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What can we do?

Bdragon's picture

   As global warming has been becoming a greater issue, it raises the question what can we do to stop it? In order to stop something, we need to figure out what is the root cause of the problem.  In the science-fiction The Collapse of Western Civilization, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway create an image of what the future will be like if western civilization doesn’t change their habits that hurt the environment. Moreover, Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillian’s graphic novel, As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial, uses satire to depicts human’s unwillingness to effectively stop climate change. Both novels use different writing style but convey the same message, which is that the inefficient government system is the root cause for global warming.

      Would you want to see your future or would you rather wait to see? In The Collapse of Western Civilization, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway depict a fictional future based scientific evidence. Even when they found evidence that climate change is a serious issue, “in the United States, political leaders-including the president, members of Congress, and members of state legislatures-took denialist positions” (5). The leaders of the nation are supposed to do what is right for the well-being of their citizens, but this is not what they are doing. It makes me wonder what is blinding them to see the truth, and from accepting that global warming is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Their incentives become evident when “political, business, and religious leaders refused to accept that what lay behind the increasing destructiveness of these disasters was the burning of fossil fuels.” (9). Leaders do not want to focus on global warming, because burning fossil fuel is where their profits come from. Their greed and desire to gain more money clouds their judgement on whether they should address global warming. The government’s lack of willingness to change catches up to them once, “by 2040, heat waves and droughts were the norm” (24) and “by 2060 artic summer ice was completely gone” (28). Conway and Oreskes do not actually know if this will actually happen, but it did open my eyes to think that this could be a possibility. Then by the end of the 20th centaury, “actionable freedom was decreasing, first as economic power was increasingly concentrated in a tiny elite, who come to be known as “the 1 percent”. Not only is it bad that the planet is deteriorating, but the country is still being governed by the leaders who made global warming worse, and they still do not change in the future. By that point in time people can’t go against them and change the government, because they have become so powerful.  Who is to blame for the corrupt government, the leader or the people?

     As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial uses satire to focus on the faults of the government, but also on the people for not doing anything to stop them.The young girl realizes that her own efforts (recycling, changing little bulbs, etc.), “It’s just that that they’re not enough, and they put the focus on us instead of where the real problem is” (72). The use of a young girl mocks adults by portraying how someone so young can see the truth while adults do not. We focus on little personal efforts instead of looking at the bigger wider issue, which is that the government system is inefficient. Instead we should be questioning the government as to why they are not doing anything to stop climate change. It becomes a routine where “our habits and addictions are so embedded… we been so thoroughly brained washed that we feel proud of what we’ve done” (104). We cannot move on to that level, where we see the bigger picture, because in our heads we think that what we are doing is enough. Instead of just doing enough we need to beyond that, and reevaluate not only our own habits, but those around us as well. In office we have leaders who believe, “that’s just part of global economics…[where] big corporate fish eat little inefficient mom and pop fish” (79). This is not what a president should be saying, which shows that he encourages an elitist government, and he is driven by his own greed for money and power. Humor comes to play again when the president goes crazy over gold which is the alien’s waste, to show how worthless money is. Once the humans and the animals came together to destroy the aliens they say, “eliminated one threat to the planet and now we’ve got to go after the other” (218). It is interesting how the authors also give the animals human abilities, to show that if everyone comes together they will have the ability to make anything possible.  It takes collective reasonability to help the environment and eliminate government officials who are not doing the same. There’s no more time to waste on small efforts that lead to nowhere because they are stopping progress from occurring.

   Both of these novel prove great points about how the people need to overthrow government, but it does not tell us how we can realistically do that. Yes, it is great that if we do this one thing the world can be saved, but that is the separation between fiction and reality. To see what the future could hold is eye-opening, but does that actually mean we can sensibly change it. The use of satire mocks the human species to realize that they are not actually addressing the real problem. It makes me feel hopeless that I now see the source of global warming, but I as an individual can’t do really anything to change it. Community is where Western civilization lacks, because everyone is so worried about themselves. As we see in Jensen and McMillian’s graphic novel it requires everyone’s efforts to make an impact. Will that ever be possible…I wish I had the answer for that.

Works Cited

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 arguing that government has failed us in addressing climate change, because of an attachment to profits; and that we, as individuals need to do far more than “focus on little personal efforts.” You end w/ the lament that neither book tells us “how we can realistically” respond to the current crisis; 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.