Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Summary

Selection 38 is a piece of the novel Collapse : How societies Choose to Fail or Succeed written by Jared Diamond, professor at UCLA. The main topic of this excerpt is how the choices of today will lead directly on the impacts of not only tomorrow, but everyday in the future.

Diamond starts by describing different societies who have collapsed because of the choices the societies made. He also explains what he means by collapse : “A drastic decrease in human population size and/or political/economic/social complexity, over a considerable area, for an extended time.” (p.184). He also explains how minor declines do not count as full-on collapses, because these declines happen but they do not stay for an extended period of time, and they do not escalate into a loss of population. Some examples of societies that  full-on collapsed are : the Maya cities in Central America, Mycenean Greece, Harappan Indus Valley cities in Asia, and Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. It is suspected by archaeologists, climatologists, historians, paleontologists, and palynologists, that the collapses in those societies have been triggered by humans destroying their environmental resources, which is called unintended ecological suicide, or ecocide. Diamond says there are eight categories that list possibilities of how the people could of destroyed their environment. They are : Deforestation and habitat destruction, soild problems, water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact of people. Societies who had exponential population growth had to expand their crops, destroying their forests. These categories would keep going until it was inhabitable, therefore the people would either die, or emigrate. Diamond says the same eight categories would be the reasoning behind collapses today, except there would be these categories added : human-caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full human utilization of the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity. He questions if the new technology will help or destroy even faster our environment, and therefore have an ecocide in the world today. Living in a sustainable manner is one of the best solutions human beings can incorporate into their lives to lesson the eight categories to happen to their environment. Diamond shares a more positive story to make his readers realize that not all collapses are irreversible. “Iceland for a long time was Europe’s poorest and most ecologically ravaged country.” (p.186). People in Iceland had enough and they learned from their mistakes, such as deforestation and using up all their resources, depleting the earth. They put in place severe measures of environmental protection, and now they are one of the highest per-capita national average incomes in the world, not to mention they are self-sufficient in many different things, says Diamond.The author suggest a five-point framework, to understand environmental collapses that could happen. This includes : environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbours, friendly trade partners and the society’s responses to its environmental problems. He then talks about each point. One that struck me is how climate change has a huge effect on the health of the population because as humans, we are very reliant on the weather. If it is a very dry year, there will be less vegetation in the crops, therefore the population will starve. The society’s response to its environmental problems depend on its economic standpoint, its political standpoint and many other aspects such as their cultural views. This ties into how these days, there is two points of view. The first one being, people who are non-environmental are pro-business, meaning that people who do not care about the environment care about the economy and will do anything to make the economy better, even if that means cut down every tree in the country. The second point of view is people who are environmentalist are also pro-business, because they are looking at what can be done to be economically friendly as well as taking care of our environment. Diamond finishes off this selection by saying “…it won’t be possible to solve the world’s environmental problems…” (p.189).

  1. Are societies that damage their environment doomed to collapse? Is ours?

According to Jared Diamond, it is not all societies that damage their environment that are doomed to collapse. He explains that there are eight categories in which societies have wrecked themselves by destroying their environments. The categories are : “deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per- capita impact of people.” These categories are all harmful effects made by humans to their societies, which will enable them on the path to collapse. Although these effects are devastating and will make societies collapse, it is possible to repair these collapses by making serious changes to how the societies live. Iceland is a very good example of a society that repaired their environmental problems, because they learned from their past experiences and took serious environmental measures to repair their environment. They became self-sufficient, regulated their population size, and became the highest per-capita national average incomes in the world. If we take this example and learn from what the Icelanders did as their rigorous measures of environmental protection. Diamond also explains how another set of factors is the damage people do on their environment. This encompasses either fragile or resilient properties; meaning either potential for recovery or potential for recovery from the damage done, respectively. This can be damages such as cutting down more trees than the environment can produce. The final set of factors to take into consideration when examining if a society will collapse is the impact of climate change on that society. If the impacts are not extremely destructful, the society has a very good chance at recovering from the environmental destruction. After reading Jared Diamond’s article, it is fair to say that it really depends on the society’s environmental condition and the factors mentioned above.

Reference :

Diamond, Jared. (2005). Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. In T. A. Easton (Ed.), Classic Edition Sources: Environmental studies (4th ed., pp. 184-189). New York, NY: Mc Graw Hill

 

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In-Class Questions

Lecture 1

  1. What promotes human connection to nature?

Human connection to nature can be promoted in different ways for everyone. Here are some examples : weather, walking and biking as a mode of transportation, animals, natural tourist attractions, picturesque views of nature, beaches, hiking, camping, mountain climbing, sailing, fishing, and other outdoor sports. Weather promotes human connection to the environment because it makes people plan their day accordingly to the weather, as well as dress accordingly to be protected from the harsh weather, such as rain, snow, or even storms and floods. Climate change has a huge impact on the weather, by intensifying the storms, such as floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, etc. This aspect is promoting human connection to nature, in a depressing way, because humans are now obligated to be aware of the weather and storms that are coming their way for safety measures. On a more positive note, natural tourist attractions, such as National Parks, with picturesque views of nature are a major part in promoting human connection towards the environment, because many people are using social media to share these experiences, which helps promote these connections even more. Outdoor sports, wether they are on land or water sports, are also a major part in promoting human connection to the environment. First off, there is the physical component of people being outdoors and using the natural space to have fun while doing activities. Secondly, in my opinion, having fun outdoors is very addicting and contagious; meaning people will want to continue going outdoors, and these people will share their experience and tell their friends how these activities are a great time.

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Hiking in Banff National Park.

 

2. What promotes disconnection from nature?

Many things can promote disconnection from nature, such as lifestyles, living locations, personal interests, career choices, etc. Not being connected to nature in a personal manner can really destroy our environment because without any personal connection, humans will not have a reason to be kind to it, and to protect it from harmful pollution. The article Disconnected from Nature. Is this the Reason we’re Raping the Planet? written by Aaron Hoopes has a very good point of view and reasoning behind this subject. “The reason for this is our Nature Deficit. When we are disconnected from the natural world we lose our ability of feeling empathy for what is going on. Our obsession with technological innovation and our infatuation with electronic connectivity cuts us off from the web of life force energy and substitutes it with an artificial construct.” Living in the city, surrounded by concrete, vehicles and artificial materials promotes disconnection from nature because there is no physical connection that humans can visually see when they are surrounded by non-natural materials. Humans living in technologically advanced societies with careers which makes them work indoors all day, five days a week, might not have the need or the want to go outdoors or outside city limits to explore and appreciate nature. With technology these days, there is no need to go out in nature for anything because technology will “have an app for that”. It is simply with the pure personal interest of the person that they will go outdoors to have that connection to nature.

 

3. Is there a danger to a growing disconnect from nature?

I strongly believe there is a danger to humans being disconnected from nature. First of all, having a personal connection to nature and the environment will have a huge impact on how people will try and protect that environment  For example, someone who goes hiking every week in a forest only 15 km from their hometown will most likely protest against a forestry company trying to clear the forest to make parking lots and buildings. The danger of being disconnected from nature is that it will soon be destroyed by pollution, and stripped from all resources that used to be bountiful. Having a connection to nature is very powerful for human health as well. Breathing in healthy air in an environment full of vegetation, being active outdoors, being in the sun, are all examples of activities that are important to human health. The air we breath in an area full of vegetation, like the boreal forest, is much healthier than the air we breath in downtown Winnipeg. There is very little harmful chemicals, pollutants, and fossil fuels in that air because it is far away from cities, and the vegetation will take all that CO2 and turn it into a plentiful amount of healthy oxygen. This ties into being active outdoors because, when doing physical activity outdoors, we are breathing in that air which is not filtered by an air conditioner or an electric heater. Being in the sun is also very beneficial for human health because it is a natural way to get a dose of vitamin D, which is hard to get most of the year when we wear lots of layers in Canada. Renee Cho, from Columbia University supports this idea by explaining how humans are very healthy if they have contact with nature. “Nature has positive effects on children with attention deficit disorder, asthma, and obesity, and being in nature relieves stress and improves physical health. Adults who work in spaces incorporating nature into their design are more productive, healthy and creative; and hospital patients with a view of nature from their window heal faster.”

 

 

Bibliography :

Hoopes, Aaron; Disconnected from nature. Is this the reason we’re raping the planet?; URL

Cho, Renee; Why We Must Reconnect With Nature; May 2011; Earth Institute, Columbia University; URL

 

 

Lecture 2

  1. Where do your environmental ethics lie?

The deffiniton of biocentric ethics according to Joseph R. Desjardins is the following:“Biocentrism, ethical perspective holding that all life deserves equal moral consideration or has equal moral standing.” This is exactly where my environmental ethics lie. I believe that all living organisms on earth is equal and deserves the same respect as any other being. I believe in biocentrism because all living things on earth have to co-exist together and rely on each other to survive. Animals would not be able to survive without plants, because there would be no more oxygen on earth; and vice versa. There is a reason for every living organism to be on this earth. Wether it is to produce oxygen and shade for animals to cool off during hot summer months, or to feed on high populations of fish, to maintain a balanced food chain,  like the great white shark. Humans kill animals when they feel threatened or when animals are a pest to them. This is because humans do not want to get killed by this animal or because they do not want to be bothered by it. I believe humans should let the animals be, and take precautionary measures without killing them, as in perhaps securely moving that animal to a safer habitat, such as the forest. Killing an innocent animal for simply being in the same area as humans should not be a reason to do so. They have not done anything wrong, other than simply being there. I also believe it is not morally correct to clear cut a forest because cutting out a major source of oxygen to humans and not to mention, destroying animal habitat, therefore killing some animals because they have a a far ways to go to find another home. Instead of clear cutting forests, I believe it is morally correct to do selective cutting, which implies to cut down a small amount of trees in a forest at a time. The forest will regenerate naturally, which will be very less harmful to the animals and to the forest in a whole. IMG_3240.JPG

Bibliography :

Joseph R. Desjardins, Biocentrism ethics, Britannica Encyclopedia, URL

 

Lecture 3

Reflexion on a sustainable future

Cities have adopted sustainable manners to create a more eco-friendly and modern lifestyle. This is becoming a very attractive lifestyle to many people in the world because it is becoming the new style, and it is saving lots of money. First of all, having gardens in the city is becoming more accessible because people are planting vegetation on roofs, and having public urban gardens. These are fantastic ideas because it is not only practical for people to have fresh vegetables grown in their own garden, but it is also creating an area that captures rainwater and carbon emissions. It is also saving people money, which is always a bonus, because they do not have to go out to the grocery store and spend lots of money on organic vegetables. Saving money on energy bills is also becoming the new fad; by creating homes and buildings that use daylight as lighting for the whole building, or heating the building with solar panels and heat from the sun. Alex Steffen shared some amazing ideas that people are already incorporating in their cities and neighbourhoods, in his video on TedTalks called “Seeing a sustainable future”. Steffen explains how having cities with a denser population is the best way to eliminate carbon emission. Having a dense population in a smaller area inclines people to walk, bike or take the bus because everything they need would be in a small enough radius that there would be no need to drive a car. Another idea he shares is having green infrastructures, such as green sidewalks. This would be done by creating sidewalks without concrete, but only soil and vegetation, like a trail in the woods. It would take runoff water from our homes, and naturally filtering it through the trees, rocks and soil to be used again as energy. Steffen also suggests that pollinator pathways in cities would be a great way to get the pollinator population up and running again. I believe this is an amazing idea, especially with all the green infrastructure, there would be lots of places to have these pathways. Soil and carbon sequestration is also a great idea to be done by cities and communities. This would turn waste matter into soil and taking carbon out of the air we breath. I believe these ideas are all possible and are already being done by many people on this earth.

Bibliography :

Steffen, Alex; Seeing a sustainable future; TedTalk; URL

 

 

Lecture 5

  1. Can parks meet its dual mandate of access and protection?

Yes parks can meet its dual mandate of access and protection. National Parks in Canada have a mandate to preserve wildlife and the environment in the National Parks. This implies many different laws and regulations for different parks, such as no polluting the park with any garbage and having a limited amount of people allowed in an area at one time. With measures being placed, such as limiting the amount of people in an area of the park, it is possible to meet the dual mandate of access and protection. Having small groups at a time, the public can go out in the park and explore for a limited amount of time, such as seven days. This will not only create many job opportunities, but be very good for the economy because this can be done in the eco-tourism sector. Having hiking groups lead by a tour guide in parks is a great way for people to have access  because they will experience the park in its wild state, and most important of all, they will not harm the park because they will be hiking instead of using carbon emissions to get around. Many National Park have cut off wildlife corridors by building roads, small towns and commercial buildings. To keep its mandate to protect the parks, I believe building wildlife corridors such as bridges that go over the roads, or even having natural paths going across built roads will have a positive effect on preserving the wildlife. Without these wildlife corridors, animals do not have as much genetic crossings, because they are “trapped” in one specific area.

2. How can this be achieved in Wapusk?

In Wapusk National Park, one of the mandates, like many other parks, is to provide access. To meet its other mandate of protecting the park, the park is only accessible by traditional access. Traditional access in this case means, taking a helicopter to one point in the park, and taking a tundra vehicle to one of the research sites. At this point in time, it is only researchers that are allowed the park. To achieve its dual mandate, for public access and protection, Wapusk National Park could have many things in place such as guided camping tours, day hikes, and public viewpoints enclosed by a barrier so wildlife cannot be harmed by humans, and vice versa. This can make some problems arise, such as wildlife being desensitised of humans, by the interactions between both species. I believe this can be controlled by having limited amount of people in the park, as maintained now. An example of how public access and protection of the park can be met, is as mentioned before, guided tours. A small natural trail and parking lot can be made for the people to come by tundra buggy. The handfull of people will then take a short educational class on security measures to be taken in the park, such as what to do when encountering a polar bear. This educational class can also involve teaching the people how to live in a camping environment, without polluting or harming the environment. After the course, the people can then go all together with the tour guide to the park, and hike to a camping spot/research spot. These tours will create job opportunities, as well as educating the public about the wilderness and history of Wapusk National Park. These tours will also make humans connect to nature, which will have many positive benefits, such as protecting the environment we live in.