The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

Rating: 7/10

Co-authored by a historian of science and NASA’s JPL historian (authors of Merchants of Doubt), this short book is written from the perspective of another historian of science… in the year 2393, 300 years after “The Great Collapse”.

It looks at today’s political, social, and academic activities related to climate change, and how they led to the eventual collapse of Western Civilisation.

A brilliant way to shine a new light on how we as a society treat this existential topic. I would certainly read a full hard sci-fi novel on this. I didn’t take many notes, however:

  • In the 1970s, scientists began to recognize that human activities were changing the physical and biological functions of the planet in consequential ways—giving rise to the Anthropocene Period of geological history.
  • Historians view 1988 as the start of the Penumbral Period. In that year, world scientific and political leaders created a new, hybrid scientific-governmental organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to communicate relevant science and form the foundation for international governance to protect the planet and its denizens.
  • A shadow of ignorance and denial had fallen over people who considered themselves children of the Enlightenment. It is for this reason that we now know this era as the Period of the Penumbra.
  • Social scientists introduced the concept of “late lessons from early warnings” to describe a growing tendency to neglect information. As a remedy, they promoted a precautionary principle, whereby early action would prevent later damage. The precautionary principle was a formal instantiation of what had previously been thought of as common sense, reflected in the nineteenth-century European and American adages, “A stitch in time saves nine” and “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Yet this traditional wisdom was swept away in neoliberal hostility toward planning and an overconfident belief in the power of markets to respond to social problems as they arose. (Indeed, neoliberals believed markets so powerful they could “price in” futures that had not happened yet—pre-solving problems as it were, a brilliant case of wishful fantasy that obviated the need for hateful planning.)