1This is the way the world endsNot with a bang but a whimper." T. S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"When the Club of Rome issued itsforeboding 1972 report, TheLimits of Growth “predictingworldwide depletion of oil,minerals and other vital resources“the warning struck many as acase of crying "wolf" when therewas none. In a time of plenty, whobelieved hard times were ahead?Although the onset of shortageswas said to be 30 years away,inevitably the long-term nature ofthe message got scraped off in theretelling. When the world did notcollapse in the next three month“about the attention span of theaverage consumer or politician“the report was soon forgotten by many. As recently as 1980, economist Julian Simon couldfamously “and successfully “bet biologist Paul Ehrlich that the price of five chosen metals
would be less in 1990 when adjusted for inflation, reflecting an increased supply, not ashortage.But, that was then and this is now. Three and a half decades after Limits the importance ofsustainability is growing in the public consciousness. Those who believe the future of our 2children and grandchildren depends on action should take heart; problems such as PeakOil, foretold by the Club of Rome, are becoming too obvious to ignore. Among the latest tocry "wolf ““and very compellingly so “is Jared Diamond, Pulitzer prize-winning author ofGuns, Germs and Steel. His most recent opus, Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail orsucceed, takes a wide-ranging look at resource exhaustion, environment fragility,population growth, consumption, pollution, and other factors that determine the future ofnations and peoples. The book attempts to pinpoint attributes that foster enduringsocieties and to identify factors that push them toward catastrophic failure, evendisappearance. His findings reflect extensive research and rigorous methodology. Theycarry considerable weight, and we ignore them at our peril.IGHT years ago Jared Diamond realized what is, for authors, increasingly a fantasy -- hepublished a serious, challenging and complex book that became a huge commercial success.Guns, Germs, and Steel won a Pulitzer Prize, and then sold a million copies, astonishingfor a 480-page volume of archeological speculation on how the world reached its presentordering of nations. Now he has written a sequel, Collapse, which asks whether presentnations can last. Taken together, Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse represent one ofthe most significant projects embarked upon by any intellectual of our generation. They aremagnificent books: extraordinary in erudition and originality, compelling in their ability torelate the digitized pandemonium of the present to the hushed agrarian sunrises of the farpast. I read both thinking what literature might be like if every author knew so much, wroteso clearly and formed arguments with such care. All of which makes the two booksexasperating, because both come to conclusions that are probably wrong.Guns asked why the West is atop the food chain of nations. Its conclusion, that Westernsuccess was a coincidence driven by good luck, has proven extremely influential inacademia, as the view is quintessentially postmodern. Now Collapse posits that the
Western way of life is flirting with the sudden ruin that caused past societies like theAnasazi and the Mayans to vanish. Because this view, too, is exactly what postmodernismlongs to hear, Collapse may prove influential as well.Born in Boston in 1937, Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, 3Los Angeles. Initially he specialized in conservation biology, studying bird diversity in NewGuinea; in 1985 he won one of the early MacArthur genius grants. Gradually he began towonder why societies of the western Pacific islands never developed the metallurgy,farming techniques or industrial production of Eurasia. Diamond also studied theapplication of natural-selection theory to physiology, and in 1999 received a NationalMedal of Science for that work, which is partly reflected in his book Why Is Sex Fun? (Sexis fun; the book is serious.) Today Diamond often returns to the Pacific rim, especiallyAustralia, where in the outback one may still hear the rustle of distant animal cries just asour forebears heard them in the far past.Collapse may be read alone, but begins where Guns, Germs, and Steel ended:essentially the two forms a single 1,000-page book. The thesis of the first part is thatenvironmental coincidences are the principal factor in human history. Diamond contends itwas chance, not culture or brainpower that brought industrial power first to Europe;Western civilization has nothing to boast about.Many arguments in Guns were dazzling. Diamond showed, for example, that as the lastice age ended, by chance Eurasia held many plants that could be bred for controlledfarming. The Americas had few edible plants suitable for cross-breeding, while Africa hadpoor soil owing to the millions of years since it had been glaciated. Thus large-scale foodproduction began first in the Fertile Crescent, China and Europe. Population in those placesrose, and that meant lots of people living close together, which accelerated invention; inother locations the low-population hunter-gatherer lifestyle of antiquity remained in place.Guns contends the fundamental reason Europe of the middle period could send sailingships to explore the Americas and Africa, rather than these areas sending sailing ships toexplore Europe, is that ancient happenstance involving plants gave Europe a food edge thattranslated into a head start on technology. Then, the moment European societies forged
steel and fashioned guns; they acquired a runaway advantage no hunter-gatherer societycould possibly counter.Also, as the ice age ended, Eurasia was home to large mammals that could be domesticated,while most parts of the globe were not. In early history, animals were power: huge 4advantages were granted by having cattle for meat and milk, horses and elephants for war.Horses -- snarling devil-monsters to the Inca -- were a reason 169 Spaniards could killthousands of Incas at the battle of Cajamarca in 1532, for example. Rhino-mounted Bantushock troops could have overthrown the Roman Empire, Diamond speculates, but therhino and other large mammals of Africa defied domestication, leaving that continent at acompetitive disadvantage.Large populations and the fact that Eurasians lived among domesticated animals meantEurope was rife with sicknesses to which the survivors acquired immunity. WhenEuropeans began to explore other lands, their microbes wiped out indigenous populations,easing conquest. Almost all variations in societies, Diamond concludes, are caused not bysocieties themselves but by differences in their environments; the last 500 years of risingpower for the West has its ultimate roots in developments between about 11,000 B.C. andA.D. 1, the deck always stacked in Europes favor.In this respect, Guns, Germs, and Steel is pure political correctness, and its P.C. quotientwas a reason the book won praise. But the book must not be dismissed because it is P.C.:sometimes politically correct is, after all, correct. The flaws of the work are more subtle,and they set the stage for Collapse. One flaw was that Diamond argued mainly from thearchaeological record -- a record that is a haphazard artifact of items that just happened tosurvive. We know precious little about what was going on in 11,000 B.C., and much of whatwe think we know is inferential. It may be decades or centuries until we understand humanprehistory, if we ever do.Diamonds analysis discounts culture and human thought as forces in history; culture,especially, is seen as a side effect of environment. The big problem with this view isexplaining why China -- which around the year 1000 was significantly ahead of Europe in
development, and possessed similar advantages in animals and plants -- fell behind. Thishappened, Diamond says, because China adopted a single-ruler society that banned change.True, but how did environment or animal husbandry dictate this? Chinas embrace of achange-resistant society was a cultural phenomenon. During the same period China was 5adopting centrally regimented life, Europe was roiled by the idea of individualism.Individualism proved a potent force, a source of power, invention and motivation. YetDiamond considers ideas to be nearly irrelevant, compared with microbes and prevailingwinds. Supply the right environmental conditions, and inevitably there will be a factorymanufacturing jet engines.Many thinkers have attempted single-explanation theories for history. Such attempts holdinnate appeal -- wouldnt it be great if there were a single explanation! -- But have a poortrack record. My guess is that despite its conspicuous brilliance, Guns, Germs, and Steelwill eventually be viewed as a drastic oversimplification. Its arguments come perilouslyclose to determinism, and it is hard to believe that the world is as it is because it had to bethat way.Diamond ended his 1997 book by supposing, The challenge now is to develop humanhistory as a science. That is what Collapse attempts -- to use history as a science toforecast whether the current world order will fail. To research his new book, Diamondtraveled to the scenes of vanished societies like Easter Island, Norse Greenland, theAnasazi, and the Mayans. He must have put enormous effort into Collapse, and hiswillingness to do so after achieving wealth and literary celebrity -- surely publishers wouldhave taken anything he dashed off -- speaks well of his dedication.Collapse spends considerable pages contemplating past life on Easter Island, as well ason Pitcairn and Henderson islands, and on Greenland, an island. Deforestation, the bookshows, was a greater factor in the breakdown of societies in these places than commonlyunderstood. Because trees take so long to regrow, deforestation has more severeconsequences than crop failure, and can trigger disastrous erosion. Centuries ago, thedeforestation of Easter Island allowed wind to blow off the islands thin topsoil:starvation, a population crash and a descent into cannibalism followed, leaving those
haunting statues for Europeans to find. Climate change and deforestation that set off soilloss, Diamond shows, were leading causes of the Anasazi and Mayan declines. Collapsereminds us that like fossil fuels, soil is a resource that took millions of years to accumulateand that humanity now races through: Diamond estimates current global soil loss at 10 to 640 times the rate of soil formation. Deforestation was a or the major factor in all thecollapsed societies he describes, while climate change was a recurring menace.How much do Diamonds case studies bear on current events? He writes mainly aboutisolated islands and pre-technology populations. Imagine the conditions when Erik the Redfounded his colony on frigid Greenland in 984 -- if something went wrong, the jig was up.As isolated systems, islands are more vulnerable than continents. Most dire warnings aboutspecies extinction, for example, are estimates drawn from studies of island ecologies,where a stressed species may have no place to retreat to. Collapse declares that a largefraction of the worlds species may fall extinct in the next 50 years, which is the kind ofconclusion favored by biologists who base their research on islands. But most species dontlive on islands. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the leadingauthority on biodiversity, estimates that about 9 percent of the worlds vertebrate speciesare imperiled. Thats plenty bad enough, but does not support the idea that a largefraction of species are poised to vanish. Like most species, most people do not live onislands, yet Collapse tries to generalize from environmental failures on isolated islands toenvironmental threats to society as a whole.Diamond rightly warns of alarming trends in biodiversity, soil loss, freshwater limits (Chinais depleting its aquifers at a breakneck rate), overfishing (much of the developing worldrelies on the oceans for protein) and climate change (there is a strong scientific consensusthat future warming could be dangerous). These and other trends may lead to a globalcrash: Our world society is presently on an unsustainable course. The West, especially, isin peril: The prosperity that the First World enjoys at present is based on spending downits environmental capital. Calamity could come quickly: A societys steep decline maybegin only a decade or two after the society reaches its peak numbers, wealth and power.
Because population pressure played a prominent role in the collapses of some pastsocieties, Diamond especially fears population growth. Owing to sheer numbers it is animpossibility that the developing world will ever reach Western living standards. Someprojections suggest the globes population, now about 6 billion, may peak at about 8.5 7billion. To Diamond, this is a nightmare scenario: defenders of population growthnonchalantly mention adding only 2.5 billion more people . . . as if that wereacceptable. Population growth has made Los Angeles less appealing, especially owing totraffic: I have never met an Angeleno (and very few people anywhere in the world) whopersonally expressed a desire for increased population. About the only non-aboriginalsociety Diamond has kind words for is pre-Meiji Japan, where population control wasstrictly enforced. But wait -- pre-Meiji Japan collapsed!If 2.5 billion more people are not acceptable, how, exactly, would Diamond prevent theirbirths? He does not say. Nuclear war, plague, a comet strike or coerced mass sterilizationsseem the only forces that might stop the human population from rising to its predictedpeak. Everyone dislikes traffic jams and other aspects of population density, but people arehere and cannot be wished away; the challenge is to manage social pressure and createenough jobs until the population peak arrives. And is it really an impossibility fordeveloping-world living standards to reach the Western level? A century ago, rationalistswould have called global consumption of 78 million barrels per day of petroleum animpossibility, and thats the latest figure.If trends remain unchanged, the global economy is unsustainable. But the Fallacy ofUninterrupted Trends tells us patterns wont remain unchanged. For instance,deforestation of the United States, rampant in the 19th century, has stopped: forestedacreage of the country began rising during the 20th century, and is still rising. Why? Woodis no longer a primary fuel, while high-yield agriculture allowed millions of acres to beretired from farming and returned to trees. Today wood is a primary fuel in the developingworld, so deforestation is acute; but if developing nations move on to other energy sources,forest cover will regrow. If the West changes from fossil fuel to green power, its worstresource trend will not continue uninterrupted.
Though Diamond endorses cautious optimism, Collapse comes to a wary view of thehuman prospect. Diamond fears our fate was set in motion in antiquity -- were living offthe soil and petroleum bequeathed by the far past, and unless there are profound changesin behavior, all may crash when legacy commodities run out. Oddly, for someone with a 8 background in evolutionary theory, he seems not to consider societys evolutionary arc. He thinks backward 13,000 years, forward only a decade or two. What might human society be like 13,000 years from now? Above us in the Milky Way are essentially infinite resources and living space. If the phase of fossil-driven technology leads todiscoveries that allow Homo sapiens to move into the galaxy, then resources, populationpressure and other issues that worry Diamond will be forgotten. Most of the earth mayeven be returned to primordial stillness, and the whole thing would have happened in theblink of an eye by natures standards.
A History of TragediesDiamond explores five factors that contribute to societal collapse: environment damage,climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners and, perhaps most critical of all,societies responses to problems. Environmental damage can occur in many ways: 9"deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertilitylosses), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introducedspecies on native species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact ofpeople." Collapse examines many societies around the world “past and present, large andsmall “in light of these factors, including many that have (so far) dealt successfully withtheir problems and many more that have not. At the end of Collapse, Diamond examinestrends and prospects in light of increased globalization, a factor that renders unlikely anysolution attempted in isolation.The bottom line message? We must incorporate concern for our environment and its finiteresources into our core values and we must base our plans for the future on those values.Initially, Diamond examines several historical examples of collapse. Case studies includeEaster Island, Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, the Anasazi Indians of the AmericanSouthwest, the Mayans of Mexico, and the Norse colony of Greenland. Suffice it to say thatdeforestation and/or soil damage played a pivotal role in the collapse of each. In somecases, notably the Polynesian islands and Anasazi Indians, the end was brutal escalatinginternecine warfare over control of dwindling resources ending in cannibalism among thelast remnants. The result was dissolution or extinction of entire populations.In Greenland, environmental damage was central but other factors came into play�"e.g.the inability of Norse Greenlanders to establish peaceful relations with native Inuit Indians.Distance also played a role, increasing the difficulty of trade and cultural interchange withthe colonys Scandinavian homeland. The Greenland story contrasts with that of Iceland, acolony founded by culturally identical people. Iceland has endured for hundreds of yearsdespite early ecological reverses through the determined efforts of its inhabitants tominimize environmental damage. In dealing with their fragile environment Icelanders were
forced to exercise decision-making that is "flexible and sensitive" but "also conservative““perhaps a lesson for us.Success Stories 10Collapse also examines societies that have proven to be sustainable over many centuries.Besides Iceland, examples include the Polynesian islands of Tikopia and Tonga, settled3000 years ago, and highland New Guinea. Perhaps most relevant to our world is Japan.The Japanese, a highly intelligent and industrious “and ethnically homogeneous “people,showed remarkable prescience in recognizing the adverse impact of deforestation. By 1600A.D., they were on the verge of wiping out their forests. Faced with shortages, Japaneseshoguns imposed strict limits on timber harvests. As a consequence, Japan reducedconsumption to an extent that it has maintained sustainable forests ever since. (Japan haslately increased wood use but without impact on its own forests. As one of the worldslargest importers of timber it now is a major player driving Third World deforestation.Similarly, Japan is one of the worst exploiters of ocean fisheries, and it poses a threat to theworlds whales.)On a smaller scale, highland New Guineans evolved a lifestyle that has proved stable forcenturies. The New Guinea story interests because its inhabitants lack the high degree ofintelligence of the Japanese; they have never evolved beyond a quasi-Stone Age existence.Diamond attributes their success to a mysterious and unique blend of folk wisdom, but onemay also surmise that such primitive people hardly place the same demands on anenvironment as a more advanced people. The politically correct Diamond ignores thispossibility. Indeed, his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs and Steel constituted a slickrhetorical effort to "prove" that success results solely from environmental accidents, (e.g.climate, geography, even germs) rather than from the fact that different peoples vary intheir innate abilities. That all peoples are equal in ability is a central tenet of culturalMarxism “despite the fact that this has been repeatedly disproved by a century ofintelligence testing.Todays Problems
Modern societies discussed include Rwanda, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, China andAustralia. Both China and Australia face severe problems, Australia because of its climateand fragile environment and China due to its enormous population, now near 1.3 billion. Aswith earlier examples, Australia has cut its forests, ruined much of its soil, and allowed it to 11be overrun with non-native species. Despite its large land mass, Australia is sparselysettled at 20 million and is thus, one might suppose, unworthy of scrutiny. But, as a fullyFirst World nation in attitudes and politics as well as in resource use Australia presents apreview of what the rest of the West may soon face. "To those of us inclined to pessimismor even just to realistic sober thinking, all those facts give us reason to wonder whetherAustralians are doomed to a declining standard of living in a steadily deterioratingenvironment . . . the realistic prospects of [this] first scenario, apply to the rest of the FirstWorld as well, with the sole difference that Australia could end up in the first scenariosooner."Not the least of Australias problems is its attitude toward immigration, particularly fromAsia. The "White Australia" policy was abandoned in 1975, falling to the desire of businessand political interests for growth and profit. "[M]any influential Australians, including therecent Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, the leaders of both major political parties, and theAustralian Business Council, still argue that Australia should try to increase its populationto 50 million people." This attitude is little different from that which prevails in Americaand Europe political parties, in the thrall of big business, promote limitless immigration“and consequences be damned.”In the long run it is doubtful that Australia can evensupport its present population the best estimate of a population sustainable at the presentstandard of living is 8 million people, less than half the present population."China is, if anything, worse; its centralized political structure has created "messes on a scalescarcely possible for European and American leaders." Because of its enormous population,its determination to reach First World living standards and its lack of environmentalconcern China impacts not only its own environment but also the rest of the world. China is"the worlds largest producer and consumer of gaseous ozone-depleting substances, suchas chlorofluorocarbons. . .China also now contributes to the atmosphere 12% of the worlds
carbon dioxide emissions that play a major role in global warming. . .China already leadsthe world in production of sulfur oxides." Carried by winds, Chinas pollutant-laden dust,sand and soil spread across Korea, Japan, and Pacific Islands and on to the U.S.China also harms other societies by exporting invasive species, each honed to a sharp 12competitive edge in Chinas immense interior. They include the chestnut blight, themisnamed "Dutch" elm disease and the Asian long-horned beetle. And there is more Chinasendlessly renewable export, the Chinese themselves. "Still another species of which Chinahas an abundant population, which has large ecological and economic impacts, and whichChina is exporting in increasing numbers is Homo sapiens. For instance, China has nowmoved into third place as a source of legal immigration into Australia, and significantnumbers of illegal as well as legal immigrants crossing the Pacific Ocean reach even theU.S."Nor is change certain. "[A]ll one can say for sure are those things will get worse before theyget better, because of time lags and the momentum of damage already under way." Not theleast of the factors driving Chinese environmental ruin is the fact that China is rapidlybecoming First World in terms of industrialization, consumption and pollution even as itremains communist politically.Globalizations Dark SideGlobalization has inverted former House of Representatives Speaker Tip ONeills politicalaphorism, "all politics is local." Problems can affect entire continents and oceans, andsolutions must be worldwide in scope. Diamond identifies twelve problems faced bytodays societies, all of which must be solved if modern civilization is to continue. They are Deforestation, the or a cause of the collapse of all past failed societies. Depletion of the open ocean fisheries, a true "tragedy of the commons" Loss of species worldwide, a process that is, tragically, accelerating Loss of soils through erosion, depletion of nutrients and salinization Depletion of fossil fuels, of which Peak Oil is a major looming instance Depletion of fresh water aquifers “an emerging problem in the America West
The photosynthetic ceiling (a somewhat esoteric concept associated with the fact that only so much sunlight falls on arable land for use by plants) Toxic chemicals, the impact of which rival radioactive waste in many cases Invasive species (and its corollary, Third World immigration) 13 Polluting gases in the atmosphere, a factor driving global warming Human population increase, the total of which has long since passed six billion Human impact on the environment, an impact that will surely increase as the Third World strives for First World living standards, not only in their own lands but as immigrants in Western nations.One cannot solve just some of these problems because they are interrelated. "[O]neproblem exacerbates another or makes its solution more difficult. For example, humanpopulation growth affects all 11 other problems more people means more deforestation,more toxic chemicals, more demand for wild fish, etc." Energy leads the list"The energy problem is linked to other problems because use of fossil fuels for energycontributes heavily to greenhouse gases, the combating of soil fertility losses by usingsynthetic fertilizers requires energy to make the fertilizers, fossil fuel scarcity increases ourinterest in nuclear energy which poses potentially the biggest ‘toxic problem of all in caseof an accident, and fossil fuel scarcity also makes it more expensive to solve our freshwaterproblems by using energy to desalinize ocean water."Collapse spends many pages analyzing why problems are not addressed despite the factthat, left unsolved, they have lethal consequences for societies that ignore them. Theunfortunate truth is that many problems reveal their impact so imperceptibly that it isdifficult to generate public support for fixes in the early stages, when remedial actionwould be less complex, disruptive and costly. The old adage, ‘an ounce of prevention isworth a pound of cure, is difficult to apply when the public focus is short-term gain ratherthan long-term survival.The Tragedy of the Commons
In a very real sense the worlds oceans, atmosphere and other resources are worldwide"commons" like those Garrett Hardin discussed in his 1968 essay, "The Tragedy of theCommons." Absent a high level of moral restraint, "immoral and short-sighted people willinvariably act in ways that serve their own self-interest but that inflict great harm on many 14others." Even the politically correct Diamond concedes that the requisite behavior is morelikely in homogeneous societies ". . .throughout human history, in all politically complexhuman societies in which people encounter other individuals with whom they have no tiesof family or clan relationship, government regulation has arisen precisely because it wasfound to be necessary for the enforcement of moral principles."Diamond posits three approaches to solving this problem: top down imposition ofenvironmental controls, privatization of resources, and recognition of a common interest.The first two solutions are fraught with peril. Top down control at a global level evokesfears of an all-powerful global government, a possibility that is anathema to manyAmericans “and for good reason. The Roman historian, Tacitus, called lust for power "themost flagrant of all passions." Lord Acton wrote, "Power corrupts, and absolute powercorrupts absolutely." Diamond sees the danger. "A further conflict arises . . . when theinterests of the decision-making elite in power clash with the interests of the rest of society.Especially if the elite can insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions, theyare likely to do things that profit themselves regardless of whether those actions hurteveryone else."As to privatization on a global scale, large resource reserves surely require large privateentities to manage them. Given the propensity of businesses to act out of greed rather thancommunity interest this solution hardly seems workable. Immoral behavior providesimmense benefit to the few engaged in it but spreads out the cost over the entirepopulation. Each individual gains only a little from cessation of the exploitive behavior. As aresult, far too many corporate moguls "advance their own interests through bonuses andhigh salaries, by making messes and leaving the burden to society." This leaves only onealternative “and not the one, we suspect, the politically correct Diamond intended.
"The remaining solution to the tragedy of the commons is for the consumers to recognizetheir common interests and to design, obey, and enforce prudent harvesting quotasthemselves. This is likely to happen only if a whole series of conditions is met theconsumers form a homogeneous group; they have learned to trust and communicate with 15each other; they expect to share a common future and to pass on the resources to theirheirs; they are capable of and permitted to organize and police themselves; and theboundaries of the resource and its pool of consumers are well defined." [Emphasis added]The Role of Core ValuesSomething must change. "Our world society is presently on a non-sustainable course, andany of our 12 problems of non-sustainability that we have just summarized would suffice tolimit our lifestyle within the next several decades. They are like time bombs with fuses ofless than 50 years." He adds "If we dont make a determined effort to solve them, and if wedont succeed at that effort, the world as a whole within the next few decades will face adeclining standard of living or perhaps something worse." Perhaps the most chillingthought of all is how swift the end may come. "[M]maximum population, wealth, resourceconsumption, and waste production mean maximum environmental impact. . ." Given this,"a societys steep decline may begin only a decade or two after the society reaches its peaknumbers."Diamond believes that solution is difficult but not impossible. "One basis for hope is that,realistically, we are not beset by insoluble problems. While we do face big risks, the mostserious ones are not ones beyond our control, like a possible collision with an asteroid of asize that hits Earth every hundred million years or so." Two factors appear paramount"long-term planning, and willingness to reexamine core values." Regarding the former,"One of those choices has depended on the courage to practice long-term thinking and tomake bold, courageous anticipatory decisions at a time when problems have becomeperceptible but before they have reached crisis proportions." Politicians, take note.Perhaps even more important is the role of core values. Diamond is on the mark when hesays, "irrational behavior often arises when each of us individually is torn by clashes of
values we may ignore a bad status quo because it is favored by some deeply held values towhich we cling." [Emphasis added] Changing such a mindset is difficult; core values tend tooperate at a level below conscious thought. "Perhaps a crux of success or failure as a societyis to know which core values to hold on to, and which ones to discard and replace with new 16values, when times change." Nor will wealth and power provide relief. The lessons of "Mayakings, Greenland Norse chieftains, and Easter Island chiefs" is that "in the long run, suchpeople do not secure their own interests and those of their children if they rule over acollapsing society and merely buy themselves the privilege of being the last to starve ordie."Ignoring the ObviousWhat does the future hold? "[B]ecause we are rapidly advancing along this non-sustainablecourse, the worlds environmental problems will get resolved, in one way or another,within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today. The only question iswhether they will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choice, or in unpleasantways not of our choice, such as warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics, andcollapses of societies." Does this mean a swift descent into anarchy, violence and evencannibalism as those who remain fight for the last scrap of food, the last tree, the last barrelof oil, the last acre of land unpolluted by toxic waste? Or will the dénouement be a long,slow decline as, one by one, resources become exhausted, civilized comforts fade, andpollution strangles living space over the course of tens or hundreds of years? Do we wish todo nothing and have the answer forced on us?In many respects, the West is in a unique position. Sustainability as a moral issue centershere. China and Japan are instructive. China has begun to clean up its act, but only for itsown survival; it shows little concern for those downwind and downstream. Japan sustainsits own environment by over-consuming Third World resources and the commons (e.g.timber, fish, energy). Conversely, the West (which is certainly not without flaws) has boththe industry to devise broad solutions and the moral will to proselytize them on aworldwide scale. This is not, as Diamond implies in Guns, Germs, and Steel, because
European germs devour Aztec germs; it is because the West possesses foresight, industryand an inclusive altruism to a degree not found in any other people.If the problems Collapse highlights are to be solved the West must endure intact. Yet, theWest courts ruin via Third World immigration. Diamond is no help; he labels the vast 17migration now underway "unstoppable" and the contributions of these tens of millions"vital to the economy." (Wait a minute; isnt our voracious economy part of the problem?)Democratic forms ensure that once non-Westerners gain majority status their behaviorpatterns will dominate and Western concerns disappear. To survive, the West must discardthe suicidal "core value" that impels it to open the floodgates to the "wretched refuse of theteeming world."Diamond ignores his own advice, that problems are more likely to be solved inhomogeneous societies. And for what “to curry favor with the commissars of politicalcorrectness? Scarcity dooms cultural Marxism, and its apostles with it. When the lights goout ethnic cleavage will rule the night, each group seeking to secure the residue for itselfrather than joining to forestall the tragedy of the last and greatest of all commons “‘thegreat globe it. Collapse is a masterful exposition of the problems we face, and JaredDiamond is to be praised for his articulate and comprehensive treatment. However, he hasleft out a vital part of the solution “survival of the group whose skill and will are vital tosafeguarding our future.