Diamond - SrrEcrroN 42 Collapse: ow S ocieties hoose H C to...

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SrrEcrroN 42 Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed Jared Diamond George Santayana once said "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." One might think that this is of little relevance to today's environmental problems, for population explosions, climate changes, and resource depletions all seem very new. But the only thing new about them is their global scale. Humans have been living on the Earth for a long time, and there have been environmental crises before. Some have lasted only briefly, as when the eruption of the lndonesian volcano Tambora in I8l5 caused the "year without a summer" in 1816, also known as "eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wikiAear-Withour-a-summer). Some lasted longer, as when prolonged drought may have caused the Anasazi culture of what is now the American Southwest to vanish. The effects of the crises also varied. Some societies survived, and even thrived. Some suffered, declined, and even died. According to Diamond, Professor of Geography at the UCLA Department of Geography and a noted environmental historian and popular science writer (his book Guns, Germs, and Steel ll997l won a Pulitzer Prize), among the reasons must be counted the choices people made, both when they saw the crises coming (if they did) and in response to the crises. The selection below is from the Prologue to his latest book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to FaiI or Succeed (Viking, 2005). His point is that today's problems also call for choices. Some of those choices will be difficult. They will require going against decades and perhaps even centuries of "business as usual." But if we wish our children and grandchildren to have lives remotely resembling our own, they are choices that we must make. Key Concept: the importance for tomorrow of human choices today A Tale of Two Farms Norse Greenland is just one of many past societies that collapsed or vanished, leaving behind monumental ruins such as those that Shelley imagined in his poem "Ozymandias." By collapse, I mean a drastic decrease in human population size and/or political/economic/ social complexity, over a considerable area, for an extended time. The phenomenon of collapses is thus an extreme form of several milder types of decline, and it becomes arbitrary to decide how drastic the decline of a society must be before it qualifies to be labeled as a collapse. Some of those milder types of decline include the normal minor rises and falls of fortune, and minor political/economic/social restructurings, of any individ- ual society; one society's conquest by a close neighbor, or its decline linked to the neighbor's rise, without change in the total population size or complexity of the whole region; and the replacement or overthrow of one gov- erning elite by another. By those standards, most peo- ple would consider the following past societies to have been famous victims of full-fledged collapses rather than of just minor declines: the Anasazi and Cahokia within the boundaries of the modern U.S., the Maya cities
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Diamond - SrrEcrroN 42 Collapse: ow S ocieties hoose H C to...

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