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 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. 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.
So why did two historians turn to sci-fi? On the show this week we talked to one of them—Naomi Orekes—to find out exactly that.
This episode also features a discussion of questionable claims about "drinkable" sunscreen, and a new study finding that less than 1 percent of scientists are responsible for a huge bulk of the most influential research.