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mpan1's picture

Oreskes and Conway’s “The Collapse of Western Civilization” and Jensen and McMillan’s “As the World Burns” both explore environmental disaster due to factors such as ignorance and an unwillingness to change people’s  damaging ways of life. Despite the fact that these works both focus on environmental destruction these works left me with different feelings. After reading “The Collapse of Western Civilization” I was left with a feeling of dejectedness and an acceptance that these events would inevitably unfold. On the other hand after reading the beginning of “As the Worlds Burns” I felt frustrated that the majority of the world’s attitudes about their way of living and values are ignorant of the environment.

In “The Collapse of Western Civilization” Orekes and Conway demonstrate how western civilization comes to its downfall. Therefore, Oreskes and Conway provide readers with a feeling of hopelessness and fear. The world seems as if it is evolving quickly for the worst. “In the early Penumbral Period…legislation was passed that placed limits on what scientists could study and how they could study it… the Sea Level Rise Denial Bill would become the model for the U.S. National Stability Protection Act of 2025, which led to the conviction and imprisonment of more than three hundred scientists for ‘endangering the safety and well- being of the general public with unduly alarming threats’”(12). I was shocking that such an event was predicted so soon. I have always believed that scientists are working towards the improvement of society. Their discoveries are supposed to innovate and improve people’s lives which is why it is so shocking that scientists will soon be viewed as a danger to society. It is hard to believe that people are so ignorant and refuse to believe their claims that the government and society has turned on these scientists and view them as threats.

Furthermore, “Massive ice breakup ensued, adding another two meters to mean global sea level rise. These cryogenic events were soon referred to as the Great Collapse”(30). Reading events like this that cause so much damage yet seem inevitable ensues a feeling of hopelessness. Readers are just watching these events unfold and are not able to do anything to stop it which leads to a feeling of helplessness. It is alarming that change for the worse is happening so quickly.

Lastly, “As devastating effects of the Great Collapse began to appear, the nation- states with democratic governments- both parliamentary and republican- were at first unwilling and then unable to deal with the unfolding crisis. As food shortages and disease outbreaks spread and sea level rose, these governments found themselves without the infrastructure and organizational ability to quarantine and relocate people”(51). The helplessness and inability of the government to help its people is also a shock. I believe the role of the government is to protect its people and make sure it acts for benefit of the majority. The fact that western civilization has gotten to the point in which the government cannot do anything but watch its people suffer is disturbing. If the government has given up and turns a blind eye to the environmental problems many citizens may follow its lead and decide to do the same. Another role of the government should be to influence its citizens to partake in beneficial actions. These events are alarming since I cannot imagine them happening in the near future but since it seems as if no one is trying to make improvements this collapse is inevitable.

On the other hand Jensen and McMillan’s “As the Worlds Burns” demonstrates why western civilization comes to its downfall. This graphic novel explores how people are unwilling to act to provide change and how the corrupt government and corporations are so money hungry which will eventually destroy the environment until human lives are endangered. Part of the problem is people’s greed to profit. “That’s just it. I’ve got a way for “sustainability” to make you even richer” a business man who is “somewhat known as an environmentalist” (24) suggests to the  head of a corporation. This interaction conveys how little corporation leaders care about the environment. They will only change their ways only if they know people will stop buying the product and services the corporation provides because of the practices these people don’t agree with. Essentially, the only way corporations agree to change its ways to avoid losing customers and therefore money. Furthermore when the aliens try to negotiate a deal to take natural resources the president is unwilling at first but once he sees that the aliens are willing to give him gold in exchange, he agrees right away. Even after being notified what should be alarming events like “the aliens are consuming the Great Lakes”(58) the president ignores it and justifies that what they are doing is okay because he has approved of it.

            Another factor that is detrimental to the environment is that people’s attitudes about the environment is wrong. When the concerned girl visits the therapist and discusses her worries over the environment the therapist keeps trying to focus on her personal problems that have nothing to do with the environment. The therapist continues to make it seem as if she has a problem and that her environmental concerns don’t matter. He concludes that “[a]t some point you have to give up those fantasies and live in the real world”(55) and “[u]ltimately you can’t do anything about it. So just lie back and enjoy what you can”(56). His claims demonstrate that it is not people’s responsibility to be concerned about the environment. Instead, he suggests that this girl should try to ignore it like the rest of the world and give up trying because it is hopeless. Moreover, humans continue to ignore or blame other factors for the damage while staying stagnant themselves. Although Jensen and McMillan offer many problems that contribute to our eventual environmental doom, no solutions are offered which is why I was left frustrated.

Although Oreskes and Conway claim that their novel is hopeful, overall I finished the novel with the feeling that there will be an inevitable end to what we know now as civilization and am fearful for the future. Because Jensen and McMillan reflect on the components of why people are leaving the environment to erode the way it has been it is frustrating seeing that people continue to not care or avoid the problem. If people continue to act this way the events in “The Collapse of Western Civilization” will actually take place.  Ultimately after reading a part of “As the World Burns” I was frustrated knowing that there are no immediate solutions to counteract the damage but after reading “The Collapse of Western Civilization” I have unfortunately come to terms that what we know now as the environment will be severely degraded in the near future.   



Anne Dalke's picture

You begin and end your essay by comparing the feelings of dejection you experienced in reading the first novel, with those of frustration that you had after reading the second. There are no immediate solutions to the ongoing degradation of the environment. 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.