good ways or bad, population problem will end, Pulitzer-winning
CIVILIZATIONS: Jared Diamond speaks to a group
of USU students Friday morning in the TSC. / Photo
by Julie Garcia
By G. Christopher Terry
March 31, 2006 | Famed author and intellectual Jared
Diamond said the problem of overpopulation will be solved
either through pleasant ways of our choosing, or by
unpleasant ways not of our choosing.
Thursday night in the Kent Concert Hall, the leprechaun-like
Diamond eschewed the podium during a brief talk before
a packed house, pacing back and forth and speaking in
casual, conversational tones.
"The big question is why some civilizations are successful
over time while others fail?" Diamond asked before offering
several examples of societies that collapsed.
Diamond said the Anasazi lived in small cities with
six-story skyscrapers, the tallest structures in North
America until the invention of the steel girder, off
a corn-based agriculture in the modern Four Corners
area, where no one farms corn today. In A.D. 1118 they
stopped construction on their towers and abandoned them.
A Norwegian colony on Greenland lasted for 450 years
-- longer, Diamond said, than European civilization
has been in North America -- before ultimately collapsing.
"I chose the subject of collapse because it is the
single most vital, engaging and fascinating subject
I could think of," Diamond said.
The best metaphor Diamond said he discovered for the
planet Earth was the civilization of Easter Island,
which is isolated in the Pacific Ocean much as Earth
is isolated in the universe. The Easter Islanders depended
on their subtropical forest to provide many resources,
including wooden rollers and rope to erect their famous
idols and dugout canoes to voyage forth into the ocean
hunting for tuna and dolphin.
When the last tree was cut and they were unable to
hunt for sea-creatures, sometime around A.D. 1680, Diamond
said, the island kingdom's people began slaughtering
and devouring one another. They knocked down their mighty
stone statues and vanished from history.
"The best way I know of to offend an Easter Islander
is to say, 'The flesh of your mother sticks between
my teeth,'" Diamond said.
A five-point checklist can determine whether a civilization
is heading for collapse, according to Diamond. The first
criteria he said he looks for is human-environmental
impact, such as overexploitation of resources.
Second is climate change. Diamond said that while
the Earth is warming due to human activity at such a
rate that by the year 2020 Glacier National Park in
Montana will become glacier-less, the climate has changed
for other reasons in the past and civilizations like
the Anasazi were unable to cope.
Third, Diamond said, is the presence of outside enemies
who either destroy the civilization themselves or simply
compound internal problems, causing collapse to take
Fourth is the presence or lack of friendly allies,
and finally Diamond said how a civilization responds
to crisis is the fifth item on his checklist.
"Environmental problems are very expensive to solve
if you wait until they blow up, but they can be relatively
cheap if you anticipate them and act before it is a
catastrophe," Diamond said. This lesson, Diamond said,
was "rubbed in our faces" during the recent calamity
on the gulf coast.
"In the case of New Orleans, we saved ourselves $300
million by not repairing the levies and cost ourselves
$300 billion in the long haul."
The much-decorated geography professor from UCLA concluded
his appearance with a book signing in the foyer of the