This excerpt is called “A Tale of Two Farms”, but it is more about the fall of societies and why it has happened in the past, and is it coming for us. We first look at a modern farm, with state-of-the-art technologies and a farm from Greenland that was state-of-the-art at the time of its existence, before the Norse society’s eventual fall 500 years ago. Diamond wasn’t trying to say specifically that our society will fail, but from visiting these farms, but he concluded that even the richest, technologically advanced societies today face growing environmental and economic problems that can potentially pose a problem in later years, and maybe not too far ahead. Many of our problems are similar to this and other failed societies, such as population growth, environmental pressures, unsustainable living, wars, and disease.
He asks a series of huge questions that our society really needs to think about, “Does it stand to reason that today’s human population of almost seven billion, with our potent modern technology, is causing our environment to crumble globally at a much more rapid rate than a mere few million people with stone and wooden tools already made it crumble in the past? Will modern technology solve our problems, or is it creating new problems faster than it solves old ones? When we deplete one resource (e.g., wood, oil, or ocean fish), can we count on being able to substitute some new resources (e.g., plastics, wind and solar energy, or farmed fish)? Isn’t the rate of human population growth declining, such as we’re already on course for the world’s population to level off at some manageable number of people?” I think these are some very important questions to think about because what we are doing now will affect our future children one way or another. Either they will have clean food, water, and air or they won’t. Either they will have land and resources to live on, or they won’t. The answers to these questions must be thought out now while there may be still time to.
This is a time where we can actually use something from the past as an example to help us today. If the questions he asked have answers that we can determine, since we know what societies fell and which ones didn’t, so why did they not see what they were headed for? Is it our modern technology and sciences that allow us to see what so many people were blind to in the past? These people weren’t stupid people, and in fact made many contributions to our modern society, but there must have been something lacking. Maybe it is simply our much greater numbers now that has a contribution to our issues and insights? Or is it maybe our tendency to blame others for all of the problems rather than take some of that blame on ourselves? Environmental problems from the past had to have been more difficult to deal with than in the present. With all of our technology, we can see ozone depletions, by-catch numbers, future projections of so many issues, but none of this is fully being utilized in planning for the future.
Not all of the contributing factors are brought on by us directly either. Climate change has occurred since the Earth was born. The sun’s heat emissions change, volcanoes erupt, axis changes occur, and tectonic plates move in the ocean releasing gases into the atmosphere. The way a society responds to man-made and natural issues that threaten our existence is what will make or break us. Diamond says that “A society’s responses depend on its political, economic, and social institutions and on its cultural values. Those institutions and values affect whether the society solves (or even tries to solve) its problems”. I totally agree with this statement. The example he uses is the way New Guinea, Japan, Tikopia, and Tonga developed better habits when threatened with deforestation while Easter Island, Mangareva, and Norse Greenland didn’t, and collapsed as a result. These societies were obvious very different in location, economy, and values so there is little wonder why some failed while others survived. Mostly, it’s all conjecture, because we weren’t there to directly observe these collapses, but by comparing what we know with other societies, some conclusions can be drawn. Regardless, we need to really think about what is happening in our country and around the world or one day there will be little left to survive on in all respects. If resources continue to be used up the way they are, our society could likely collapse as many have in the past. It’s a bleak future if we don’t begin to really fix our problems now.