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Effectiveness of Consumer Activism

starfish's picture



“As The World Burns” and “The Collapse of Western Civilization” both portray semi-apocalyptic futures brought about by environmental degradation. But, despite some central similarities, the two stories are different in key ways. In the The Collapse Oreskes and Conway relate a “fictional” historical account of how rising sea levels and Market Failure led to widespread death and the restructuring of world politics. Jensen and McMillans graphic novel,  a light satire centered around an invasion of planet eating robotic aliens, urges a collective overthrow of the system to stop climate change, for which green lifestyles are inadequate. Both stories portray the incapability of capitalism and democracy to change leave their self destroying course but the they offer hope in different places. In Oreskes tale China ultimately emerges as a world power when their centralized government allows them to evacuate citizens to escape rising sea levels as the more democratic countries descend into chaos. In the graphic novel the animals (and some humans) rise up in a violent revolution against the aliens to form a structure where humans can once again live at one with nature.

Where Oreskes story suggests that some systems of government may be capable of implementing policies to manage climate change (more centralized ones), Jensen (although he targets capitalism specifically) seems to see the problem as lying with any mechanized structure of society. The robotic aliens assert that their power comes from their nature as machines and a policeman is urged by one of take responsibility and not act as a cog in the mechanism, while his boss gives the opposite message that he must act as or the system will crumble. Story ends when the aliens reveal that the only thing they truly fear is wildness and the animals effectively destroy them.


Thesis: Jensen’s vision is more realistic. The greatest potential for combating climate change still lies in pressing the government to enforce regulations

  1. Reductions in household emissions themselves are only meaningful as part of a broader picture- even paris climate accords (aiming to limit warming to 1.5 degree celsius debatably sufficient).

    1. Household behavior in US 8% world chg emissions

    2. With 15-35% percent of households implementing changes in behavior, chg emissions could be reduced by 7% in ten years.

    3. Fom fossil fuel and some industrial processes: United States 16% of world emissions, china 28, EU 10, India 6, Russia 6, japan 4, Other 30%.

    4. Global emissions by sector: electricity/heat: 25%, Agriculture/forestry/land: 24%, buildings:6, transportation 14, Industry 21, other 10

    5. Temperature rise above 1.5 degrees drastic effects, to limit increase to 1.3 would have to decrease global emissions to zero in next century

  2. Drastic decreases must be supported by shifts in technology (require government funding)

    1. Carbon reducing technologies

  3. Effectiveness consumer campaigns- will but market pressure not necessarily powerful, political pressure better

    1. 50% americans say would join campaign

    2. Qualities effective boycotts;

      1. Moral outrage (lacking for many americans in climate change? Only 17% “alarmed”)

      2. Sacrifices in boycott must be low (consumers can get product somewhere else)- but chg emissions not limited to single company. Additionally, many emissions from heat (hard to go without- government must invest in clean energy sources)


Anne Dalke's picture

The startling claim of this draft is that the book with the comic format, the one filled with exaggerated fantasy rather than scientific projections, is actually the text that offers the more realistic vision, in its argument that activism which presses the government to enforce regulations is our strongest option here. And now I’m wondering how Van Jones’ efforts (as described by Elizabeth Kolbert in “Greening the Ghetto”) strike you as an addition to your list of concerns that must be addressed.

Your next, and last writing conference, is on Dec. 8. Before then, you’ll have to re-work this draft into a finished paper; you might also want to consider weaving in some of the other texts we’ll be reading that week.