The idea of a boring apocalypse story sounds like an oxymoron. We as humans always like to envision our ultimate demise as a series of extraordinarily rapidly occurring cataclysmic event. The Statue of Liberty’s head will wash up on the Long Island shores while the remnants of the Golden Gate Bridge lay in ruins in the San Francisco Bay. However, in The Collapse of Western Civilization, there is no such apocalypse. Instead, Oreskes and Conway spare their readers the dramatics and simply present the facts.
However, while this rather dry delivery of the tale of man’s demise is not entirely enthralling, it is no less terrifying than any Hollywood disaster film. While the narrator is writing from nearly 400 years in the future, the majority of this book seems to take place before the year 2100. Reading scientists foresee a major disease outbreak which could rival the Black Death tormenting the world within fifty years was certainly the most horrifying aspect of the book. I thought another effective tactic used by the authors were the sea level maps which prefaced each chapter of the book. Seeing Miami or Manhattan submerged almost entirely in the Atlantic is certainly enough to strike fear in any reader.
Personally, I felt that book did not necessarily give the reader any answers or even suggestions of how to prevent climate change. Even though Conway expressed in the subsequent interview that he viewed this text as positive for the human race, the primary feeling I felt from reading this was fear. Ultimately, I think western society should use this book and say, “let’s defy the odds and prove these scientists wrong.” Oreskes and Conway have outlined a horrifying series of events which they believe will happen in the next century. Instead of simply accepting these predictions as inevitabilities, I feel like the authors’ goal was to inspire us to try and work as a society to make sure that these cataclysmic events do not occur.
Ultimately, I am completely torn on how I feel about The Collapse of Western Civilization. The Westerner in me wants to see this as more of a narrative with heroes and dramatics. But that’s just not how the world works. While the facts of the matter may not be what we want to hear, we need to hear them and heed their advice. With the stark lack of individuals and personal tales in this work, it can be difficult to leave a lasting impression on the reader. However, this novel (if I can call it that) is an important piece of fiction. At least, we must hope and strive to ensure that this work‘s prophecies are proven false. Hopefully in the year 2400, humans could laugh at these predictions like we laugh at the movie 2012 today.