Thursday, May 18, 2006

Can we survive?

Collapse, by Jared Diamond, is a very thought-provoking book, which I've recently finished reading. Diamond examines the various factors which he believes led to the downfall of various societies in the past: the Easter Islanders, Anasazi, Mayans and Greenland Norse, each of whom suffered from one or more of these contributing factors. Then he discusses various societies who recognised their problems and instituted changes to solve them. Diamond then shows how those same factors are causing current societies, such as Rwanda, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, China and Australia to face similar problems because of devastating their own environment. Most declines seem to have started from one simple problem: people clear the forests for agriculture: the soil loses nutrients: soil erosion begins or increases, and causes further problems in areas far from where the forests used to be. Once trees are gone from an area, it seems to be very difficult to re-introduce them again.

It's telling to realise that our own views and opinions, and the way we see ourselves and our society could contribute to these collapses. When reading the chapter about the contrasting countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, for example, it's hard not to be struck by such a comparison. Nor indeed when he writes about Australia, and how for years the Government pursued such policies as to actually weaken the country's environment, which was already in an fragile state.

The most heartening thing about the book is Diamond's conviction that we can learn from past mistakes; that our voices, the voices of consumers and voters, can make changes. Even by the simple choice of buying wood or wood products that are Forest Stewardship Council certified, we can ensure that trees are being cleared sustainably and replanted, so as to ensure that trees are a continuing resource for the future.

Diamond writes well and passionately, the examples he uses are convincing and interesting, and I see it as a wake-up call to all of us who think that the environment doesn't matter that much. However urbanised we are, all our lives depend on the biosphere functioning sufficiently well to provide us with the things we need to live.


At Sat May 20, 12:54:00 pm, Blogger Who is this Dave? said...

I was going to comment about the quality fo your reading, albeit slightly work-related. Then I remembered that I've been reading a book about cricket this week, and decided I've got nothing to shout about.

No cricket to play either, thanks to the rain, no doubt brought on by global warming.


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