Jared Diamond on the End of the World: Is PNG the Only Country that can Survive?
Jared Diamond is no doom-and-gloomer; he’s a Pulitzer Prize winning author of thoughtful, carefully researched books about the rise and fall of societies. Diamond is best known for Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, both of which are among my top-recommended books of all time.
When you read these books, you’ll quickly realize that Diamond is perhaps the world’s top expert on what might be called the “holistic, interdependent nature of complex societies“. Rather than limiting his perspective to immediate, short-term actions and consequences (as most national leaders and corporations do), Diamond intelligently examines the long-term, interdependent factors that lead to any society’s success or failure.
I’ve personally read both of Diamond’s books mentioned above, and they have strongly influenced my own views about the future (or lack thereof) of western civilization. What Diamond and I both agree on is that complex civilizations are quite fragile, and short-terming thinking can easily doom a society or civilization to irreversible collapse. (Another interesting book to read on this subject, although it’s quite technical and a bit older, is The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter.)
Collapse can come from many vectors. Many collapses are environmental, such as the collapse of the Anasazi Indians in North America or the collapse of the Tiwanaku in South America (Click here for more).
Other causes of collapse include man-made accelerations of environmental change; the classic example being the rampant deforestation of Easter Island by its inhabitants (Click here for more).
It is the Easter Island example that perhaps most closely resembles the short-sightedness of modern western civilization. At the expense of future generations, today’s CEOs, bankers and politicians are destroying our future in so many ways (financial, chemical, environmental, plundering of fossil fuels, etc.) that it is a challenge to imagine a scenario where western civilization even survives in its current form. Jared Diamond, in fact, has publicly declared he sees only a 51 percent chance of western civilization surviving.
Peak Oil and Other Threats to Human Civilization
This is no casual number-tossing game from a newbie. Jared Diamond has studied the success and failure of world societies more closely than anyone living today. He describes himself as “cautiously optimistic” but worries that the outlandish financial decisions being made by the world’s leaders have put us all in a precarious position from which western civilization may not emerge intact.
In my own view, the financial challenges facing our world are, indeed, quite severe. And they may yet bring down the entire global banking system. But in the medium term, I see Peak Oil as being the far greater threat to the continuation of human civilization as we know it. Cheap, plentiful fossil fuels discovered in the last hundred years (or so) spurred a food bubble, which led to a population bubble. Cheap oil, in other words, created the temporary conditions necessary to support a runaway population explosion that is, without question, unsustainable without cheap energy.
But cheap oil is finite. And based on all reasonable accounting, world oil production is already in a state of substantial decline. That means oil will become increasingly scarce and expensive with each passing year, precisely as the world’s hunger for oil reaches unprecedented heights (cars in China, India, etc.).
When the era of cheap oil ends, the food bubble made possible by mechanized agriculture will also end. And that will usher in an era of rapid human depopulation. Long-term, in a post-Peak Oil scenario, most experts expect the planet to only be able to support about one billion people.
Massive Depopulation of the Human Species
The current population on the planet is about 6.7 billion people. That means we are likely to see a die-off of about 5.7 billion people, or roughly 6 out of every 7 people.
A loss of 6 out of 7 people — even in the long run — means a great de-specialization of complex societies and a return to a far more agrarian society. There is only ONE nation on Earth that has the experience and culture to handle this transition without much loss of life, and that’s Papua New Guinea. Many nations like Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Bolivia and certain Pacific Island nations may also fare well, given that gardening is still a way of life that’s taught there (and their climates are especially conducive to easy food production).
For everybody else, the transition will be quite devastating.
The loss of population density and specialization means a collapse of technology multipliers such as mechanized agriculture, just-in-time manufacturing systems and complex industrial logistics that manufacture and deliver products quickly and cheaply. The long, complex supply lines that characterize modern society will collapse, becoming local. For example, right now fish caught in Canada are shipped to China to be filleted by low-cost laborers, then they are shipped back to Canada to be sold as fish fillets. Such outrageous examples of the wasteful use of energy (and long supply lines) will vanish almost overnight in a post-Peak Oil scenario.
Unless some cheap energy supply is quickly discovered that can magically replace oil, virtually all food will eventually become local, which means that anyone living in a region that cannot produce its own food will either starve or leave. Las Vegas, Phoenix and virtually the entire American Southwest will be mostly abandoned by humans. You can expect a mass exodus of people from virtually all cities. Los Angeles would likely become a gang-infested war zone that resembles Somalia more than America.
Those who master the skills of agriculture (and who can protect themselves from the desperate masses leaving the cities) will live and reproduce. Those who deny reality and hope for some government to save them with silly economic stimulus bills will starve and die. It is the ultimate application of Darwinian Natural Selection, on a grand and merciless scale.
In the end, about 1 out of 7 people will remain. They will be the healthy, resourceful people who are willing to work in order to survive. The masses of medicated, junk-food-eating, entitlement-minded citizens of western nations who insist someone else should save them will be removed from the human gene pool through natural processes.
Deniers who foolishly think oil will never run out, or that the global banking system can be saved by printing free money from nothing, or that western civilization will last forever will also be removed from the human gene pool.
Can it Be Prevented?
A dire scenario? No more dire than all the previous civilization collapses that have occurred on our planet. The history of human life on Earth is full of arrogant, short-sighted societies that believed they would last forever. Arrogance quickly crumbles into dust in the face of ecological reality (or perhaps in this case, economic reality).
Of course, all of this could be prevented if the leaders of modern nations had any real intelligence (defined as having long-term vision and understanding the future implications of present-day decisions). Human life CAN be sustainable on our planet, but only if the people are willing to elect leaders who make decisions today that protect the future instead of selling it out. Such decisions, however, are never popular with the short-sighted people living today.
Sadly, there is hardly a single example of a future-minded politician in America today. Rep. Dennis Kucinich may be one of the rare ones on ecological issues, and Rep. Ron Paul is of course right-minded on financial issues. I cannot think of another elected representative (nor any Senator) that has any real long-term view of a sustainable society.
Nor do most people think beyond their own paychecks and immediate circumstances. How many people are actually taking great steps to reduce their ecological footprint? How many are investing in nutrition and superfoods for healthy babies? How many are truly growing their own food and solving the problems of seed saving, irrigation, food storage and soil erosion?
Remarkably few. Most people in society today live in artificial worlds defined by indoor lighting, air conditioning, processed foods, chemical medicines, artificial wood furniture, television programming and online social networking.
None of these have anything to do with reality.
Reality is the soil, the rivers, the air, sunlight, plants and seeds. It is found in the animals, microbes, forests and aquatic ecosystems. Reality cannot be negotiated with, nor bargained with, nor put off. Reality is shaped by our decisions and actions, and what we see unfolding in the world right now — global warming, chemical contamination, depletion of fossil fuels — is merely a reflection of the destructive actions being mindlessly taken by people living today.
It is often said that in a Democracy, people get the government they deserve.
On a large scale, this related thought is also true: On our planet, the people get the results they create!
And it is this choice that Jared Diamond so graciously reminds us to consider. We have a choice to decide our collective future. Today’s decisions create tomorrow’s results.
There is absolutely no question that the decisions being made right now across the nations of western civilization will create a future world with a greatly reduced capacity for human population. If that is what modern people wish to create, they are right on track with it.
But if modern people want to create a different outcome — a sustainable world that future generations might enjoy without a population collapse and all the suffering that goes with it — serious changes in behavior are immediately needed in many areas: Economic, ecological, cultural, medicine, agriculture and more.
Do not be led to believe that modern civilization is anything more than an erratic blip of temporary insanity on the chart of human history.
This article was republished from Natural News.