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A Creative Collapse

AntoniaAC's picture

"10 ways I can Help the Earth,” was the title of a poster I saw taped to the refrigerator at the Juvenile Law Center. It was a lime green initiative to combat climate change illustrated with childish cartoons and littered with nearly useless ways for saving the earth. The irony, as I attempted to learning about advocacy within a systematic firm while simultaneously raging with a mad desire to undo the probable pain that will be felt under the new president-elect, I was confronted with the very real and often poorly dealt problem of global demise. Over the past two weeks, the transition from personal to environmental identity has brought up numerous questions, but the most glaring is: what tangible long-term change can “we” (the human race)  make to save the planet before it’s too late? In The Collapse of Western Civilization by Oreskes and Conway, a fictional futurist account of the world's destruction is written about in a historical analysis of the events that unfolded prior to the late 2300s. The novel creates a scientific record of these fictional events in a way that portrayed a nonfictional reality. Through another work of literature authors of As the World Burns, Derrick Jensen and McMillan, captivate their readers with a unique effort of green advocacy. The fictional graphic novel depicts an apocalyptic narrative with alien, corrupt governments and animal overthrow while undermine many of the “Go Green”. Both stories seek to enlighten readers of the dangers in unsustainable living and the world’s inevitable peril unless drastic efforts to halt pollution are taken. But by who?

In The Collapse of Western Civilization, democracy (neoliberalism), its blasé policies towards human pollution, and its denial of the problem were at fault for a global warming epidemic that caused  natural disasters like “fires, floods, hurricanes,” and rising tides. The consistent criticism was directed at structures of democracy like the United States that were uneffective and commemorated the communist ones like China that took action to prevent total demise.  The scientist efforts to advocate for sustainability went unheard and instead a sentiment of “active denial” was ushered in that “insisted that the extreme weather events reflected natural variability” rather human destruction(6). The downfall of the proxy United States was due to ineffective political structure that created a “tiny elite.. Known as the ‘1 percent” to take power even at a time of mass famine, mass relocation, and disease (48). This logic while fiction has valid standing because it a contemporary context the United States president elect is an outspoken global warming denier who has threatened to remove himself and the nation from international efforts to combat pollution. Meanwhile one of the few functioning communist nations China has promised to stay firm in its attempts to find a solution. The novel is fictional but it presents many accurate effects of environmental degradation and does not venture to sugar coat these outcomes for its readers. In the “Lexicon of Archaic Terms,” one word that has become non-existent is “environment” and this is due primarily to the necessity post-destruction for the surviving humans to transcend the traditional roles of humanized zone versus the natural world (78).

As the World Burns takes a different stance regarding governmental critique and the solution to climate change. The illustration portrays a society that is built around greed and deception,  and for this reason aliens are equipped with the “shit” need to conquer the world. Gold which is “pulled out of [the ass]” of the aliens becomes the Judas of democracy (45). The government as well as the naive citizen perpetuate a cycle of useless movements to counteract the rising harm of human industry. In short, the solution to pollution is not a light bulb or recycling it is comprehensive, accessible sustainability that eradicates the need for capitalist corruption and environmental exploitation.

Both novels have powerful messages but neither, in my opinion, translate the travesty of the nonrenewable conditions humans, animals, and all life forms will be subjected to in the coming years. In a time of mass desensitized towards statistics and facts, The Collapse of Western Civilization fell short as effective propaganda for environmentalism because it lacked the emotional connection that people tend to desire in social movements. In my experience, people like the lime green posters that give 10 easy steps due in part to people’s love of an easy way out. However, the reality is that there isn’t one and without massive mobilization for a environmentally sustainable society both at a personal and political level very little notable progress is possible.   The novel is tragic but it is fiction and so it fails to capture me in a more profound way that the initial shock. It is undeniable that people will read the novel and be outraged by the nearing future, however, the book offers little solution and so, I for one, had no way of translating the feeling of revolt into a palpable cause. Mockery of green movements in “As the World Burns” was also disheartening and in some instances it's humorous but insensitive depiction (specifically of therapy) diluted the novels desired meaning. It undermined many of the simple solutions but the “alien” resolution of an animal rebellion was too ridiculous to fathom. Indeed there need for the destruction of the system because of the obvious inequities that have arisen but again the book does not have a plan as how to do this. Instead it villainized the government and ridicules and previous attempts people have made to find methods of pollution control.  But then again as Assata Shakur put it simply “no one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them.”

Jensen, Derrick and Stephanie McMillan. As The World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do TO Stay in Denial. Seven Stories: New York, 2007. Print.

Oreskes, Naomi and Erick M. Conway. The Collapse of Westen Civilization. Columbia University Press: New York, 2014. Print.



Anne Dalke's picture


You’ve got quite the striking visual to start, which really does highlight the “irony of learning about advocacy” at a law center w/ this cheerful, simple list on its fridge. You go on to give a book report comparing two texts that don’t “sugar coat the outcomes” of “naïve citizens” electing a president who “is an outspoken global warming denier.”  You decry both books, however, for a variety of ills: their “humorous but insensitive” portrayals, “lacking an emotional connection,” offering a “ridiculous” animal rebellion, “mocking green movements,” “villainizing the government,” “ridiculing attempts to find methods of pollution control”--basically failing to “translate the travesty” of what is happening, to convert “a feeling of revolt into a palpable cause.” You make it clear that, despite our “love of an easy way out,” we must engage in “massive mobilization for a environmentally sustainable society.” I’m wondering how Van Jones’ efforts (as described by Elizabeth Kolbert in “Greening the Ghetto”) will strike you in this regard?

When we have our last writing conference, on Nov. 30, come with a plan for either revising this paper (is there any where you can “grow” it?), or for taking up the topic of “ecological intelligence” (see syllabus for details), or for somehow combining the two….we’ll need to talk, also, about which of your twelve papers you’ll want to re-write for your portfolio.