The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

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Overview

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 ...

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The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

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Overview

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.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
05/05/2014
Science historians Oreskes and Conway arouse the intellect without inviting the imagination in this soulless treatise. In 2393, a historian of the Second People’s Republic of China reviews the “Penumbral Age” (1988–2093), when politicians, corporations, and scientists ignored the statistical significance of climate disaster. Carbon dioxide warming the planet, deadly summer heat and fires, and the collapse of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet lead to a second Black Death and “the Great Collapse” of the Western world. Other authors have successfully dramatized catastrophes with objective documentation and narrative distance, but these historians miss a sense of urgency and omit characters who might invite sympathy. They provide no friends, only facts and figures. The premise of a future historian regarding the past (our present) never truly develops, reducing potentially explosive material to a clever textbook. Accurately researched and logically persuasive, this is nevertheless a political manifesto, not dramatically structured or emotionally involved storytelling. (July)
Nature
Packed with salient science, smart speculation and flashes of mordant humour.
Scientific American
This science-historical fantasy is thought-provoking, but is it prescient?
Climate Progress Blog
[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.
Discover
Though short, Collapse provides a detailed examination of how we've failed our environment — and a call to action to save what's left.
Haaretz
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.
Public Books
... Oreskes and Conway have carved out a new space for historians to use their knowledge of alternative pasts to help imagine alternative futures.
All Things Environmental
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.
People & Organizations Climate
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.
Hot Topic
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.
Michael E. Mann
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.
Kim Stanley Robinson
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.
Timothy Wirth
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.
Auden Schendler
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.
Elizabeth Kolbert
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.
Bill McKibben
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231169547
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Pages: 104
  • Sales rank: 76,066
  • Product dimensions: 4.70 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet 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.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsIntroduction1. The Coming of the Penumbral Age2. The Frenzy of Fossil Fuels3. Market FailureEpilogueLexicon of Archaic TermsInterview with the AuthorsNotesAbout the Authors

Columbia University Press

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