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Author: Jared Diamond

What is it about? “Who hasn’t gazed upon the abandoned temples of Angkor Wat or the jungle-choked cities of the Maya and wondered, could the same fate happen to us?”

It’s an interesting question to ponder, and Pullitzer prize winner Jared Diamond does just that over the course of 526 pages, by analyzing the collapse of a number of past societies (Easter Island, Viking settlements in Greenland, and the Anasazi of North America, to name a few) while drawing striking (and scary!) parallels to our present-day world. He argues that due to globalization and our full level of ‘interconnectedness’, the collapse

Diamond argues that the same things that caused the collapses of many ancient societies (deforestation, overfishing, and overpopulation, among others) are playing out today on a much larger scale due to globalization and our dependence upon each other on a world-wide scale.

Excerpts: “The problems of all these environmentally devastated , overpopulated, distant countries become our own problems because of globalization. We are accustomed to thinking of globalization in terms of us rich advanced First Worlders sending our good things, such as the Internet and Coca-Cola, to those poor backward Third Worlders. But globalization means nothing more than improved worldwide communications, which can convey many things in either direction; globalization is not restricted to good things carried from the First to the Third World.”

“Like Easter Island chiefs erecting even larger statues, eventually crowned by pukao, and like Anasazi elite treating themselves to necklaces of 2000 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.”

The parallels between Easter Island and the whole modern world are chillingly obvious. Thanks to globalization, international trade, jet planes, and the Internet, all countries on Earth today share resources and affect each other, just as did Easter’s dozen clans. Polynesian Easter Island was as isolated in the Pacific Ocean as the Earth is today in space. When the Easter Islanders got into difficulties, there was nowhere to which they could flee, nor to which they could turn for help; nor shall we modern Earthlings have recourse elsewhere if our troubles increase. Those are the reasons why people see the collapse of Easter Island society as a metaphor, a worst-case scenario, for what may lie ahead of us in our own future.

My Two Cents: A bit of a tough read at times, as Diamond goes into repetitive detail about soil composition of Greenland, soil salinization of Australia, and so on; I consider this more of a ‘big-picture’ book. Upon finishing it, I was taken aback by the scope of what I had just read. The book starts small, discussing ancient Island societies of no more than 50,000 people, but by the completion of the book, you’ve been given a full lesson in world environmental issues as well as fairly detailed history lessons on nine different societies.

My favourite part of the book was in the last chapter, when he gives his responses to a variety of “One-Liner Objections” such as Technology will solve our problems and Environmental concerns are a luxury affordable just by affluent First World yuppies, who have no business telling desperate Third World citizens what they should be doing. His responses are logical and insightful, shedding new light on a number of common environmental arguments.

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