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Thoughts on Extinction: Kolbert vs. Oreskes and Conway on Climate Change-- DRAFT

Sasha M. Foster's picture

Sasha Moiseyev-Foster

Professor J. Cohen

Changing Our Stories

13 November 2015

Extinction: Kolbert vs. Oreskes and Conway on Climate Change—Draft

Kolbert’s main message is that we are responsible for the sixth mass extinction the planet has seen, and that while we may eventually find ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, we’ll still be too late. Oreskes and Conway have a more positive message, mainly that there is still hope still to act to prevent the apocalyptic future portrayed in their novel. These views are each enhanced by the way each of the authors chose to tell their stories; one in nonfiction prose, and the other in a fictionalized account of the past and present through the lens of a possible future


Compare and contrast the messages of each text:


  • “No other creature has managed [to cause a mass extinction], and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy.” (Page 269)
  • Conveys the idea that it’s too late to do much of anything; the battle is already lost
  • We’re most concerned with our own species
  • We, as a species, hate change, and try to maintain the status quo no matter how futile it is, and will go to ridiculous lengths to preserve it

Oreskes and Conway:

  • We’re all super dumb, and our hands are pretty tied
  • We need to rework our priorities if we want to survive as a species
  • Climate change is inevitable at this point, and we need to start reworking our government systems is we want them to weather the turmoil rising seas will bring
  • We can change, but we need to do it fast
  • We’ll survive if we start changing now


Compare and contrast the two methods:


  • Writes with easy to understand language; very little vocabulary that most people wouldn’t understand
    • Creates a larger accessibility to the text
    • Gives the message of futility a larger impact
  • Structures the book almost like a novel, with an arc from her first discovery of the mass extinction events occurring through her research on present and past extinctions, and concluding with what she’s drawn from that research

Oreskec and Conway:

  • Frame their narrative like a history book
  • Allows audience to view current and past decisions on environmental policy
  • Convey scientific and social facts in academic language
    • Makes the text hard to read
    • Gives the conclusions an almost fantastical edge
  • Much more social commentary than Kolbert’s book, which is largely the presentation of research and her conclusions



  • Summary of comparisons


jccohen's picture

Sasha M. Foster,

You’ve laid out some thoughtful points of comparison/contrast here. The question now is:  What do you want to say about these two texts?  Are you moving toward a claim that one or the other is more effective in galvanizing the public’s attention and action? 

Note that several of your classmates, including Lavendar_Gooms and Alexandra have written that Oreskes and Conway are less hopeful than Kolbert; given this, your point that O & C actually “have a more positive message” and that we still have time to intervene “if we start changing now” is arguable, and might make an interesting claim to guide the essay as a whole…