Collapse: Third World and Norse Greenlanders

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China approaching the turning point
Anant Seksaria
Professor Paul Schmitz
Paper no. 1
8th February 2013
In the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond throws light on the many reasons why ancient societies have been unable to survive: environmental issues, the wide disparity between resources required and the resources available and the making of incorrect decisions in terms of the utilization of resources and their opportunity cost. This is a result of its ongoing desire to achieve globalization and ‘its goal of achieving First World living standards.’ In this paper, the relevance of the isolated ‘’fallen societies’’ (Easter Island and Norse Greenland) will be explained in relation to my argument of how they are used as metaphors by Diamond in order to explain the imminent future of China and how it’s desire to see itself experience the same level of economic and social progress as a first world country is paving the way for its decline, as suggested by the title. In explaining the current scenario of China, Jared focuses on emphasizing the rapid increase of the production and consumption of various resources there: ‘It has the world’s highest production rate of steel, cement, aqua cultured food….the top in production of production of electricity and (soon) motor vehicles, and in consumption of timber;’. However, these increases have been characterized as potentially unsustainable and having harmful environmental effects:’...75% of Chinese lakes, and almost all coastal seas, are polluted…Only 20% of domestic waste water is treated, as compared to 80% in the First World.’. This depleting of resources in order to accelerate itself forward on the race to becoming a superpower can be compared to the actions of the Easter Islander chiefs who would try to prove their superiority over another chief/tribe in the form of the size of a statue erected, called ‘’moai’’, that stood on a stone platform called ‘’ahu’’. The building of these statues required immense resources in terms of the amount of additional food required by the carvers, thick long ropes, ‘and also lots of big strong trees to obtain all the timber needed for the sleds, canoe ladders, and levers.’. The use of timber from trees for such wasteful purposes helped in turning this ‘subtropical forest of tall trees and woody bushes’ into ‘the most nearly treeless island in all of Polynesia.’, which ultimately led to their eventual demise. The lack of trees resulted in their inability to build seagoing canoes. Therefore, they had no means to go fishing and catch fish, which previously accounted for a major portion of their diet. This also impacted their ability to stay warm during the winter as they no longer had wood to burn for fire. This depicts the foolish use of resources by the Easter Islanders and how this had an adverse effect on their survival and resulted in their eventual decline. Similarly, China’s inability to see the long term impact of its desire to become a first world country might be able to ensure them this prestige but will not bring along with it the resources to cope up with that coveted growth. Through this, Diamond presents the issue of sustainability and emphasizes the uselessness of trying to achieve the living standards attained by people living in first world countries when the survival of that society is being threatened by those very actions that are intended to make it appear better. A significant contributor of China’s pollution and severe economic damage (and those of other countries) is in the form of the imports and exports: ‘..others have hurt it by transferring pollution-intensive industries (PIIs), including technologies now illegal in the country of origin.’ On the other hand, China has exported ‘the three best pests that have wiped out numerous North American tree populations- the chestnut blight, the misnamed ‘’Dutch’’ elm disease, and the Asian long horned beetle.’ Besides exchanging...
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