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Before it's too late

KatarinaKF's picture

Many people in the United States have been raised with the importance of recycling. By separating your plastics from paper will truly help save the Earth. Many people have also been told that by using fluorescent light bulbs or taking shorter showers will help save the planet. But is that really true? Eyes and minds are opened when reading “The Collapse of Western Civilization” a science fiction novel telling the story of humanity’s future in which leads to mass migration due to a drastic change in climate. And when reading “As The World Burns: 50 Simple Things you can do to Stay in Denial”, the reader learns that humanity’s small steps towards saving the planet simply is not enough. Society must come together to stop ecocide. In both novels, the authors argue that humanity must take action in order to enact long-term change before greed consumes the planet.

Both novels discuss the role of government and how the future of humanity lies in its hands. The governments in “The Collapse of Western Civilization”, much like America’s current government, “failed to act on robust information about climate change and knowledge of the damaging events that were about to unfold” (i). Scientists knew the importance of saving the planet and shared their thoughts with these political leaders. But the political leaders “came to believe that they had more time to act than they really did” (18). If governments had taken steps to prevent climate change, governments would not have been “straining to maintain order” (36) while dealing with population relocation and “unprecedented heat waves” (25). The future is not far off and it seems that this reality might become all be too real.

Like in “The Collapse of Western Civilization”, “As the World Burns” also discusses issues with government, mainly American government. The novel portrays government officials as greedy and goblin looking, who are only interested in making profits. For example, if given piles of gold, these officials would sell out the whole planet just for their own benefit. The greediness and confidence of government officials will lead humanity to the destruction of the planet. Yet, the book also has people in government who try to convince the delegates that by acting before disaster happens, humanity can save its home. Clouded with greed, the political figures refuse to listen. Both novels discuss the role that elected officials play in deciding the fate of the earth. If the government was not so against changing the system and the market, maybe stronger environmental action could happen.

“Western scientists built an intellectual culture on the premise that it was worse to fool oneself into believing in something that did not exist than not to believe in something that did” (18). As “The Collapse of Western Civilization” states, some people believed that the change in climate was not a result of humanity but rather another force. Some people were in denial that climate change was real. But some people knew that climate change was real but believed that their part in saving the environment was enough to end the system.

Similarly, “As the World Burns” gives a perfect example about the dangers of denying that climate change is real and as to why recycling, using eco-friendly dishwasher soap, and taking shorter showers won’t help save the planet. “And that’s why the lists are harmful. They give people the illusion that the problems we face are easily solvable… Fifty simple things… The book should be called “Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial While the World is Destroyed” (38). In each novel, it seems that only through a widespread natural disaster or the threat of aliens consuming the planet will encourage humanity to come together and save the planet.

“Everybody knows that you don’t kill the planet you live on. You only kill the planets you conquer” (27 Jensen & McMillan). Do humans exist solely to conqueror other worlds? We have only conquered Earth so far but the rest of our solar system might be next in the future. Humans will adapt to the new environment that they will have to live in if Earth becomes inhabitable. And if there comes at point in time where humans must relocate to another world, will humans kill the next planet they inhabit? It is difficult to believe that humans evolved to destroy other worlds. Unfortunately if humanity lacks the motivation to change its greedy ways, we may stay in the same cycle of conquering and taking for our own benefit.


Jensen, Derrick, and Stephanie McMillan. As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial. Seven Stories Press, 2007.

Conway, Erik, and Oreskes, Naomi. The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. Columbia University Press, 2014.



Anne Dalke's picture

You’ve developed an extended comparison here, of two texts, in two different genres, both portraying the “greediness and confidence of government officials,” their attachment to current market practices, and “humanity’s small steps towards saving the planet” as “simply not enough.” You end by expressing your difficulty in believing “that humans evolved to destroy other worlds.” I’m wondering if you’ll find in Van Jones’ efforts (as described by Elizabeth Kolbert in “Greening the Ghetto”) a direction you might follow?

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.