Jared_Collapse

Jared_Collapse - APRIL 2005 JAN"2 5 2005 Ecological...

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Unformatted text preview: APRIL 2005 JAN "2 5 2005 Ecological lessons in survival 5‘ By Jared Diamond I ocieties normally endure minor rises and falls of fortune, i even conquest by a neighbor, without undergoing a dras- tic change in total population or social complexity. But some societies have truly collapsed: their populations crashed and their complex social and economic organizations broke apart. Might such a fate befall our own society? Will tourists someday stare mystified at the rusting hulks of NewYork City's skyscrapers, much as we stare today at the overgrown ruins of Mayan cities? Many collapses of the past appear to have been triggered, at least in part, by ecological problems: people inadvertently destroyed their environmental resources [see "Maya: A Clas- sic Case, ” opposite page]. But societies are not doomed to col— lapse because of environmental damage. Some societies have . ! coped withtheir problems, whereas others have not {see "Paths ' to SUCCess,” page 40]. But l know of no case in which a soci- ety's collapse can be attributed simply to environmental dam- age; there are always complicating factors. Among them are climate change, the role of neighbors {who can be friendly or hostile}, and, most important, the ways people respond to their environmental problems. In some respects we face greater risks than past societies did. Our technology (and its unintended destructive effects) is potent; our economy is global {so that now a collapse even in Somalia affects the United States and Europe}; millions (and, soon, billions} of us depend on modern medicine for survival; and our population is much larger. No place is truly immune from environmental damage lsee "Montana: Trouble in Par- adise,” page 42]. And for the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline. Yet some of the same new conditions— technology, globalization, modern medicine—can help us find solutions to our problems. Because we are the cause of most of our own environmen- tal problems, we can choose to solve them. And we enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to learn quickly from develop- a... .r yuan-.m- -. E'- "' Ste-la, or commemorative pillar, honoring Waxaklahun Ubah K’awiil, who ruled the Mayan city of Copa’n from AI). 695 until _ 738. Centered in a fertile valley, the kingdom was one of many ments everyWhere m the world lOdayr and from What has un‘ that rapidly declined during the ninth century. One cause was folded in times past. deforestation and erosion of the surrounding hills. 3S rm: l'li ."\i His'i'nm .-\Ii-.-.-.' _'"I::I.H tel-aye: glassie Case 0 ancient civilization is more commonly nutrients. Cultivation of the hillsides apparently associated with the word "collapse" than proved worthwhile for only about a century. Ero‘ that of the Maya (.ifCTei'il'.ral America. In sion also carried the poorer soils from the. slopes the. ninth century all, the Mayan down into the valley, compromis— ing the. better agricultural zones. population tell from at least 5 mil— lion people to a tenth that size or less, At about the same time, in Furthermore, because forests play a major role in water recycling, the some ofthe most vibrant centers of massive. deforestation may have :11— Mayan settlement, there's a sudden dearth ofinscriptions featuring the. names of kings or dates expressed in the “Long Count" calendar, sig- naling the disintegration of com— plex political and cultural institu— tions. Many cities were entirely . abandoned and fell into ruin; then, so contributed to drought. At its height. in the ninth cenw tury .»\.[)., Copan’s popula— tion reached about 37,000; the. last big buildings were erected around 800. lhe subsequent decline in population was not instanta- 1ieous——as late as M), ‘95“ it was still about l5,llllll—but it was overgrown with trees, they re— mained virtually unknown to the 0—190 EL SALVADOR outside world for a thousand years. we": " steadily dwindling. 13y about [25!] '[liroughout the so—called Classic period ofMayan the valley was deserted. civilization, from about M). 250 to 900, Mayan so— Fiv‘ strands, or major factors, contributing to the ciety remained politically divided into small king; downfall ofC'Joprin can be tentatively identified. The. first strand was simply that population growth was outstripping the available resources. The. second strand, already inentimied, compounding that mis— '-- match, was the array of negitive effects that doins. 'lypifyiug the Mayan collapse was a kingdom whose ruins now he in western Honduras, at a site known as (Iopan. The best agricultural land in the kiiigtlt)iri. the fertile alluvial soil ofa river valley, cov— ered only ten square miles. Beginning in the fifth century so, the. population of the valley rose rapidly, and by as). l)?!” people had begun to occupy and farm the surrounding hillsides. Archaeological evidence indicates that the hill— sides were. initially forested and less fertile than the river valley. But soon the forests were cut down, mostly for fuel, leaving the steep slopes open to soil erosion and _ probably also to the leaching of were brought on by deforestation and hillside erosion. The third strand was Temple l at Tikal, one of the largest Mayan centers. Contributing to the collapse of Tikal was a major drought that began about at). 7:50. 40 Maya: A Classic Case increased warfare, as neighboring kingdoms fought over their diminishing resources. Bringing matters to a head was a fourth strand: climate change. The worst drought to strike the region in 7,000 years began about Mi. 76f ) and peaked about 800. By then there were no unoccupied favorable lands to which people could move to save themselves. The ensuing decline in the Mayan population must have come about part— ly from starvation and warfare, as well as from a fall in the birthrate and in the survival rate of children. Paths to Success ailures offer many lessons, but so do success— es. Many societies have survived in difficult environments for thousands of years. Their stories suggest two contrasting approaches to solv— ing environmental problems: bottom—up and top— down. Three examples of societies that successful— ly addressed environmental issues by adopting one ofthose two approaches are highland New Guinea, ’l‘ikopia Island in the south Pacific, and preniodern Japan {see map on opposite page]. in general, small societies—such as a society oc— cupying a small island—can adopt a bottom—up ap— proach. All the inhabitants are familiar with the end Stool used for coconut shredding is carved on the South Pacific island of Tikopr'a. By adjusting their choices of land and sea resources and controlling population growth, people have survived on the 1.8-square—rnile island for almost 3,000 years. [\AI tzitst Ills I mu: A_t1.'.-I_r‘t,‘i'i'5 The fifth strand was a failure of the Mayan kings and nobles to address problems within their con- trol. The attention of the leaders was evidently fo— cused on enriching themselves, waging wars, erect- ing monuments, competing with each other, and extracting enough food and other resources from the peasants to support those activities. Like most leaders throughout human history, the Mayan kings and nobles did not heed long—term problems, ifthey noticed them at all. tire territory. all are keenly aware that they are. af— fected by developments everywhere else, and all share a sense of common identity and common in— terests. Even the citizens oflarge, industrialized so- cieti es can often find bottom—u p resource manage— ment effective within the neighborhoods where they live or work. I In a large, centrally organized society, Such as one that embraces an entire archipelago, the. general population may not be familiar with what is going on throughout the territory. A central ruler, how— ever, may effectively exercise the necessary resource. management. A king who wishes merely to see his descendants enjoy his domain in perpetuity has good reason to be aware of the need-to limit environ— mental damage. He may order his subjects to mane age resources in ways that favor himself and his heirs—but in the long run, those practices may be good for his subjects as well. Ofcourse, such a top— down approach is also familiar to those of us who live in modern, developed countries (for “king,” read “ government"). One outstanding example of the bottom—up approach developed in New Guinea. Because New Guinea’s steep, mountainous interior is so rugged, Europeans who explored the island begin— ning in the sixteenth century were confined to its coast and lowland rivers. They assumed the interi— or was entirely forested and uninhabited. It therefore came as a shock when the first over- l'lights, in the 1930s, revealed a landscape trans— formed by millions o f farmers previously unknown to the outside world. New Guinea now appears to have been one of the limited number of indepen— dent centers of plant domestication in the world. CH i PHILIPPINES ,' 0 Agriculture has been going on therefor 7,000 years. Over that time, through trial and error, New (iuineans worked out a whole suite. of techniques to maintain soil flirtility, including, crop rotation. They observed the consequences of deforestation and, in response, developed the practice of plant— ing and cultivating trees for food and for timber. The population size was kept in check through war- fare, contraception, abortion, and other practices. Another example othbottoin—up control comes from the Tikopia Islanders, who inhabit an isolat- ed tropical island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Only 1.8 square miles in area, the island is home to about 1,200 people. Tikopians, too, have regulated their numbers through a variety ofpractices—ex- plicitly to prevent the island from becoming over— populath and to prevent. a Euliily from having more children than the family’s land could support. In ad— dition, they have been adjusting their use of re— sources born the time oi'the island's first settlement, nearly 3,000 years ago. Most dramatically, they made the momentous decision, about A1). 1600, to kill oil all the. pigs on the island. Even though the pigs had become a luxury Food for the chiefs, the animals raided and rooted up gardens and compet— ed with humans for Food. Agood example of successful top—down resource management is Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603—1867). In 1657 a fire ravaged the capital city, Edo. The demand for timber to rebuild the city served as a wake—up call to the rulers. because by then, most ofllapan’s original forests had been cut down. During the next two centuries, under the lead“ ership ot‘successive shoguns._]apan gradually achieved a stable population and more sustain— able rates of resource consumption. Part of the solution was to promote trade for food with the Ainu people on the northern island of Hokkaido (thus RUSSIA [NA " ' 1,000 _ _ —miles shiftlng some po— tential problems of New sumea g resource depletion ................._._.. Equator .....1 _ J outsrde what was " '. -- - I “lop-'6 t then japan proper). By l7llll the sho— guns and their un— derlords had insti— ~l. AUSTsALIA“ Voyage of Engagement By Vanda Vitali ' ven befOre Jared Diamond completed theI manuscript for his latest book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 1 met with him and several of my colleagues at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to explore the idea of creating an exhibition that would feature some of the key results from his research. But how were we to take some of the ideas from a SOD—plus—page book and create an engaging experi- ence for our visitors? Museums typically tell stories through their collections. The focus of this exhibition, however, was to be on ideas, particularly the relation between society and its environment, which objects and specimens might be able to convey only indirectly. We do- cided to bring our collections to life amid rich and diverse set— tings—the temples of the ancient Maya, for instance, or a seventeenth-century Japanese interior—to which we would add provocative sound and video presentations and an original series of giant~size cartoons. An essential strategy for fulfilling our vision was to assemble a team of highly skilled and experienced profes— sionals—museum curators, an architect-designer, a videographer, an interpretive specialist. and others—who could collectiver in— vent a unique exhibition to serve our diverse audience. As a scientific institution, a natural history museum has a responsi— bility to allow different voices to be heard and to enable visitors to appreciate the complexities of debate, particularly on issues such as the environmental challenges we face today. When deciding on the title for the exhibition—-"Collapse?"—we used a question mark to indicate the fluidity of future possibilities and consequences. Navigating through the exhibit, which opens May 1, visitors will voyage through time and around the globe. The journey starts with a multimedia exposition of contemporary environmental situations, followed by a look at issues affecting modern—day Mon- tana. We introduce the principal factors Diamond associates with so— cial collapse, then invite our visitors to proceed back in time to con- sider the decline of the ancient Mayan civilization and the survival of Japan during the Tokugawa period (16034 8:57). Returning to the present, visitors see the challenges of climate, tire, and population gr0wth that now confront the continent of Australia. The final room is designed especially for our southern California audience. Water (both too little of it. and too much!}, air quality, urban sprawl and transportation management, the destruction of endangered habitats, terrorism, dwindling energy supplies, and the shifting patterns of world trade will be among the issues we explore. This final stage, then, will serve both as a forum for the ongoing de« bate about our relation with the environment and, potentially, as a means to our long—term survival. Vanda Vitall is vice president of public programs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. April [Xi-‘65 \'.-\'i l In .-\| JIIs J | l5\'\" 41 i'x' '\ E'U ll .\| Paths to Success tuted an elaborate system of woodland manage— ment, and japan gradually developed the. idea of plantation forestry: trees came to be regarded as a slow—growing crop. Japan was Favored in this by the country's high ralntall, high tallout of volcanic ash and dust from Asia, and young soils-—all fac— tors that promote rapid regrowth ot‘trees. in what was an era of peace and social stability, both the elite and the. masses injapan recognized their long— term stake in preserving their forests. Montana: Trouble in Paradise eople have roamed Montana for at least 13,000 years. Before Europeans entered the New Wbtld, the region was the exclusive do— main of Native American hunter—gatl'ierers. The economy began to change with the arrival of the “mountain men"—fur trappers and traders fron'l Canada and the United States, who extracted large— ly unprocessed natural resources from the land for export. During the next economic phase, beginning in the 18605, agricultural products were added to the exports, and resource extraction shifted to mined minerals (especially copper and gold) and lumber. In spite of the long history (and prehistory) ofl1u~ lilan occupatian most people—not without rea— son associate Montana with pristine natural beau- ty. The Federal government owns more than one— fourth of the land within the state boundaries, mostly as national forests. Moreover, the founda‘ tions othMontana’s economy are ever less dependent IIEN l t .‘RY April 9'30}: on resource extraction. Hunting and fishing have been transformed from subsistence activities to recreational ones; the fur trade is extinct: and min— ing, logging, and agriculture. are declining in ini— portance. The growth sectors of Montana’s econ— omy nowadays are tourism, recreation, retirement living, and health care. hat new emphasis on a service ecol'lomy not— withstanding, Montai'ia’s environn'iental prob— lems include almost all the ones that have under- mined preindustrial societies in the past and that con— tinue to threatei'l societies everywhere. in the future. One problem is toxic. waste. Concern is mount— ing about THUOl‘T‘fi‘OIH Fertilizer, manure, the. con— tents of septic tanks, and herbicides. But by far the biggest toxic—waste issue is posed by the residues from metal mining and smelting. \Vaste rock and railings containing arsenic, cadmitnn, copper, and zinc get into groundwater, rivers, and soil. When disturbed by mining and processing, Montana ores also yield sulfuric acid, because they are rich in iron sulfide. There are some 20,000 abandoned mines in the state, most of which have. no surviving own— ers—or none wealthy enough to clean them up. A second issue is deforestation. The housing boom that followed the Second World ’War, and the resul— tant surge. in demand for inmber, caused timber sales fi'om land in national Forests to peak in about 1972. Logging was done by clear—cutting, a method that is efficient For loggers and also maximizes future t‘ilnber yields. But clear—cutting eliminates shade, causing a rise in stream temperatures that is liarmfiil to fish spawning and, ultimately. to their survival. The loss ofshade also leads to a quick pulse ot'snowmelt in the spring, instead of a gradual release. of meltwatcr that can he used for irrigation throughout the. summer. Headwaters of Daisy Creek, southern Montana, near the now-abandoned McLaren Mine. The creek lacks the aquatic life typical of most mountain streams, because mine- railings have polluted the creek with dissolved metals and acids. Bitterroot River Valley, in southwestern Montana (shown here looking south from Hamilton), is the fastest—growing region of the state. The valley population is increasing at 4 percent a year, largely because of an infinx'of wealthy retirees from out of state. Even though rising land prices and taxes create housing problems for many local residents, the subdivision and dovelopment of farmland is virtually unrestricted because of traditional opposition to government regulation. It was the most visible downside of clear—cutting, however, that sparked debate: clear-cut hillsides look ugly. A public outcry led to changes in log— ging policy affecting national forest. As for private forests, the main protection. they may enjoy is that preserving the forested landscape for future real— estate development appears more profitable. In recent years, forest fires have increased in in— tensity and extent in some kinds of forest. In part the increase is a result of climate. change (a trend toward hot, dry sununers), and in part it is traceable to hu- man factors [see also “Fire Down Under," by Dan Droi- lerte, page 44]. One human factor is logging, which often turns a forest into what looks—and acts—“like a huge pile of kindling. Another factor is the policy of fire suppression adopted by the U.S. Forest Ser—- vice in the first decade of the twentieth century. By the 19805, people began to realize that the policy it— self was contributing to the buildup of fuel in the form of deadwood and undergrowth. hat about water, soil, and air? Both well wa— ter from underground aquifers and irriga— tion water from ditches fed by mountain streams, lakes, and rivers must serve an increasing number of users. At the same time, as a result of climate chan ge—Montan a is becoming warmer and drier— the amount of available water is decreasing. Soil problems in Montana include nitrogen exhaustion, erosion, and salinizationwthe accumulation of salt in soil and groundwater. And for those who think of Montana as pristine wilderness, it comes as a shock that even here, some areas suffer seasonally from poor air quality. Worst of all is the city of Mis~ soula, whose problems stem from a combination of vehicle emissions, wood—burning stoves in the win— ter, and forest fires and logging in the summer. Finally, Montana, like most other regions, must confront the twin problems affecting species diver— sity: the introduction of harinfiil nonnative species and the loss of valuable native ones. For example, northern pike, illegally introduced into some west— ern Montana lakes and rivers, have virtually elimi— nated the populations of bull trout and cutthroat trout on which the northerns prey. ll the environmental problems in this familiar litany could be addressed through a combina— tion ofbottom—up, grassroots organization and top— down, government regulation. Ironically, Mon— tanans are beginning to realize that two of their most cherished attitudes are in direct opposition: a fierce belief in individual rights, often expressed in strong resistance to any government regulation, and pride in their quality of life. They are coming to see that by permitting unrestricted land use, which encour— ages the influx ofnew residents, their own opposi- tion to government regulation could become re— sponsible for the further degradation of their beau— tiful natural surroundings. B These excerpts were adapted from jarred Diannmdit linoic Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, pub- lished by Viking Penguin. apriwoos NA'I'URAI. Hist-our ...
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Jared_Collapse - APRIL 2005 JAN"2 5 2005 Ecological...

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