Knowledge Does Not Equal Power

The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway was an informative and intreaging piece that related the decline of Western Civilization to the current issue of climate change. The book began by explaining how the societies that made up the Western Civilization were able to foresee their decline, however were unable to prevent the fall because the people that had this knowledge did not hold political power. Therefore, Oreskes and Conway are making the argument that from the beginning of history, societies have been limited because only those who hold power in the society are able to make decisions that would yield any significant change. This concept is still relevant today. Although there are people who have knowledge of how to go about solving the issues that we have, this knowledge is withheld from the public because our political systems will not allow this knowledge to be shared. This idea of knowledge production, or the government controlling what information is exposed to the public, is the reason why our society is at a standstill. Knowledge is withheld in order for the government to make money—in other words, the issues that we have sustains our economy. As a result of this corruption, the issues that we have, such as climate change, are worsening.


The book describes how the issue of climate change was first developed and how people responded to the evolving crisis. Some people were in active denial in which they completely refuted the idea by justifying that the extreme weather events were only caused by natural variability. Others were in passive denial in which they accepted the idea but continued living their life as if it did not exist. This still holds true for some people today. Although there are activists in our society, many of them do not hold political power. Therefore, they are unable to make any radical change towards making our society more proactive with protecting our earth. In the interview at the end of the book, Conway discussed how our society tends to deal with issues when the damage has already been done rather than taking the proper precautions. This relates back to the idea about the decline of Western Civilization. Similar to how people knew that the fall was going to happen, people today are aware of climate change and of the solutions. The reason why were not taking action this issue is because the people who want to make a difference do not hold power. This is Oreskes and Conway’s point—knowledge does not translate to power.

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