Collapse of Western Civilization

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* Book: The Collapse of Western Civilization. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.



Review by Alnoor Ladha:

"Follows in the aegis of The Limits to Growth. In The Collapse of Western Civilization, two acclaimed historians of science, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, provide a “view from the future”. Although it is grounded in current climate science, the authors write from a sci-fi vantage point of the twenty-fourth century. A Chinese historian reflects on the Great Collapse vis-à-vis the milestones and triggers that brought down Western civilization.

The authors cast a wide net in their analysis, from indicting limited aspects of the scientific model (e.g. the silos of scientific disciplines, the standard of 95% statistical significance for truth claims, etc.), to scientists’ inability to communicate, to the nefarious “carbon-combustion complex” – the vast network of think-tanks, politicians and corporations hell-bent on maintaining the profits and power they receive from fossil fuel extraction.

Although this book provides a dire warning, steeped in verifiable facts, it lacks a broader worldview. In some ways it is systemic in its analysis, but it is not holistic. It examines traditional aspects of structure of the economic system, but it doesn’t look at the psychological, emotional or metaphysical drivers that led to the collective insanity of capitalism in the first place. Nor does it offer insight into what the post-capitalist world would or should look like. There are cryptic allusions from our guide – the Chinese historian – but they are limited to an unclear inference that we maintain a similar system, just one that is somehow more in line with the planetary boundaries.

One could argue that the role of this book is to paint a stark picture of dystopia in order to strike fear in the heart of Western rationalists. And for that, we must applaud the authors. However, there is no mention of what the Great Collapse will do to us as a species. Will we simply temper our most fierce instincts to consume and dominate? Will we address the underlying drivers of these desires? Or will we mature beyond extreme materialism all together, and heal the wounds that have come from our perceived separation with nature?" (