Collapse of Societies: From Easter Island to Iraq - to Western World?
by Linda Moulton Howe
This article includes an interview with anthropologist Jared Diamond about his new book:
here is an excerpt of Linda Moulton Howe's article:
Economists Are Worried About Collapse
HAVE YOU TALKED OFF THE RECORD WITH SOMEBODY WHO IS DEALING AT THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC LEVEL. I'M THINKING OF PAUL VOELKER. [Chairman of the U. S. Federal Reserve during the Jimmy Carter Administration, 1976-1980.) HE RECENTLY WROTE AN ARTICLE HAVING TO DO WITH HIS FEAR THAT THE DOLLAR COULD START GOING INTO A FREE FALL COLLAPSE WITHIN FIVE YEARS OF 2005, WHICH WOULD BE BY 2010. IT HAS TO DO WITH A SHIFT IN GLOBAL ECONOMIES TO THE EURO AND OTHER CURRENCIES AND ISSUES AROUND PETROLEUM. HAVE YOU TALKED WITH ANYONE ABOUT THAT?
Yes. I have not talked with Paul Voelker, but with other economists. I have had discussions with the famous economist, Jeffrey Sachs, at Columbia University. His point of view is very similar to mine. He regards as the biggest economic problem in the world today the nexus between public health problems and environmental problems and population problems. He has been going around the world advising countries about how to improve their economies, but also talking to First World countries about the importance of solving these problems.
Another person I've talked to is a (Bush Administration) cabinet minister who I cannot name, but a cabinet minister of the current administration. This cabinet minister has a point of view that is very different from that of our president. This cabinet minister read my book, Guns, Germs and Steel and read my book, Collapse, and is convinced of the seriousness of these problems.
POTENTIALLY WE COULD BE FACING A TOTAL COLLAPSE OF WORLD ECONOMIES?
That's the worst case scenario. The best case scenario is that potentially we could be facing getting a grip on our problems and solving them in a way that the United States has made big progress in dealing with our problems of air and water pollution, within the last 30 years. Air and water quality are much better now, even though we've got far more people and far more cars. That's something that gives one optimism.
COULD THE ULTIMATE TRIGGER POINT FOR GLOBAL COLLAPSE OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING BE OUR UNDERESTIMATING THE IMPACT THAT GLOBAL WARMING AND CHANGING CLIMATE IS GOING TO HAVE ON EVERYTHING FROM FOOD PRODUCTION TO SHORELINES?
That's one of the many possible trigger points. I think there are other trigger points that will come earlier than global warming, such as the collapses of half a dozen more countries. Or such as water wars, or such as the depletion of the world's remaining significant fisheries on which most people in the Third World depend for their protein.
Can Other Collapsing Nations Drag U.S.
and Europe Down With Them?
WHAT COULD THE FIRST WORLD DO IF THERE WERE HALF A DOZEN MORE THIRD WORLD COUNTRY BLOW UPS?
Not very much. We couldn't afford the money. We don't have the troops. The American army is not big enough. I think we've committed about one-third of our troops to Iraq and therefore, if six more countries blow up, that requires double the number of troops that we've got. Six more countries blowing up the world can't cope with it.
AND WHAT HAPPENS?
What happens, it's a big mess! More than what we've got now. More immigrants. If six countries collapse, instead of one or two, we've got far more immigrants swamping our ability to deal with them. Bigger epidemics of emerging diseases and bigger economic problems. The worst case scenario is that it would be a collapse similar to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, or similar to the collapse of Easter Island, or similar to the collapse of Haiti. A worse case scenario is that all the world gets to be like Haiti and Somalia. Somalia ripples out until much of Africa and Asia and then Europe is in a condition like Somalia. That's the worst case scenario.
But whenever one says something pessimistic about that, let's reverse and say: it could go either way. It could be that the rest of the world is going to end up like Scandinavia or The Netherlands or Bhutan or Australia getting a grip on their environmental problems.
ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC OR PESSIMISTIC ABOUT THIS COUNTRY'S FUTURE?
The phrase I use is 'cautiously optimistic.' By that, I mean on the one hand, we do have serious problems. And if the serious problems went on as they are going now, then we are going to be in deep trouble within the next several decades.
On the other hand, the problems are all ones we are causing and we are perfectly capable of solving them. We don't need new technology. We could solve them if we chose to solve them. That's what makes me cautiously optimistic neither pessimistic nor straight out optimistic, but I would say, cautiously optimistic. We could solve our problems if we chose to do so. Whether we will, I can't predict."
(Prof. Diamond's last words in his book are:)
" My remaining cause for hope is another consequence of the globalized modern world's interconnectedness. Past societies lacked archaeologists and television. While the Easter Islanders were busy deforesting the highlands of their overpopulated island for agricultural plantations in the 1400s, they had no way of knowing that thousands of miles to the east and west at the same time, Greenland Norse society and the Khmer Empire were simultaneously in terminal decline, while the Anasazi had collapsed a few centuries earlier, Classic Maya society a few more centuries before that, and Mycenean Greece 2,000 years before that. Today, though, we turn on our television sets or radios or pick up our newspapers, and we see, hear, or read about what happened in Somalia or Afghanistan a few hours earlier. Our television documentaries and books show us in graphic detail why the Easter Islanders, Classic Maya, and other past societies collapsed. Thus, we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of distant peoples and past peoples. That's an opportunity that no past society enjoyed to such a degree. My hope in writing this book has been that enough people will choose to profit from that opportunity to make a difference."
Please read the whole article.