Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

Speculating on the collapse of western civilization

Some speculative fiction from Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (yes, the dynamic duo who wrote one of the must-read books for anyone concerned about climate chaos, Merchants of Doubt: The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future.

As one might guess from the title, this is a speculative look at how our climate future might play out over the next 50 years.

The authors’ note:

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 (1540–2073); 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 fallen on Western civilization, in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on “free” markets, disabled the world’s powerful nations in the face of tragedy. Moreover, the scientists who best understood the problem were hamstrung by their own cultural practices, which demand-ed an excessively stringent standard for accepting claims of any kind–even those involving imminent threats. Here, our future historian, living in the Second People’s Republic of China, recounts the events of the Period of the Penumbra (1988–2073) that led to the Great Collapse and Mass Migration (2074).

I have a bit of hesitation in recommending this, simply because it sounds like I’m peddling doomer porn, which is not my intent at all. But if you’re familiar with the work of Oreskes and Conway, particularly Merchants of Doubt (and if you’re not, then what are you waiting for?) then you they don’t indulge in tawdry, cheap thrills.

2 comments to Speculating on the collapse of western civilization

  • It’s a race between the Great Resource Genocide and the 2nd Great Enlightenment: Uncompromising implementation of globally managed steady-state life-support systems.

  • Sasparilla

    Rather chilling reading…very good, alot of this stuff is just too plausible for my comfort (really brings home how we’re just skating on the knife edge of loosing it all, right now).

    If anything the story probably underestimates when some of the events will happen (I think it said initial arctic melt out in the 2040′s when it looks like that will almost surely happen this decade). Seeing the story say 2009 was when we blew the last big chance (something lurking the in dark reaches of my head since then), unfortunately it gives the President a pass on what happened in 2009 when he was a major part of blowing the chance at the time (having to be pushed to lobby the House members to pass the cap-n-trade bill, then not pushing the Senate leadership or lobby Senate members to even make the companion bill get built) and approving the first 2 Canadian tar sands pipelines in June of 2009.

    Thankfully the future isn’t set – we need to make sure we do alot better than what this possible scenario proposes…