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As the World Burns and The Collapse of Western Civilization: The Roles of Governments

Calliope's picture

Both As the World Burns, a graphic novel by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan, and The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway focus on the state of the environment and how global warming and climate change have affected the world. Both books also have some fantastical elements, the graphic novel has humans speaking with animals and stars a bunny as a rebellious activist. While The Collapse of Western Civilization is set in the future in the year 2300. Both these book have some extreme situations or ideas that while initially may make them hard to believe, the far-fetched ideas also emphasize the gravity of the situation. The portrayal of the U.S. government in both books is less than flattering and shows how the United States is complacent now during the essential times when action is needed to stop climate change.

In As the World Burns, aliens come to Earth and they meet with the president. They want all of the natural resources and the president initially refuses, “About the permits so we can legally eat your planet … Unfortunately that’s not my job, I delegate” (44 Jensen and McMillan). When they offer him gold, “Gold! Where did you get all this?” (45 Jensen and McMillan), he obligingly says, “I suppose I could expedite the permitting process for you. It’s nothing you need to worry your mechanical heads about” (45 Jensen and McMillan). Initially, he behaves rudely until they pull out the gold but even after, he still appears to patronize them, “nothing you need to worry your mechanical heads about” when in reality, the aliens are getting a better deal. The aliens fail to mention that the gold they have is actually their excrement and essentially worthless. “I pulled it out of my a- COUGH COUGH!” (45 Jensen and McMillan). So the president of the United States looks like a fool because he unwittingly trades permits to natural resources for worthless excrement.

In The Collapse of Western Civilization, the U.S. government is blamed for carbon emissions and the state of the environment while the Chinese government is praised for their tactics in preventing further climate change and degradation of the environment. The Chinese government used their power to enforce rules and regulations to limit carbon emissions and help their people survive the rapidly changing climate. “In China, the situation was somewhat different. Like other post-communist nations, China had taken steps toward liberalization but still retained a powerful centralized government. When sea level rise began to threaten coastal areas, China rapidly built new inland cities and villages and relocated more than 250 million people to higher safer ground … survival rates exceeded 80%” (51 Oreskes and Conway). However, other nations including the US, “As food shortages and disease outbreaks spread and sea level rose, these governments found themselves without infrastructure and organizational ability to quarantine and relocate people” (51 Oreskes and Conway). All other nations save China were wildly unprepared to deal with all of the refugees who lost their homes to the environment as well as the diseased people leading to many casualties.

Additionally, in As the World Burns, once the aliens begin to eat the resources, the President of the United States appears to not care at all, even when his advisor continuously warns him, all he can be bothered with is gold. This is a scary situation, especially when our new president elect doesn’t believe in climate change. If there ever were aliens that came to earth and pooped gold, would Donald Trump allow them to eat our natural resources? While it wouldn’t happen as suddenly as it had in the graphic novel, our new president is greedy and I have little doubt that he would sacrifice our environment to fuel his need for money and power. And for something as worthless as gold, gold is valuable because humans perceive it as value but in comparison to the environment and our future, it is worthless.


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 “fantastical” texts, each using “far-fetched ideas to emphasize the gravity of the  situation.” The “patronizing,” “foolish,” uncaring president in the latter book seems to you scarily like “our new president elect, who doesn’t believe in climate change.” I wonder if you’ll find that the keynote of greed, on which you end, is countered in Van Jones’ efforts (as described by Elizabeth Kolbert in “Greening the Ghetto”)?

Your next, and last writing conference, is on Dec. 8. Before then, you’ll have to decide whether you want to either revise this paper (is there any where you can “grow” it?), or for take up the topic of “ecological intelligence” (see syllabus for details), or somehow combine the two. Then, when we meet, we’ll need to talk about which of your twelve papers you’ll want to re-write for your portfolio. Also: look for the sentence fragment in the first paragraph above, and see if you can repair it before we get together again.