Saturday, November 10, 2007


Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA in his 2005 book, Collapse, studies civilizations in the past that seemed viable for hundreds of years and suddenly collapsed, and also some societies that adjusted to changed circumstances and survived. His main collapse examples are the Norse settlements in Greenland, the Southwest Mesa Verde Anasazi Indians, the Mayans, and Easter Islanders.
He looks at 5 causes: people causes (like cutting down all of the trees), climate changes, hostile neighbors, decreased support by friendly neighbors, and society’s response to the problems.

He finds that we at present have 12 problems to worry about, any one of which could bring us down. That means that even if we solve 11 of the 12, civilization is still doomed.

1. At an accelerating rate, we are destroying natural habitats such as forests, wet lands, coral reefs, and the ocean bottom.

2. Over-fishing. 2 Billion people on the planet, most of them poor, depend on fish
for their protein.

3. Loss of plant and animal species (which may be insignificant by themselves, like
earthworms, but which are vital for the survival of our soil and food supply)

4. Soil is eroding at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which soil is forming.

5. Peak oil, the exhaustion oil, gas and coal, or the fact that these sources may become prohibitively expensive to extract.

6. The increasing shortage of fresh water, and the depletion of major aquifers.

7. Limits on the planet’s photosynthetic capacity…meaning that photosynthesis works effectively using the sun’s energy in plant cells depends on local temperature and rainfall. We approach the limit by 2050, due to population pressure.

8. The pollution resulting from civilization and the industries civilization requires, from insecticides, toxic chemicals, mercury, and herbicides. (He does not even mention the apparent affect on our bee population)

9. The introduction of alien species that devastate the populations of native species…Australia’s rabbits, agricultural weeds, blights, water hyacinths that choke waterways, zebra mussels that choke power plants, and the lampreys that devastated the fisheries of the Great Lakes etc

10. Human activities that produce gases such as CO2, that create global warming, climate changes, and thus affect our food supply, our need for fuel to heat and cool ourselves.

11. The planet’s unchecked population growth.

12. The impact population growth has on the environment (depending on whether fuel is used for cooking and heating, whether people eat meat or are vegetarians, and whether or not the third world people are to be allowed to have our standard of living or whether we are going to cut ours.

Each of these 12 is a time bomb, with fuses of less that 50 years says Diamond. He devotes a whole chapter to what is like to live in LA and how the changes will soon clog that city.

Jared then refutes each of the things people say to convince themselves that things will turn out ok.

1. The environment must be balanced against keeping the economy going.

2. Technology (or science) will solve all of our problems.

3. If we exhaust one resource, we can always switch to some other resource meeting the same need.

4. There really is not a shortage of food in the world. The problem is distribution.
(The problem is we are getting most of it and we do not want to give it up)

5. Conditions have really been getting better the last few decades. (Not for the third world)

6. Gloom and doom predictions of the past have turned out to be wrong. (Not all of them.)

7. The planet’s population increase is leveling off. (Yes but not enough)

8. The population can grow infinitely because more people means more inventors and ultimately more wealth. (not to be taken seriously. By this projection, we would have 10 persons on every square yard of dry land in 774 years.)

9. We have no business telling poor people what they should be doing. (We are interconnected. What happens to them will soon happen to us.)

10. All these problems will occur after I die. (Maybe but what about your children?)

11. We can think and communicate, while the earlier failed peoples could not. (But we have our dominant capitalist ideology and serious denial, augmented by the bull horn of the corporatacracy.)

12. There is nothing I can do. It is all dominated and controlled by the corporatacracy.

Diamond on page 522 lists the two choices that those societies which adjusted and survived made while those that failed did not:

1. Long term planning
2. Willingness to reconsider and change core values

Diamond thinks that we can change.

Doug’s note to himself: Capitalists abhor long term planning. We voters can plan for the long term only if we really control the wealth and power of the capitalists. So, for us, our survival is as likely as the day a majority of us choose and demand socialism, or the day the cow jumps over the moon.
What about our willingness to reconsider and change core values? Do you think Wall Street, capitalists, and large corporations will give up their zeal for short term profit and their determination to “leave everything to the market”? Since the corporatocracy owns and controls the media, do you think they will persuade the rest of us voters to change? Given that media control, it does not make much difference what we voters think. Unfortunately, we are addicted to material goods, and to a large extent, gambling. Our delusion is that every man jack of us thinks that he has a chance of being rich some day. That delusion impels a majority of voters to oppose steeply progressive tax rates on the rich. They say: “I may be rich some day myself.”

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