Jared Diamond, of Guns, Germs and Steel fame, wrote another book that got its share of acclaim but not nearly the read GSG did, for some reason. The other book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive basically chronicles our species’ historical tendency to consume itself out of house and home, with some notable exceptions which he also chronicles.
Diamond identifies 5 key features that can contribute to a society’s collapse and discusses each in its turn:
- natural climate changes
- manmade environmental damage
- reduced support from neighbors or trading partners
- hostile neighbors
- how societies identify and respond to environmental problems
Of real interest to me today, in light of Jakarta’s government sponsored and orchestrated project to plant 79 million (Million!) trees to counteract the deforestation of their small island. Jakarta has the highest rate of deforestation in the world, and may well be–at least for its size–a record breaking carbon producer as it slashes and burns its way to “monetization” and simultaneously drains and harvests some of the largest peat wetlands in the world. The country is possibly in the running for real-time environmental collapse and is–credit where credit is due–trying to do something about it.
That brings me to the title of the blog and point 2 and 5 above. Diamond chronicles how many societies from ancient to modern use the resources around them to survive and reproduce. Inevitably, certain resources cannot be regrown or resupplied as quickly as we can reproduce and therefore the resource drain increases incrementally until the foundation upon which a society is built–based on resource usage–literally collapses. He uses a number of well known examples from long ago, the Anasazi, Easter Island, the Greenland Norse and others. In its simplest terms, the dependence on wood for heating and cooking was a critical mistake: the wood in these areas was slow growth and dependent on a fragile environment. In these cases, it is quite likely that the populations literally ate themselves out of house and home.
Point 5 above is all about situations wherein a population recognizes the danger signs and responds. He has fewer examples of this than he does of the other point which makes for a gloomy read all around, but there are examples: Tikopia in the South Pacific, New Guinea and a forest region in Japan. There are arguably others that are actively trying to stave off the effects of resource depletion all over the world, places like Costa Rica with some successes and still plenty to do, and Kenya (see the awesome Wangari Maathi), and now perhaps…perhaps add Jakarta. Some are calling this tree project a sort of window-dressing on the real problem: the black market for the exotic woods that grow there. Until the market declines or more viable options assert themselves, the slash-and-cash economy will continue to flourish. But let’s take an optimistic view for now…you never know. One small act leads to another and another and another.
Daily Stats (Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu)
Car: 3 miles
Bike: 11 miles
A video of Diamond lecturing on this topic can be found here.