Christian Long

Jared Diamond: Why Societies Collapse

In TED Talks on April 18, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Reflection by GABRIELLA B.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Jared Diamond:  Why Societies Collapse

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, that the world as we know it will end soon, at our own hands, and so on and so forth. Be it via the melting of the icecaps, the great and mysterious cataclysm of 2012, or some inner dissent leading to a nuclear war, it matters not.

According to Jared Diamond, there is no single factor that leads to societal collapse but multiple. He breaks them down into several understandable categories:

  • the impact of humans on the environment
  • climate change
  • relations with allies
  • relations with competitors and hostiles.

It’s easy to name any plethora societies that have already collapsed and even a few on the verge. But the real question is: Where do we fall on that spectrum and what can we do about it?

Well, look around: have we impacted the environment? Yes, some say we have done so irreversibly.

We’ve poisoned the atmosphere with pollutants and toxins that we then breathe in poisoning us internally. Did you know that the average person inhabiting a large city like Houston has the blackened lungs of a longstanding smoker? Those pollutants then fall out of the atmosphere as acid rain defacing our cities and destroying the delicate balance of our water sheds and environments.

Our rivers and streams are now flooded with pollutants from factories, fertilizers from farms and homes, and so many others. Besides this, the US suffers from massive soil erosion from the Midwest to the East coast.

Deforestation is steadily worsening the world over and unique habitats all over the world are dwindling at an alarming rate.

So, what are we doing about this?

Very little it seems, so why is that? Is it because logging is a rather lucrative business, and we see only short term success without the perspective of what the loss of those forests will have on earth?

Perhaps it is because we all think ‘what a shame, but I can’t do anything about it so… it’s not my problem.’

This has to change. We cannot go on with our wasteful and wonton ways of life.

So, what about climate change? I’m sure you’ve heard everything before. Global warming will be the death of us, rising oceans, destruction of habitat, etc. But, you’ve also heard the opposite. That the next ice age is long overdue and when it finally comes more than half the industrialized world will be buried under ice sheets a mile thick.

In the end it matters not, in the words of Robert Frost’s Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

We are at a point of development where we would probably survive both eventualities, in one form or another, though both would undoubtedly change the face of society as we know it today.

As for relations with allies and hostiles a close look at the politics of today is likely to leave you reeling. America is now taking part in the longest war we have ever fought, our economy is deteriorating, and we are more dependent on foreign imports than ever before.

What would happen should such foreign powers rescind their support or decide to call in their ‘I owe you’s?

Very simply if any one of the, afore mentioned, problems came to their resolution our society would undoubtedly collapse.

So I guess it’s about time we shook off our incredibly advanced ‘Not my problem’ mentality and start trying to address the dire problems our way of life has caused.


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