Prologue of Collapse


Penguin Books 2005

ISBN 978-0-670-03337-9

Jared Diamond

This is a book about societies that have collapsed – ancient and modern – and a few societies that did not collapse.

Diamond claims that these collapses are relevant today.

He notes various factors contributing to collapses, but tends to focus on environmental issues. He offers a “five-point framework of possible contributing factors”:

1. Environmental damage caused by people.

2. Climate change – today caused by people, in the past by natural factors.

3. Hostile neighbors who prevail when a society becomes weak – maybe because of one of the other factors.

4. Friendly neighbors who become unfriendly or weak and no longer support the society (maybe the formerly friendly society has been weakened by other factors)

5. How a society responds to its problems. Are they smart, perceptive, honest – or the opposite?

Diamond notes that there are two principal techniques employed by science to study societal problems – comparative method and natural experiment. The former technique compares similar aspects of societies; the later changes limited numbers of variables while holding others unchanged. Diamond employs the comparative technique.

The book is divided into four parts.

Part 1 consists of a single chapter that examines present-day Montana.

Part 2 examines ancient societies that failed and a few that succeeded. They include:

· Easter Island – ecological and population collapses caused by isolation and inward directed competition.

· Pitcairn and Henderson Islands – collapsed when environmental problems caused collapse of friendly trading partners (islands also had environmental issues)

· Anasazi and Mayan societies – collapsed for a variety of interrelated issues - environmental problems, population increases, climate change.

· Three societies that did not fail – Tikopia, New Guinea highlands, and Japan.

Part Three examines four modern societies - Rwanda, Dominican Republic/Haiti, China, and Australia.

Part Four sums up lessons and examines reasons. He lists four reasons why societies fail to solve problems…

1. Failure to anticipate problems

2. Failure to perceive problem once it arrives

3. Failure to attempt a solution

4. Failure of solution

In this part he also notes 12 aspects of environmental problem, examines the roles of big business and globalization.

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