Monday, February 06, 2006

Excerpt From "Collapse"

I'm reading Jared Diamond's "Collapse." It's a fascinating look at how past societies have fallen apart due to their inability to sustain their ecosystems, with a not so subtle hint that we are not invulnerable to the same fate. I'm only about a third of the way through, but the last paragraph of the fifth chapter (The Maya Collapses) sums things up nicely:
Finally, while we still have some other past societies to consider in this book before we switch our attention to the modern world, we must already be struck by some parallels between the Maya and the past societies discussed in Chapters 2-4. As on Easter Island, Mangareva, and among the Anasazi, Maya environmental and population problems led to increasing warfare and civil strife. As on Easter Island and at Chaco Canyon, Maya peak population numbers were followed swiftly by political and social collapse. Paralleling the eventual extending of agriculture from Easter Island's coastal lowlands to its uplands, and from the Mimbres floodplain to the hills, Copan's inhabitants also expanded the floodplain to more fragile hill slopes, leaving them with a larger population to feed when the agricultural boom in the hills went bust. Like Easter Island chiefs erecting ever larger statues. . .and like the Anasazi elite treating themselves to necklaces of 2,000 turquoise beads, Maya kings sought to outdo each other with more and more impressive temples, covered with thicker and thicker plaster-reminiscent in turn of the extravagant conspicuous consumption by modern American CEOs. The passivity of Easter chiefs and Maya kings in the face of the real big threats to their societies completes our list of disquieting parallels.
Now picture severe drought in the agricultural heartland, severely hampering our ability to feed ourselves. Food prices skyrocket, riots erupt in the cities, mass starvation? Chilling. Part 3 of the Book is "Modern Societies," and Part 4 is called "Practical Lessons." Recommended.


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