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

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.

The article about the author and activist Van Jones, Greening the Ghetto by Elizabeth Kolbert, I found a connection to As the World Burns. In the graphic novel, there are three environmental activists. They try to raise awareness about the aliens eating all of the natural resources “Great! Over ten million people have sent our letter to the President! And we’ve raised over five million dollars for our organization! And we’ve got our petitions circulating.” (68, Jensen and McMillan). However, it becomes all about the money and the planning rather than implementing solutions and actually taking steps toward action. “What about the trees?”, “What about them? We even have the names of some massive stars. MASSIVE! … The campaign is going great!” (68, Jensen and McMillan). Similarly, in Kolbert’s article, Jones explains how he got $215,000 from the Nathan Cummings foundation and "at the end of the day, we had some great photographs, a couple of pamphlets, and not one job... it was a complete and utter failure" (6, Greening the Ghetto). And then, Jones went back to the organization and asked for another $215,000 and he got it. "Then we wasted it all again ... because we still didn't know what we were doing" (6, Greening the Ghetto). Just as it happened in the book, it happens in real life- activists talk and don’t act. Van Jones wasted $430,000 and then, realized that he actually accomplished nothing. Van Jones focused on pamphlets and other unimportant items rather than what he promised- which was jobs. This was just proof that these events could occur in real life, outside the book.

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 the gold the aliens have given him. 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 this situation is highly unlikely, it is plausible that one day, a private company may offer lots of money in exchange for natural resources. It is not too farfetched to think that Donald Trump would be willing to sell natural resources for his profit. 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 valuable but in comparison to the environment and our future on this planet, 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.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Greening the Ghetto. Proquest, 2014. /oneworld/system/files/KolbertGreenGhetto.pdf



Anne Dalke's picture

In this revision of (really, just slight addition to) your earlier comparative paper, you’ve incorporated  Kolbert’s essay on “Greening the Ghetto,” along with the election of climate-denier Donald Trump, to offer two “real life” examples (test cases?) of the complacency described in the books by Jensen, McMillan, Oreskes and Conway. You’re demonstrating an adroitness now in making paragraph-level claims and backing them up with quotations from various texts; it’s a real satisfaction for me to see how you’ve been able to develop this competency. What I’ll still want to talk w/ you about in our conference tomorrow is the question of developing an overall argument: what is your large claim here? What’s the difference between say, a book report, an opinion piece, and a paper that conducts a critical analysis of a text? (Will also want to look @ the repair you made in paragraph one: fixed the sentence fragment, and/but still have a run-on sentence….)

We’ll need to talk, too, about your final revision: which paper in your portfolio is worth growing, which one can you return to and expand, perhaps by adding another text, another lens to think with-and-through? I look forward to hearing—Anne