Currently I am in Berlin, the last day 😦 of a five day vacation. I am not really much of a book reader, but this time I actually had a book with me … wait for it … “The Collapse of Western Civilization A View From The Future” of Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway. Not exactly the most uplifting book to read during a vacation, I know, but I was curious about it.
The authors have a very pessimistic view. Okay, I expected nothing else. Just look at the title plus its authors and you know what you will get.
It is in part about the future (chock full of catastrophes, one even worse than the other), but it is mainly about the present (and the past) as an explanation of the origins of the issue. That was my goal of reading this book, seeing the reasoning needed to come to such a view.
There were a lot of things that raised my eye brows, so there will probably other posts about the book in the future. Not as some kind of rebuttal, but I will write about things that caught my attention, some of my thoughts and some things the authors forgot to write about. If there is anything that is missing in this book, it is balance. It is written in a very one-sided way.
Reading it, three things jumped out on me.
First, they turned around the situation by painting alarmists as being the underdog… I found that a particularly humoristic element in the book, but that is maybe just me.
Second, they seem to rewrite history in numerous cases in the book. It is a strange thing seeing historians REwrite history in stead of writing about history.
Third, they seem to have no shred of doubt they are right and largely overstate the knowledge we have about the climate system, more specifically the role of our emissions in it. It is this one that I want to take as the subject of this post.
For example, on page 1 and 2 where they compared the analyses of the collapse of the Roman and Mayan civilizations with the, according to them, imminent collapse of the Western civilization:
[…] The case of Western civilization is different because the consequences of its actions were not only predictable, but predicted. […] While analysts differ on the exact circumstances, virtually all agree that the people of Western civilization knew what was happening to them but where unable to stop it. Indeed, the most startling aspect of this story is just how much these people knew, and how unable they were to act upon what they knew. Knowledge did not translate into power. […]
This was much repeated in other parts of the book as well,so it is not just an isolated case.
I am not sure whether we talk about the same Earth? I my world, climate is a incredibly complex, coupled and chaotic system. It would be a downright miracle to state anything with high certainty about the effects of one specific element in such a system. Yet we hear that we know the consequences of our actions.
Are they really sure that we KNOW that? Sure, we can assume things from the greenhouse gas theory, but even when knowing that CO2 has a warming effect on its own, that is entirely different from stating with certainty that it will cause catastrophes. Anyone stating with certainty that catastrophes will be the outcome of our emissions, is ignoring the inherent uncertainties within the climate system and is overstating their case.
That’s for sure.