Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Collapse or Ecocide – which will it be?

with 11 comments

Collapse = An end to modern human civilisation as we have known it.
Ecocide = Unintended ecological suicide (mass extinction of all complex life on Earth).

Do we have a third option – Survival?
I have recently started reading Jared Diamond’s 2005 book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed… I know I have been a bit slow but, as recently as 2007, I did not really understand why so many people were protesting outside coal-burning power stations (“All that smoke is just water vapour so what’s the big deal?”). I know it’s shameful; but I am nothing if not honest. Anyway, to get back to Diamond and his book, I have touched on this before; after watching Doomsday 2210? on TV (which is based on the book) and, even though I am only now reading the book, I have long felt that time for modern civilisation to undergo radical voluntary behaviour modification is running out; soon it will be imposed upon us by the force of our changing environment – the writing is very much on the wall.

Dry waterfall in Joffre Gorge, NW of Western Australia

Dry waterfall in Joffre Gorge, NW of Western Australia

However, as it is over 500 pages long and is not that new, you will be pleased to know that I am not going to attempt to review the whole thing in a series of blog posts. However, the Introduction to the book does lend itself to being summarised quite well, so that is what appears below; a summary of a summary – “Collapse in a nutshell” so to speak…

In Diamond’s earlier book, Germs, Guns and Steel (1997), he presented the findings of his research into the reasons why different societies grew in complexity and sophistication at different rates. In Collapse, he applies the same individual and comparative analysis to investigating the different reasons why societies have disappeared in the past. He has done this in the hope that modern civilisation might not fail to take heed of George Santayana’s warning that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” …If, as E.F. Schumacher once warned us “we have mistaken nature’s capital for a source of income” – and as Herman Daly put it “we are treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation” – why should societal collapse not await us? Furthermore, if we have now broken the Earth’s thermostat, what is now to stop us causing global ecocide?

The answer is you and me: We can and must challenge the enslavement of our politicians to the ongoing misinformation campaign being waged by the fossil fuel lobby; aided and abetted by a cabal of ignorant journalists. To this end, here is a summary of Diamond’s message:

Diamond starts by suggesting that the processes though which past societies have undermined themselves fall into the following categories:
— environmental ignorance (deforestation and habitat destruction);
— soil degradation (erosion, salinization, and nutrient depletion);
— water management problems (water pollution and over-abstraction);
— over-consumption of resources (over-fishing and over-hunting);
— ecological interference (introduction of non-native species);
— over-population (too many people trying to live off available land); and
— individual behaviour (excessive per capita impact).

Hamersley Gorge, NW of Western Australia

Hamersley Gorge, NW of Western Australia

However, Diamond sees these processes as only one of five sets of factors that have contributed to societal collapses in the past. That being the case, these five are as follows:
— environmental damage (as above);
— climate change (natural);
— hostile neighbours (war);
— trading partners (who turn nasty); and
— societal responses (to all the above).

Diamond acknowledges that no society has ever collapsed as a consequence of environmental problems or natural climate change alone, but cautions that the following are decisive:
— the fragility or resilience of the environment;
— the extent to which the humans first degrade their environment;
— the human response to adversity often involves warfare; and
— formerly friendly neighbour can become hostile!

Thus, societal responses become fundamentally important; and depend upon political, economic, and social institutions; and on cultural values. With regard to potential individual and societal responses, Diamond suggests that to say people can be either pro- or anti-environmentalist is too simplistic. He prefers pro-environmentalists (who see problems as in need or urgent resolution) and non-environmentalists (i.e. problems are exaggerated and concern unwarranted). However, even then, Diamond sees this as a potential over-simplification because:
— many people who are pro-business would object to being called non-environmentalists;
— many pro-environmental arguments are not anti-business; and
— pro-environmentalists must engage with business and get it on-side in order to succeed.

Weano Gorge in NW of Western Australia

Weano Gorge in NW of Western Australia

Based on all of the above, Diamond then goes to examine and/or explain reasons for success or failure:
— Current problems – Detailed assessment of the complex problems faced where most might think there are none (Montana, USA);
— Past Failures – Easter Islanders, Pitcairn Islanders, the Anasazi, the Maya, and a detailed assessment for the failure of Norse settlement in Greenland (whilst the Inuit have survived);
— Past successes – New Guinea, Tikopia, Tokugawa and Japan.
— Modern differences – Rwanda (failure), Dominican Republic/Haiti (struggling), China (a growing problem), Australia (successful).

Diamond then concludes his book with:
— Questions for all of us;
— Questions for business; and
— A summary of the real environmental problems we must now deal with.

Basically, pretending we do not have a problem is not a good idea!


I know I implied this would be a one-off but, I think Diamond’s questions (page 23) deserve more attention (tomorrow).

11 Responses

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  1. You’ve been attacked by the dreaded z again: “salinization”.


    14 February 2012 at 15:47

  2. […] Lack of Environment A truly biospheric blog on the politics of the environment Skip to content HomeAboutBackgroundHistoryImagesModerationPrivacyRemuneration ← Collapse or Ecocide – which will it be? […]

  3. “– the human response to adversity often involves warfare; and
    – formerly friendly neighbour can become hostile!”

    Two more reasons to get off of fossil fuels. When every country is able to produce its own energy, we will have one less reason to try and kill each other.


    15 February 2012 at 00:06

    • Make that two fewer reasons, since if we stay on fossoil, we’ll be at each others’ throats trying to get control of the final few drops and nuggets😦 — Bloody humans: stupid, stupid, stupid.


      15 February 2012 at 15:24

  4. […] mining consultant, Jared Diamond (i.e. the author of Collapse: How Societies choose to fail or succeed), is similarly conflicted and, although he has done a great deal to encourage mining companies to […]

  5. […] being red-brown in colour, along with much of the remainder of Australia, this (e.g. see my photos here) is a consequence of a much more recent process of subaerial oxidation of all iron-rich rocks […]

  6. […] All things are connected… (12 January 2012) All things are still connected (17 January 2012) Collapse or ecocide – which will it be (14 February 2012) Jared Diamond’s warning from history (15 February 2012). Share […]

  7. […] Humanity today has a choice:  We must either recognise that there are ecological limits to the number of humans the Earth can physically cope with (especially if we are all going to live comfortably); or we will have those limits imposed on us by force: Collapse or Ecocide – which will it be?… […]

  8. […] Ruppert’s message is very similar to that of Jared Diamond, which I summarised nearly a year ago.  Indeed, Diamond’s 2005 book – Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – […]

  9. […] if you have not read them before, I will just limit myself to recommending that you read: – The first of two sequential posts in January 2012 about Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed; and – One of my […]

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