July 19, 2005

Required Reading

Jared Diamond's talk about his book, Collapse, was the subject of a post on O'Reilly Radar today (via Brad DeLong).

Diamond reported that his students at UCLA tried to imagine how the guy who cut down the LAST tree in 1680 justified his actions. What did he say? Their candidate quotes: "Fear not. Our advancing technology will solve this problem." "This is MY tree, MY property! I can do what I want with it." "Your environmentalist concerns are exaggerated. We need more research." "Just have faith. God will provide."

The question everyone asks, Diamond said, is, How can people be so dumb? It's a crucial question, with a complex answer. He said that sometimes it's a failure to perceive a problem, especially if it comes on very slowly, like climate change. Often it's a matter of conflicting interests with no resolution at a higher level than the interests--- warring clans, greedy industries. Or there may be a failure to examine and understand the past.

Overall, it's a failure to think long term. That itself has many causes. One common one is that elites become insulated from the consequences of their actions. Thus the Mayan kings could ignore the soil erosion that was destroying their crops. Thus the American wealthy these days can enjoy private security, private education, and private retirement money. Thus America itself can act like a gated community in relation to the rest of the world, imagining that events in remote Somalia or Afghanistan have nothing to do with us. Isolation, Diamond declared, is never a solution to long-term problems.

So what do successful societies do that others do not that allow them to think of the long term?

And here's a belated link to How to Save The World's review of Diamond's latest work. Lots of food for thought in both posts.

Posted by Mary at July 19, 2005 01:00 AM | Environment | Technorati links |
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