The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

by Naomi Oreskes

Paperback, 2014


Columbia University Press (2014), 104 pages


The year is 2393, and the world is almost unrecognizable. Clear warnings of climate catastrophe went ignored for decades, leading to soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, widespread drought and-finally-the disaster now known as the Great Collapse of 2093, when the disintegration of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet led to mass migration and a complete reshuffling of the global order. Writing from the Second People's Republic of China on the 300th anniversary of the Great Collapse, a senior scholar 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-failed to act, and so brought about the collapse of Western civilization. In this haunting, provocative work of science-based fiction, Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway imagine a world devastated by climate change. Dramatizing the science in ways traditional nonfiction cannot, the book reasserts the importance of scientists and the work they do and reveals the self-serving interests of the so called "carbon combustion complex" that have turned the practice of science into political fodder. 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member DavidWineberg
This short book is a report by a future Chinese academic on the collapse of civilization in the 21st

century, caused by global warming and pollution. It purports to recount the disaster with perspective that

usually only time can provide. We today are too closely involved to see the forest for the
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trees. That is

usually the case. Yet most of can see the forest, burning, and that is a different issue the book delves

into with gusto. Science has been shunted aside in favor of "freedom" and the dollar.

The basic premise of a historian looking back to see what happened is valid, but the authors don't go nearly

far enough. The rank stupidity shown by the politicians of the 20th century is no different from the rank

stupidity of the church in the thousand years before, when it burned scientists at the stake for uttering

facts it did not want to hear, regardless of provability. Basically, it was always this way. There have

always been entrenched interests to defend, empires to defend, wealth to defend, and of course power to

expand. Our author from the future missed that.

It is instructive to see how a future Chinese academic might view the economic history of the west, citing

capitalism vs communism and neoliberalism and market fundamentalism (in the religious fervor sense). But

that academic would surely have also discovered and reported the simple truism that separates all of it for

the purposes of his report: Communism failed because it did not tell the economic truth about prices.

Capitalism failed because it did not tell the ecological truth about prices. That in a nutshell has driven

the greed machine to the heights we see today. (It is touched on in the glossary.) The greater good is a

concept discredited in the USA, and the result is a planet swamped for example, in 88,000 new chemical

compounds since WWII, only three of which have been tested. (This is touched on in the Q&A, where they

compare the lack of chemical testing to exhaustive testing in pharmaceuticals.) Government went from being

the solution in the trustbuster age, to the problem in the Reagan era. The results were predictable and were

predicted. The market fundamentalists just told everyone where they could go. And we are. Faster than we


The "report" is only about 60 pages. More of a pamphlet than a book. There follows a lexicon of terms we in

the present currently use and abuse. This also helps give perspective, as does the Q&A with the authors that

follows. The combination of those three nonstandard components makes this an unusual book that would be

refreshing if it weren't so hurtful.
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LibraryThing member jefware
A quick read. A retrospective of our current age. A requiem for the dying.

Original publication date





023116954X / 9780231169547


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