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Same topic, different voices

aayzahmirza's picture


  • Both are environmental texts
  • Both believe humans are changing the earth like no other species and humans are to blame."Scientists understood that those greenhouse gases were accumulating because of the activites of human beings"(15-16, The Collapse of the Western Civilization), "No creature has ever altered life on the planet in this way"(2-3, The Sixth Extinction)
  • Both present the notion of threat to human existence and believe that the threat is a plausbile one
  • Both refer to and defy "human adaptive optimism"
  • Both refer to good things done by humans to recover damage
  • Both include facts


  • Kolbert presents information in the form of a scientific report, Oreskes and Conway present it in the form of "cli-fi" 
  • Oreskes and Conway have included a mixture of facts and fictitious stastics and events whereas Kolbert has presented all facts
  • The Collapse of Western Civilization has additional dimension of ecnonmics and more political in some ways whereas Kolbert is more scientific with the mention of zoos and geological history
  • The Sixth Extinction includes photographs and figures whereas The Collapse of the Western Civilization only has maps
  • Sixth Exinction not only talks about the future of humans but also of other species as a result of human activities whereas Naomi Oreskes and Conway talk mainly about the role of humans in their own demise
  • Sixth extinction slightly more positive than The Collapse of the Western Civilization
  • Kolbert leaves the question of human survival open for the reader whereas by presenting an image of the future, Oresekes and Conway imply that humans, and specifically Western civilization, will be doomed in some way

The questions for us, then, are whether the fault lies at the macro level or do individuals also possess the ability to make a difference. Mohammad Nasheed said in his speech at Klimaforum in 2009, "if there is one thing I know about politicians, they won't act until their electorates act first." In the same speech, Nasheed went on to talk about the eventual economic benefits of becoming carbon neutral to a nation, presenting a view that climate change mitigation campaigns maybe more effective if they are incentivised. Self interest then seems to act as the driving force behind human causes of climate change. It is because of self interest that we exploit the earth, it is because of slef interest that we are teaching other species, required for human survival, to adapt to the changing earth. The matter of importance then is to somehow reduce this notion of self interest, if not for other species and the Earth, then for our future generations, which I believe is something that Oreskes and Conway try to hint at in their book, by showing how the suffering of future generations is inevitable. 


Anne Dalke's picture

your comparison of the two texts--one more factual, the other more fictitious; one more scientific, the other more economic-- leads you into reflections on the phenomenon of self-interest, and to the question of how to get beyond this, how to get us all to think more long term, beyond the matters that immediately occupy us.

is that then the question you want to dig into in your revision? how to begin to unpack this question?

reflecting on these questions myself, i found a book on-line (some of which is readable there via google books): Moving Beyond Self Interest: Perspectives from Evolutionary Biology, Neuroscience, and the Social Sciences. on a first look-through, what strikes me is how enormously humancentric the text is, focusing almost entirely on the question of what provokes people to care for other people (rather than on what might provoke us to care for other species, or the health of the geo-system). but there might be something here....? look it over, and we'll talk in conference about where you might head next...?