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The Collapse of Western Civilization

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

Naomi Oreskes
Erik M. Conway
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 104
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/ores16954
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  • Book Info
    The Collapse of Western Civilization
    Book Description:

    The year is 2393, and a senior scholar of the Second People's Republic of China presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment, the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies, entered into a Penumbral period in the early decades of the twenty-first century, a time when sound science and rational discourse about global change were prohibited and clear warnings of climate catastrophe were ignored. What ensues when soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, drought, and mass migrations disrupt the global governmental and economic regimes? The Great Collapse of 2093.

    This work is an important title that will change how readers look at the world. Dramatizing climate change in ways traditional nonfiction cannot, this inventive, at times humorous work reasserts the importance of scientists and the work they do and reveals the self-serving interests of the so called "carbon industrial complex" that have turned the practice of sound science into political fodder. The authors conclude with a critique of the philosophical frameworks, most notably neo-liberalism, that do their part to hasten civilization's demise.

    Based on sound scholarship yet unafraid to tilt at sacred cows in both science and policy, this book provides a welcome moment of clarity amid the cacophony of climate change literature. It includes a lexicon of historical and scientific terms that enriches the narrative and an interview with the authors.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53795-7
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Language & Literature, Political Science, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Introduction (pp. IX-XI)

    Science fiction writers construct an imaginary future; historians attempt to reconstruct the past. Ultimately, both are seeking to understand the present. In this essay, we blend the two genres to imagine a future historian looking back on a past that is our present and (possible) future. The occasion is the tercentenary of the end of Western culture (1540–2093); the dilemma being addressed is how we—the children of the Enlightenment—failed to act on robust information about climate change and knowledge of the damaging events that were about to unfold. Our historian concludes that a second Dark Age had...

  5. 1 The Coming of the Penumbral Age (pp. 1-9)

    In the prehistory of “civilization,” many societies rose and fell, but few left as clear and extensive an account of what happened to them and why as the twenty-first-century nation-states that referred to themselves asWestern civilization. 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...

  6. 2 The Frenzy of Fossil Fuels (pp. 11-33)

    In the early Penumbral Period, physical scientists who spoke out about the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change were accused of being “alarmist” and of acting out of self-interest—to increase financial support for their enterprise, gain attention, or improve their social standing. At first, these accusations took the form of public denunciations; later they included threats, thefts, and the subpoena of private correspondence.¹ A crucial but under-studied incident was the legal seizing of notes from scientists who had documented the damage caused by a famous oil spill of the period, the 2011 British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon. Though leaders of...

  7. 3 Market Failure (pp. 35-49)

    To the historian studying this tragic period of human history, the most astounding fact is that the victimsknew what was happening and why. Indeed, they chronicled it in detail preciselybecausethey 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.¹ As with all great historical events, there is no easy answer to the question of why this catastrophe occurred, but key factors stand out. The thesis of this analysis...

  8. Epilogue (pp. 51-52)

    As the devastating effects of the Great Collapse began to appear, the nation-states with democratic governments—both parliamentary and republican—were at first unwilling and then unable to deal with the unfolding crisis. As food shortages and disease outbreaks spread and sea level rose, these governments found themselves without the infrastructure and organizational ability to quarantine and relocate people.

    In China, the situation was somewhat different. Like other post-communist nations, China had taken steps toward liberalization but still retained a powerful centralized government. When sea level rise began to threaten coastal areas, China rapidly built new inland cities and villages...

  9. Lexicon of Archaic Terms (pp. 53-62)

    Anthropocene The geological period, beginning in approximately 1750 with the start of the Industrial Revolution, when humans have become geological agents whose activities effectively compete with, and begin to overwhelm, geophysical, geochemical, and biological processes.

    Baconianism A philosophy, generally attributed to the English jurist Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), that held that through experience, observation, and experiment, one could gather reliable knowledge about the natural world and this knowledge would empower its holder. The fallacy of Baconianism was clearly demonstrated by the powerlessness of scientists, in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, to effect meaningful action on climate change despite...

  10. Interview with the Authors (pp. 63-80)
    Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway

    1.How did you originally come to writeThe Collapse of Western Civilization (CWC)?How do you see it in relation to your recent titleMerchants of Doubt? *

    Naomi Oreskes (NO): I was invited to write a piece for a special issue ofDaedaluson social scientific approaches to climate change. The specific invitation was to write on why we (collectively) were failing to respond adequately. At the time, I was pondering why scientists’ attempts at communication were proving so conspicuously ineffective, but I was having trouble thinking of how to answer the question without rewritingMerchants of Doubton...

  11. Notes (pp. 81-90)
  12. About the Authors (pp. 91-92)