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The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future Paperback – July 1, 2014
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A much-needed antidote to the "AGENDA 21" nonsense promulgated by Glenn Beck and the far right, Oreskes and Conway provide us with a glimpse of the dystopian future we may ACTUALLY face should we fail to heed the warning of the world's scientists regarding the looming climate change crisis. (Michael E. Mann, director, Penn State Earth System Science Center, and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines)
Oreskes and Conway's startling and all-too-plausible history of the century to come is in the spirit of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley and all the writers who have turned to prophecy in the attempt to ward off an oncoming disaster. Witty in its details and disturbing in its plausibility, this is an account of the Long Emergency we're entering that you will not soon forget. (Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Shaman, 2312, Science In the Capital, and the Mars trilogy)
A chilling view of what our history could be. Ignore it and it becomes more likely. Read this book, heed its warning, and perhaps we can avoid its dire predictions. (Timothy Wirth, vice chairman, United Nations Foundation, and former U.S. Senator and Member, U.S. House of Representatives)
Regret, Oreskes and Conway argue, is an equal-opportunity employer. Yes, climate change will be a nightmare for environmentalists. But global warming also threatens free marketeers, because unabated, it guarantees big government intervention. And that's the great service of this short but brilliant parable: it creates bipartisan empathy for our future selves. From that gift, perhaps we can summon the will to act today. (Auden Schendler, Vice President, Sustainability, Aspen Skiing Company)
Provocative and grimly fascinating, The Collapse of Western Civilization offers a glimpse into a future that, with farsighted leadership, still might be avoided. It should be required reading for anyone who works―or hopes to―in Washington. (Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History)
The scenario portrayed in this valuable little book is scarily possible. It would be apt if readers took action to keep it from, you know, happening. (Bill McKibben, founder 350.org)
Packed with salient science, smart speculation and flashes of mordant humour. (Nature)
This science-historical fantasy is thought-provoking, but is it prescient? (Scientific American)
[A] must-read... What is science fiction today will someday be the history of real, live people ― billions of them. Kudos to Oreskes and Conway for finding a creative way to talk about the immoral choice we are making today and how those billions of people will suffer for it. (Climate Progress Blog)
Though short, Collapse provides a detailed examination of how we've failed our environment ― and a call to action to save what's left. (Discover)
The authors' creative attack, ahead of the 2014 U.S. midterm elections, on those who today deny climate change and advocate a hands-off approach by government, is what makes this work a must-read in the politics of climate change. Its gift -- the real reason why everyone should read it -- is that it gives us an opportunity to imagine the world as our grandchildren will encounter it. (Haaretz)
... Oreskes and Conway have carved out a new space for historians to use their knowledge of alternative pasts to help imagine alternative futures. (Public Books)
A gripping and deeply disturbing account Based on sound scholarship and yet unafraid to speak boldly, this book provides a welcome moment of clarity amid the cacophony of climate change literature.All Things Environmental (All Things Environmental)
Excellent The Collapse of Western Civilization is a very readable and effective way of communicating the catastrophic implications of where we are heading under the climate crisis. (Climate, People & Organizations)
Oreskes and Conway do justice to the full seriousness of climate change. That seems to me prime among the many values of their book For all its dispassion the book is a call to arms. (Hot Topic)
Oreskes and Conway's book contains potent, thoughtful analysis... (Huffington Post)
The Collapse of Western Civilization illustrates the potential dangers from climate change, which can help readers think more clearly about the risk management choices society faces. The book may also encourage scientists to reflect on their role in society. If it helps scientists engage more effectively with the public by focusing on the key strengths of science, the book could help improve a flawed political system and enhance the potential for all branches of science to further benefit society. (Paul A. T. Higgins Issues in Science and Technology)
About the Author
Naomi Oreskes is professor of the history of science and affiliated professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University. Her 2004 essay "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change," cited by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth (2006), led to op-ed pieces in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and to Congressional testimony in the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. With Erik Conway, she is the author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.
Erik M. Conway is a historian of science and technology employed by the California Institute of Technology. He recently received a NASA History award for "path-breaking contributions to space history, ranging from aeronautics to Earth and space sciences," and an AIAA History Manuscript Award for his fourth book, Atmospheric Science at NASA: A History.
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We do not know with certainty exactly when the warming will arrive, there is a range of likely times, and this book has it arriving relatively early within the range of probabilities. If we are lucky it will arrive later, but the science clearly says that it will arrive. And when it arrives the ettects on our civilization will be really bad. As bad as shown in this book.
The most important part of "The collapse of western civilization: a view from the future" is the explation of why we are not responding to this danger, a response that would NOT be too costly and that would in fact protect the very values that are put forward as reasons not to respond.
I strongly recommend this outstanding and important book. Especially for those who think they will reject its message.
This book gives some plausible scenarios and details just a few of the social impacts our children will experience with the chilling matter of factness of a future Chinese historian recounting the abject stupidity of our time. One of my favourite vignettes is her telling of the formation of the United States of North America as Canada is "persuaded" to share natural resources and land for re-settlement of American climate refugees fleeing the growing desert to the south.
It is a short work, more an essay than a complete work, but then it was grim enough reading as it was. We can only hope that those political leaders so skilled at willful ignorance and climate change denialism become pariahs in our society, soon rather than later. Yes, we can but hope...
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.
Perhaps the most interesting observation is that China was best able to survive. Why? It's version of authoritarian capitalism actually made it possible for governments to respond in a coordinate and quick fashion to external crises. Western democracies, by contrast, actually talked themselves to death.
An interview with the author about why she wrote this engaging little volume, and a glossary of archaic terms provide a chilling glimpse at the assumptions driving current political debate in the West.
This engaging little book is written as though it were a chapter in a textbook read centuries from now. "How could they have been so blind?," those in the future may ask.
Ideological blinders hinder us; so do corporate and governmental policies designed to protect oil profits at all costs.
I hope she is wrong, but I suspect her assessment of our willful blindness is spot on.