I have just finished Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. I found it riveting, though being so full of information it is a substantial read. He looks in detail at societies, ancient and modern, that have failed, imploded or are now struggling (e.g. Greenland Norse, Easter Island, Maya, Rwanda, Haiti etc). He analyses the many factors from natural climate change (cold periods, drought), through human activity (deforestation, poisonous mining outfall) to political (every type). What emerges clearly is that there are nearly always multiple factors at play many of which we can, if we have the foresight, control (population, pollution etc). He also points out that some nations in the past have perceived their problems and acted in time (e.g. Japan two centuries ago and the Dominican Republic more recently to reverse serious deforestation). The chapters on China and Australia are packed with information that was much of it news to me. I should note that Collapse was published in 2005, but the data remains entirely relevant.
This book also showed how people have individually and collectively persuaded those wielding power in politics and business to change and sort out some major problems. The remaining problems are an immediate threat and will affect the next generation. But I have been left with a determination to make changes in my own small corner.
This positive feeling was enhanced by the delightful lecture broadcast on the BBC This World a couple of days ago titled: Don’t Panic – The Truth About Population, given by Professor Hans Rosling (statistician and physician) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03h8r1j . With gentle humour he exposed the misapprehensions of the majority of first world people about the life and problems of the third world (we didn’t know that the birth rate in Bangladesh is now under 2.5% and world literacy is now at 80%). There are gigantic challenges, but we are, he claims, doing better than we think.
Those of us who have, must learn to have a little less, share scarce resources and manage those that are remaining a lot better than we have to date. I didn’t mean to sound quite so evangelical. Back to the DIY insulation and put on another jumper.
Meanwhile roses are still blooming.
Hoorah for the roses! A beautiful constant.
Good read Hilary. We rarely hear about doing with ‘less’ so that others can have ‘more.’ However, nations like Brazil, India, Indonesia and others are now climbing out of economic plights and are ‘by and large’, improving conditions for many. It might well be their turn now. But, how happy are those doing with ‘less?’
Fifty years ago, who would have thought China would become the second biggest economy. Even so, the achievements of millions able to buy a Louis Vuitton and drive large SUVs while wearing face masks might have drawbacks.
Indeed, but I don’t think we can swan around in aeroplanes while begrudging a large proportion of the world a washing machine. I think our generation could manage on less without it hurting too much and the next generation are not going to have much choice.
My brother Thomas is taking Geography for his degree next year and he has done a blog post on Let’s Geog I’m going to tell him to read your post and links as he’s researching this right now I think 😉
Thank you so much for your book, I can’t wait to start reading it I’ve planned to start it on my long train journey back up to Glasgow on Sunday 😉 I was very excited it is about an Opera singer.
I’ve had a look at Thomas’s site, which raises fascinating issues, though I am not a geographer. I struggle not to get too sidetracked by all the important and interesting questions in the world, when I should stick to my main blog subjects (which are quite various enough).
Hope you enjoy Unseen Unsung – it is only fiction. I am sure no opera singer’s life is quite like that.
I’m very interested to read that you’ve finished Collapse, because it’s been on my reading list, along with Guns, Germs and Steel, also by Jared Diamond, and another weighty tome. I hope that reading this post will inspire me to read it soon, because he’s an excellent writer and, as you say, it’s all very relevant to today’s society. I’d like to watch that population programme too, I think I saw it was on iplayer. You’ve done a great job of jogging my memory, thank you! The rose is a lovely way to finish your post, too. 🙂
I’m embarrassed to say that I bought Collapse about five years ago. Do pick it up, it is really inspiring and I wish I had got to it sooner.
If you miss the iPlayer version of Don’t Panic, try the website http://www.gapminder.org/ where you can have fun playing with the easy to use statistics graph.
I have come to the conclusion that the biggest impediment to improvement is the existence of money – a creation of human nature which brings out the worst in it.
Yes, we were too clever by half inventing tokens, so that we forget the real value of goods. Tricky to get back there though… my laptop for your sheep?