You don’t know it yet. There’s no way that you could. But 400 years from now, a historian will write that the time in which you’re now living is the “Penumbral Age” of human history—meaning, the period when a dark shadow began to fall over us all. You’re living at the start of a new dark age, a new counter-Enlightenment. Why? Because too many of us living today, in the years just after the turn of the millennium, deny the science of climate change.
Such is the premise of a thought-provoking new work of “science-based fiction” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, two historians of science (Oreskes at Harvard, Conway at Caltech) best known for their classic 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. In a surprising move, they have now followed up that expose of the roots of modern science denialism with a work of “cli-fi,” or climate science fiction, entitled The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. [SPOILER ALERT: Much of the plot of this book will be revealed below!] In it, Oreskes and Conway write from the perspective of a historian, living in China (the country that fared the best in facing the ravages of climate change) in the year 2393. The historian seeks to analyze the biggest paradox imaginable: Why humans who saw the climate disaster coming, who were thoroughly and repeatedly warned, did nothing about it.
Dystopias like 1984 are popular because they show us what will happen if we stop doing something we are already doing (like resist authoritarians). This one seems to be trying to show us what will happen if we keep doing what we are already doing.
Not really helpful, in my opinion. We need narratives that help us learn how to act successfully, not stories that show an Apocalypse. The most popular fiction recently have examined how people can fight against a dystopia, not just accept it.
Here they seem to just tell us that everything we try to do will be a failure. Hard to get people energized to chance.
Scaring people accomplishes little and is actually the fundamental reason people will grab onto any competing narrative, no matter how many lies are part of the narrative. They simply stop hearing the truth because of fear.
The Original Star Trek is the most influential SF show of all time because it was optimistic, even while showing many continuing problems. It showed people how to act.
Real science fiction authors have done a much better job.