion, yes, the science part of this short read does become overwhelming at times. However, overall this book is a good read and definitely does it’s job in shocking the reader with an extremely alarming, yet highly plausible future.

Short, Sweet, and Scary

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.

Not With a Bang….

The idea of a boring apocalypse story sounds like an oxymoron. We as humans always like to envision our ultimate demise as a series of extraordinarily rapidly occurring cataclysmic event. The Statue of Liberty’s head will wash up on the Long Island shores while the remnants of the Golden Gate Bridge lay in ruins in the San Francisco Bay. However, in The Collapse of Western Civilization, there is no such apocalypse. Instead, Oreskes and Conway spare their readers the dramatics and simply present the facts.

However, while this rather dry delivery of the tale of man’s demise is not entirely enthralling, it is no less terrifying than any Hollywood disaster film. While the narrator is writing from nearly 400 years in the future, the majority of this book seems to take place before the year 2100. Reading scientists foresee a major disease outbreak which could rival the Black Death tormenting the world within fifty years was certainly the most horrifying aspect of the book. I thought another effective tactic used by the authors were the sea level maps which prefaced each chapter of the book. Seeing Miami or Manhattan submerged almost entirely in the Atlantic is certainly enough to strike fear in any reader.

Personally, I felt that book did not necessarily give the reader any answers or even suggestions of how to prevent climate change. Even though Conway expressed in the subsequent interview that he viewed this text as positive for the human race, the primary feeling I felt from reading this was fear. Ultimately, I think western society should use this book and say, “let’s defy the odds and prove these scientists wrong.” Oreskes and Conway have outlined a horrifying series of events which they believe will happen in the next century. Instead of simply accepting these predictions as inevitabilities, I feel like the authors’ goal was to inspire us to try and work as a society to make sure that these cataclysmic events do not occur.

Ultimately, I am completely torn on how I feel about The Collapse of Western Civilization. The Westerner in me wants to see this as more of a narrative with heroes and dramatics. But that’s just not how the world works. While the facts of the matter may not be what we want to hear, we need to hear them and heed their advice. With the stark lack of individuals and personal tales in this work, it can be difficult to leave a lasting impression on the reader. However, this novel (if I can call it that) is an important piece of fiction. At least, we must hope and strive to ensure that this work‘s prophecies are proven false. Hopefully in the year 2400, humans could laugh at these predictions like we laugh at the movie 2012 today.

“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.

 

Viewed from the Future, the Present Looks Backwards

I was surprised to read, in the interview with Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway at the end of the book, that they see The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future as merely an essay.  I found the preceding chapters pretty literary in their writing quality and creative and even playful in form.  While there is unmistakably a Big Idea underlying everything in the book (like there is a thesis in every essay), it is still a fun, relatively light read.  What’s more: their Big Idea is important.

The authors offer a view of what the year 2393 might be like—not just based on their guesses or fantasies, but grounded in all kinds of science from chemistry to politico-sociology, with sources cited.  So their predictions are all plausible.  Their critiques of the modern world, seamlessly interlaced with their projections all throughout the book, ring truer and louder as a result.  And they make us sound like we should feel guilty, here in the present, because of how knowingly we’re polluting the Earth despite known fact of what they call the “Penumbra,” which is Latin for something like “encroaching shadow.”  This is their term for the fast-approaching mass extinction of many species worldwide, and the widespread disorder among human beings, as people will be dislocated from their flooded homes or their failing farms or otherwise climate-ruined lives, all because of unnatural changes to the climate that we are ultimately responsible for.  It makes us look like like we’re all backwards, is what I’m saying.  The Collapse of Western Civilization is about how we can solve our climate change problem, but don’t, and probably won’t.

I like to think of myself as more conscious than the average Westerner, but many of the insights that Oreskes and Conway reveal have never occurred to me before.  They even challenge logical empiricism, a philosophy that I thought all scientists agreed was more or less sacred!  This was off-putting for me at first, but after reading their argument—a very broad argument, but not obtuse—I see they make a lot of sense.  Their point is that, sometimes, just sometimes, the 95% certainty criterion to declare causation (not just coincidental correlation) is too rigid.  Sometimes, just sometimes—and in the “approaching shadow” of a man-made climatic apocalypse, now is definitely one of these times—we need to spring into action as if the uber-conservative nay-sayers (the doubt-sellers, who insist on dismissing masses of scientific evidence converging on the same conclusion from a thousand different approaches) did not exist.

However, Oreskes and Conway do not say this with even half the melodrama that I’m employing here.  It is an understated book.  Their just-the-facts narrative voice, like a history textbook, allows for a quick pace to the storytelling; but it’s like a very introductory textbook, not too unbearable to read because it doesn’t get into too much depth.  They allow in-depth, topic-by-topic study, however, by referring readers to many real and available scientific, economic, and historical/political records.  So they manage to craft a great piece of cli-fi that is at once summary and comprehensive and a good, shocking book.

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.

Hindsight is 20/20

The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway lets us peek into the future of our world after it has been ravaged by climate change. Written as if it is a historical report written in the 22nd century, it details the science of the destruction of the Earth as well as the human hubris that allowed it to happen. First, it describes the rising temperatures and their effects on the world. It describes rising sea levels, mass deaths, failing attempts to counteract the changes, and eventually even a second plague. It also describes the denial and economic policies that caused the problem to escalate. Governments are controlled by the upper classes, specifically people who benefit from the use of the fossil fuels that cause CO2 emissions. In the end, a Japanese scientist working on her own releases a CO2-eating fungus into the air that finally helps. However, the populations of Australia and Africa have been wiped out, and the populations of the rest of the world have been greatly reduced.

The format of the book is particularly fascinating. Its way of describing future events as a historical novel highlights what needs to be done now to prevent climate change and the destruction of our Earth. Through this future historical account, we are able to see what will likely happen due to climate change, as the book is based on scientific projections and facts that have been well researched by the authors. The book also points out the governmental and economic constructions that need to change in order to make a real difference in climate change. The book is aimed not at the layperson, but at the climate change fiction enthusiast and the scholar, but it has an important message about the way we deny climate change as a society. It is a real wake up call, especially in response to the current feeling of our politicians towards climate change. The science behind the projections denoted in the book, as well as the format of the novel, may help open people’s eyes to the very real changes that are happening to our Earth. It is a brilliant way of getting across information about where we are headed in an interesting and easily digestible way.

The Collapse of the Western Civilization

Although I did not enjoy this book, I did enjoy the style. I thought it was very interesting how the authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway placed the setting in the future, and looked back at the way history played out. I think Ted mentioned how these authors’ profession were actually scientists and not authors, which I was apparent through how much information was provided, rather than plot and events occurring. I did not like how very few details were given about the future. But, I appreciated the “Lexicon of Archaic Terms” (glossary) found in the back which defined scientific terms as well as terms the authors made up!

The main focus of this book was to hope that the reader will realize that they have the power to change our environmental effect on the earth. That the needed changes are not too late, until it is too late! “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” (21). The authors explicitly put the blame of governmental officials and greedy corporations (which I agree with). “Thus, to protect personal liberty- political, civic, religious, artistic- economic liberty had to be preserved” (17).They also praise their profession as scientists way too much! “As the world of climate change began to spin out of control and the implications for market failure became indisputable, scientists came under attack, blamed for problems they had not caused, but had documented” (20).

Unfortunately, I did not like the secondary reading either. An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and it Implications for United States National Security by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall’s article focused on the possible changes that the United States would have to implement in the event of catastrophic climate change. From the introduction, the article is trying to persuade the reader that the effects of climate change are not going to be a destructive as we are led to believe. “First, they suggest the occurrences we outline would most likely happen in a few regions, rather than on globally. Second, they say the magnitude of the event may be considerably smaller” (1). Although their “intent is to dramatize the impact climate change could have on society if we are unprepared for it” (7), Schwartz and Randall make claims throughout the article that the United States will be prepared, and that people from all over the world will try to enter the States, so they can survive. This article just played into the category of “global warming isn’t going to affect me”.

In Australia, the government has banned the use and sale of incandescent lightbulbs. When I mentioned this to my uncle, he was slightly disappointed. He asked me why I supported this ban? And if I really wanted the government restricting what I could and couldn’t buy? My only response to him, was why it was ok to produce and make a profit on a low quality item that isn’t good for the environment or our health. This was a point that was made in the book, in section 3: Market Failure. “Rather, government intervention was required: to raise the market price of harmful products, to prohibit those products, or to finance the development of their replacements” (37). Australia made an effort to reduce emissions toward climate change, they are not being deprived of anything!

Because of the freezing weather:// and the fact that Boston got 6 feet of snow last week, all I have been thinking is climate change… its about to go down!

 

Scholarly article about Australia’s ban of incandescent light bulbs: http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.temple.edu/10.1080/14747730701587405

 

Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the

Future. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Schwartz, Peter, and Doug Randall. An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for

United States National Security. Place of Publication Not Identified: Publisher Not Identified, 2003. Web.

We Have The Knowledge: The Collapse of Western Civilization.

The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway was interesting to read for one major factor. Instead of the many books that are published on climate change, that are looking forward, this one looks back and bases its “fictional” conclusions on the past. The scientists/authors make very extreme climate change events seem plausible, even conceivable to those without a lot of background on the subject. Oreskes and Conway mention people in “Active denial” – those who insisted that extreme weather reflected natural variability, and “Passive denial” – those who could not find compelling justification for broad changes (7). I found that very telling, and might even add passive activism, as those who believe that climate change is happening, but are too overwhelmed with the plethora of information available to even try to indulge in a “where to start” idea. This type of passivity I would also relate to the narrator in the book Climate Changed.

Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall write in their article, “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security”, “the view of climate change maybe self deception as increasingly we are facing weather related disasters.” There have been many storms in recent years, and it makes news for awhile then the coverage just drops off, as what fuels the media is the new (next) big disaster. We touched on this in class, about what it would take for people to continually be interested in these events, and be involved enough to bring them to action.  In the interview with the authors, Oreskes says “we know beyond a reasonable doubt that business as usual will lead to more damage…It’s way too late for precaution. Now we are talking about damage control.”(75) That very statement alone should draw attention from people, as it’s very obvious that the world is experiencing (life changing) weather events. However, especially in America, we tend to have tunnel vision until it happens to us personally.

I feel this book represents the term “Cli-Fi” very well, as Conway says “Fiction gives you more latitude, and here we try to use that latitude in interesting and thought provoking ways, but always with the goal of being true to the facts…”(66). Perhaps the more people start reading this type of literature they will go from passive activism to true active activism. The great thing about this book, is that they are scientists so they are basing their predictions on the past, from research and knowledge in this area. The Collapse of Western Civilization was an easy and fast read for anyone that wants a quick dose of Cli-Fi, or in general wants more information on how our current events could indeed affect the future of this planet.

Knowledge Does Not Equal Power

The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway was an informative and intreaging piece that related the decline of Western Civilization to the current issue of climate change. The book began by explaining how the societies that made up the Western Civilization were able to foresee their decline, however were unable to prevent the fall because the people that had this knowledge did not hold political power. Therefore, Oreskes and Conway are making the argument that from the beginning of history, societies have been limited because only those who hold power in the society are able to make decisions that would yield any significant change. This concept is still relevant today. Although there are people who have knowledge of how to go about solving the issues that we have, this knowledge is withheld from the public because our political systems will not allow this knowledge to be shared. This idea of knowledge production, or the government controlling what information is exposed to the public, is the reason why our society is at a standstill. Knowledge is withheld in order for the government to make money—in other words, the issues that we have sustains our economy. As a result of this corruption, the issues that we have, such as climate change, are worsening.

 

The book describes how the issue of climate change was first developed and how people responded to the evolving crisis. Some people were in active denial in which they completely refuted the idea by justifying that the extreme weather events were only caused by natural variability. Others were in passive denial in which they accepted the idea but continued living their life as if it did not exist. This still holds true for some people today. Although there are activists in our society, many of them do not hold political power. Therefore, they are unable to make any radical change towards making our society more proactive with protecting our earth. In the interview at the end of the book, Conway discussed how our society tends to deal with issues when the damage has already been done rather than taking the proper precautions. This relates back to the idea about the decline of Western Civilization. Similar to how people knew that the fall was going to happen, people today are aware of climate change and of the solutions. The reason why were not taking action this issue is because the people who want to make a difference do not hold power. This is Oreskes and Conway’s point—knowledge does not translate to power.

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, the Earth’s Autobiography

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future is a short novel written from the perspective of a Chinese historian who is looking back on our current time from several centuries in the future. Throughout the book, the historian is describing the foolishness of our behavior (in what is our present day) in regards to everything from carbon dioxide levels to the economic state of all the countries that helped lead to the downfall of the world. This book has a lot of interesting qualities to it. First of all, it’s not every day that you read a book written from the viewpoint of the future. I think this adds an ominous tone to the novella because it is written as a warning that we as the readers should heed rather than a normal fictional book. The fact that this book is written fictionally is another quality that makes The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future very interesting. The authors of the book, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway (who are actually scientists) admitted in their interview that writing in fiction was easier because then it wouldn’t require copious amounts of research seeing as they’re making things up (within reason…meaning all of the things they talk about could very well happen).

Overall, I did like the book. I thought while it was informative, it was also short and to the point, with the actually story being no more than fifty pages. However, I was extremely confused with some of the terminology Oreskes and Conway were using. The glossary in the back helped, but I was a little annoyed with that seeing as every time I didn’t know a word I had to flip through however many pages and then I’d lose my spot and it was all a big mess. I definitely would’ve enjoyed the book more had they used more simplistic terms because I am not a scientist nor am I good at science and I always felt at least a little bit lost while reading the book.