Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why Societies Collapse? - Jared Diamond

For Christmas in 2005 Santa struck the jackpot and left a great book on Christmas morning. This book was 'Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive', by Jared Diamond. He also wrote 'Guns, Germs and Steel' which can also be found as a three part documentary that first aired in 2005.

So, I got stuck into the book, reading the Prologue: 'A Tale of Two Farms' and then jumping straight to Chapter 13 - 'Mining' Australia'. To this day I still have not read the entire book, but have used it as a great reference in my senior Geography classes. Some of the text and video available is particularly useful when looking at sustainability and biodiversity, as well as introducing any form of environmental studies. One reason that the book is great is that Diamond is quite controversial in his opinions on the role of environmental degradation in the collapse of society. Upon receiving and reading the book Dad (a farmer and climate change sceptic) and I would argue well into the night over a cup of tea about Diamond's theories and examples.

He analyses past and present societies according to a five-point framework. This five-point framework includes:
1. Damage that people inadvertently inflict on the environment
2. Climate change
3. Hostile neighbours
4. Decreased support of friendly neighbours
5. How does a society respond to these problems?

Trawling through the TED website yesterday, I found the 2005 talk by Diamond, outlining his beliefs in the collapses of differing societies. His talk is a little complex, however it refers to so many different examples and would be useful to introduce development or a case study on countries such as Zimbabwe. The other great thing about TED is that you can read the comments of others in the blog. These comments make great questions that you can challenge your students with following the viewing of the vodcast.

Diamonds article 'What's Your Consumption Factor?', appearing in the New York Times on January 2nd, 2008, is also a very good article to use with your class. Happy viewing!

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