Digging Deeper, UFPPC’s (www.ufppc.org) Book Discussion Series @ Mandolin Café (Tacoma, WA)May 9, 2005, 7:00 p.m.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
(New York:Viking, 2004).
Prologue: A Tale of Two Farms.
Huls Farm,Montana, and Gardar Farm, SW Greenland: similarities(1-3). Collapse: “A drastic decline in human populationsize and/or political/economic/social complexity, over aconsiderable area, for an extended time” (3). Map (4-5). Eight causes of “ecological suicide ― ecocide” ―“deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems(erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), watermanagement problems, overhunting, overfishing,effects of introduced species on native species, humanpopulation growth, and increased per capital impact of people” (6). Typically, societies collapse rapidly (6-7).Four new threats: “human-caused climate change,buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energyshortages, and full human utilization of the Earth’sphotosynthetic capacity” (7). Most of the 12 threatsare predicted to become “globally critical” “within thenext few decades” (7). Perhaps the past containslessons (7-8). Controversy of responsibility of nativepeoples for past ecocides dismissed: “they werepeople like us” (8-10). Five factors in collapse:environmental change (11); climate change (oftencombining with environmental change) (12-13); hostileneighbors (13-14); decreased support from friendlyneighbors (14); a society’s own institutional response(14-15). “A full title for this book would be ‘societalcollapses involving an environmental component, andin some cases also contributions of climate change,hostile neighbors, and trade partners, plus questions of societal responses’” (15). Claims “middle-of-the-roadperspective, with experience of both environmentalproblems and of business realities” (15-17). Scientificapproach: the comparative method (17-19). Plan of book (19-23).
PART ONE: MODERN MONTANACh. 1: Under Montana’s Big Sky.
Montana’sattractive beauty (27-30). Ravalli County (30).Advantages as a case: less abstract; exemplaryenvironmental problems (32-33). History of Montana’shuman occupation, and its economic basis (33-35). Toxic byproducts of mining (35-41). Logging & forestryproblems (41-47). Soil: nitrogen depletion, erosion,and saline seeps (47-49). Water problems (49-53). Airproblems (53). Problems from the introduction of non-native species of animals and plants (53-56).Polarization of community (56-62). Low spending oneducation; children leave Montana (62-63). Anti-government attitude prevents government action topreserve Montana’s attractions (63-65). Four individualstories: Rick Laible, state senator (66-68); ChipPigman, developer (68-70); Tim Huls, dairy farmer (70-72); John Cook, fishing guide (72-73). Montana’sdependence on income from outside (74). The value of the case of Montana as exemplar (74-75).
PART TWO: PAST SOCIETIESCh. 2: Twilight at Easter.
Easter Island “the mostremote habitable scrap of land in the world” (79).Rano Raraku quarry (79-80). Early speculations, after1722 contact (80-82). Easter Island’s geography &climate (83, 86). Prehistoric Polynesian settlementbeginning c. 1200 BC (86-87). Easter Island probablysettled shortly before 900 AD (87-90). Diamond sideswith higher population estimates (15,000 or more) (90-91). Evidence for intensification of agriculture includesrock gardens and lithic mulch agriculture (91-93).Easter Island stratified, divided radially into 11 or 12clans, and religiously & economically integrated (93-95).
(stone platforms and their
[giant stonestatues]) (95-99). Diamond endorses “canoe ladder”hypothesis for transporting statues, which were thenlevered vertical (99-101). Van Tilburg’s estimated
added 25% to island population’s foodrequirements over 300 years (102). Extremedeforestation: “the whole forest gone, and all of itstree species extinct” (102-07). Self-destruction of Easter Island society (107-11). Subsequent near-eradication of Easter Islanders following contact withEuropeans (111-12). Alternative explanations otherthan ecocide unpersuasive (113-14). Analysis of factors for deforestation shows Easter Island was “oneof the most fragile environments, at the highest risk fordeforestation, of any Pacific people” (115-18). Onlytwo factors involved in Easter Island collapse:environmental impacts, and social impacts (118-19).Easter Island “a metaphor, a worst-case scenario, forwhat may lie ahead of us in our own future” (119).
Ch. 3: The Last People Alive: Pitcairn andHenderson Islands.
Mangareva, Pitcairn, andHenderson Islands: relative advantages anddrawbacks for habitation (120-26). Evidence of tradenetwork established by Marshall Weiser, U. of Otago(NZ) (127-31). Trade occurred from 1000 to 1450, butstopped by 1500; Henderson Island & Pitcairn Islandgradually died out (131-35).
Ch. 4: The Ancient Ones: The Anasazi and TheirNeighbors.
Collapse of Anasazi & related cultures,1130-c. late 15
c., due to interrelated factors (136-37). Dendrochronology (138-39). Three types of agriculture, four strategies of application (139-43).Chaco Canyon (143). Water management issues (144-45). Packrat middens reveal deforestation after AD1000 (145-47). Chaco Canyon becomes a mini-imperial metropolis (147-50). “Explosion of environmental and population problems in the form of civil unrest and warfare . . . a frequent theme of thisbook” leads Anasazi (‘the Ancient Ones’)  to ruin(151-54). All factors of collapse [11-15] involved,except external enemies; ultimate cause of collapseenvironmental; proximate cause climatic (154-56).
Ch. 5: The Maya Collapses.
Romantic appeal sincerediscovery in 1839 by John Stephens (157-58).Relevance of Mayan collapse to this study (158-60).