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Comparison between Kolbert & Oreskes/Conway

haabibi's picture

Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction

Oreskes/Conway’s The Collapse of Western Civilization


-       Focuses on the effects of climate change by giving examples of some of the extinct/ yet-to-be extinct species

Ex. Mountain Yellow-legged frogs, Panamian golden frogs, Kinohi…

-       Non-fiction

àBut, even though the book is very informative, the author uses communicative approach that makes the readers feel like they are involved in or participating in a lecture

-       Based on the current situation of climate change by her real observation or research

àHas a lot of quotes from a number of expertise that she met

*CONCEPT OF EXTINCTION: “When the world changes faster than species can adapt, many fall out.” (266)

*Sees positivity in human:

à“Indeed, this capacity is probably indistinguishable from the qualities that made us human to begin with: our restlessness, our creativity, our ability to cooperate to solve problems and complete complicated tasks.”(266)

àThe whole passage in pg262 about how environmental scientists have tried to save the birds from extinction

-       But also points out how human intervention in nature can cause mutation in wild life

Ex. Kinohi in isolation giving it confusion to its identity

-       Focuses on the micro-level relationship between human and environment

-       Indirectly gives advice (let readers to decide for themselves) how human can be extinct through manipulation of earth’s biological and geochemical systems. But hints the readers how we, humans start to take actions to preserve species, can avert extinction.

  1. Has a graph and pictures of some of the species

àAll the visual evidence gives credence to the readers and let them realize how some species getting extinct is actually happening in the world

  1. Views human a very distinct species:

“The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile. They are, however, singularly resourceful.” (1)

-       Narrator: Future Historian, living in the Second People’s Republic of China

-       Set-up: after the Period of Penumbra(1988-2033) à Great Collapse à Mass Migration (2073-2093) especially talks about Western Hemisphere

*“The case of Western Civilization is different because the consequences of its actions were not only predictable, but predicted.” (1)

- Focuses on the effects of climate change that it has on political and economic structure

- A fiction, writing as historians in a future, reflecting past and the current society

-Makes up some historical events and figures to make the fiction as real as possible

*This gives the book a satirical view and warnings to the modern society

*Also this characteristic drives the readers into the book, letting them to imagine the future and have some time to think about problems of status quo

- Focuses on the demise and collapse of western countries, making China as the only country that survived

- Writes in a macro-level and focuses more on the societal structure that had to lead to the collapse at the end

*”Many scientists, to their credit, recognized the difficulties they were facing, and grappled with how to communicate their knowledge effectively.” (37)

While [scientists] were making some headway, a large part of Western society was rejecting that knowledge in favor of an empirically inadequate yet powerful ideological system.” (37)

-       Has a list of “Lexicon of Archaic Terms” at the end of the book, which raises people’s alertness that those terms can be no longer be used in the future

-       Has a map of the nations in 2300 in beginning of the every chapter

*Readers can see how the writers are not making up random stories based on random geological area; but can see how they have written in the real-existence area

-The total collapse of western civilization and making China as the only nation that survived hints us the importance of government action in combating climate change

- Suggests how climate change brings devastating effects that affects national security, political and social destruction,

- Questions the matter of liberty

à”the idea that free market systems were the only economic systems that did not threaten individual liberty” (42)




-       Both books serve as warnings to people


- People’s actions matter:

*Kolbert: “People’s role in contributing to avert the current extinction event: “It doesn’t matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world.” (266)

*O/C: “Indeed, the most startling aspect of this story is just how much these people knew, and how unable they were to act upon what they knew. Knowledge did not translate into power.”(2)


- Sees human as the destructive force that leads to extinction:

*O/C: “A notable exception was the futurist Paul Ehrlich, whose book The population Bomb was widely read in the late 1960s but was considered to have been discredited by the 1990s.” (4)

“To the historian studying this tragic period of human history, the most astounding fact is that the victims knew what was happening and why.”(35)

“A key attribute of the period was that power did not reside in the hands of those who understood the climate system, but rather in political, economic, and social institutions that had a strong interest in maintain the use of fossil fuels.” (36)

*Kolbert: “If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture… yourself, holding a book on your lap.” (266) àpeople not taking actions, even though they have knowledge toward it makes human dangerous being to other species


- Stresses about how science, industry are correlated

*O/C: Science and industry were closely linked to the rise of capitalism and the growth of political freedom (43)


- Both mentions about the concept of anthropocene:

*Kolbert: how the term got to be coined


Some of the questions that I would like to answer in the essay:

Is there any link between Macro- and Micro-level power dynamics in relation to climate change?


How does each writer view intellectuals? Do they distinguish intellectuals from normal individuals? Using each of their perspectives, how could human prevent themselves from extinction?


Appropriating ideas and suggestions from authors of both books, how can we, humans, REALLY prevent ourselves from extinction? (Since they opened up the questions for the readers to answer… what could be my response and reaction to the current phase of climate change?)  


Comparing these two books, what is more effective means to deliver the seriousness of climate change issue and trigger people to take real actions?


Anne Dalke's picture

You'll see in my comments on your last paper the reminder you can't make a claim without backing it up with data from the assigned texts. And so--as I also wrote to Grace yesterday--I'd like to nudge you away from the 'book review' approach of judging which approach is more 'effective' [how can you say? how do you know about readers' responses? are you going to conduct a survey? or just generalize from your own?] That's not a question you can answer with information taken from a comparison of the two texts.

The interview included in the back of Oreskes' book, and this article by . "A Chronicler of Warnings Denied: Naomi Oreskes Imagines the Future History of Climate Change." The New York Times: Science. Oct. 27, 2014, explain some of  the limits of conveying scientific information and why doing so hasn't been effective.

It seems like here, as last week, you are interested in the question of how to change people's behavior. And so  the central question we'll need to focus on in your conference is: what's a question, along these lines, which you can answer by comparing these two texts? Or by reading one of them through the lens of another?