I completed reading Jared Diamond's Collapse: How societies chose to fail or succeed last year. Here are some of my notes from the book.

*Note - these may not be identical quotes from the book, but shortened sentences skipping some portions.

Five primary reasons listed by him for Societal Collapse -
  1. Environmental degradation
  2. Climate Change
  3. Hostile Neighbors
  4. Friendly Trade Partners
  5. Societal response to collapse to prevent collapse

Failure of group decision making is cited as a critical factor leading to collapse. The failure happens because of -
  1. Failure to anticipate
  2. Failure to perceive a problem which has arrived
  3. Attempt to solve fails
  4. Irrational behavior - Sunk cost effect
"The crux of success or failure as a society is to know which core values to hold on to and which ones to discard and replace with new values when times change."

He goes on to cite the basis of modern societies - Extracting natural resources - both renewable and non-renewable.
"We are committed to extraction, but where, what amounts and what means are important"
Primarily he discusses Oil, Hard metal mining, Timber and Fishes.

Environmental Problems
He lays out a dozen groups of environmental problems
  1. Natural resources destroyed or losing
  2. Wild Food
  3. Biological Diversity
  4. Soil of Farm lands
  5. Toxic Chemicals
  6. Alien species
  7. Atmospheric Gasses
  8. Increasing World Population
  9. Human Impact - Rise in living standards
Ceiling (not enough or soft ceilings)
  1. Energy
  2. Fresh Water
  3. Photosynthetic Capacity
"Single most important problem is to single out single most important problem. Because if we solve 11 of the above 12, it's not enough. He says that these questions will be resolved, the question is whether they get resolved amicably (pleasant) or unpleasant - Warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics and collapses of societies."

He presents some common one-line myths.
  1. The environment has to be balanced against the economy

  2. Technology will solve our problems - This assumption that technology succeeds soon, but doesn't create new problems. Technological solutions to environmental problems are routinely far more expensive than preventative measures. Essentially - Advances in technology just increases our ability to do things, which may be either for the better or for the worse. Most problems are unintended negative consequences of existent technologies. The rapid advances in technology in the 20th century has been creating more difficult new problems than it is solving old problems.

  3. If we exhaust one resource, we will use some other

  4. There is no food shortage, we can sustain more than twice the current population.

  5. Common sense - increased life span, health, wealth. Grass is green, plenty of food, clean water from taps, no signs of collapse. A societies steep decline begins a decade or two after it reaches peak numbers - wealth and power. Maximum population, wealth, resource consumption - maximum environmental impact - approaching where impact outstrips resources.

  6. Population crisis is solving itself

  7. More people are better

  8. Environmental concerns are a luxury affordable just by affluent first world yuppies, who have no business telling desperate third world citizens, what they should be doing.

  9. Environmental problems will not become desperate - within our lifetimes
"Environmentally stressed or over-populated people are desperate, undernourished and without hope - they blame their governments. They try to emigrate at any cost, they fight each other over land, they kill each other, they start civil wars, they feel they have nothing to loose, so they the become terrorists or they support or tolerate terrorism. Hence the best predictors of modern state failures - revolutions, violent regime change, collapse of authority and genocide - prove to be measures of environmental and population pressures. High infant mortality, rapid population growth, high percentage of population in late teens and twenties and hordes of unemployed young men without job prospects ready to be recruited into militias."

Role of the elite in a society -
"Societies in which the elite are capable of insulating themselves from the consequences of their actions, those are societies that are more likely to do themselves in by failing to have solved their problems, because the elite insulated themselves from the consequences of their actions. Or cut-off from the problems that they are creating and lack of motivation to solve them."
Between First world and third world countries -
"Adopting the attitude that we in the first world can continue to consume even though we see the messes that we see being caused in the third world. Even though we see that an increasing number of third world countries that are suffering from problems of resource shortage and over population. For a while we in the first world can get away with insulating ourselves from the world problems."
Question of Core values - "Willingness to reappraise core values."

  1. Courage to practice long term thinking - bold courageous, anticipatory decisions
  2. Courage to make painful decisions about values! Which ones should remain and which to be replaced
A 100% absolute must read book. I haven't even scratched the surface to cover the material presented in the book.
"Collapses have been happening and others are imminent."
"But we are also the first society in history to enjoy the opportunity of learning from developments in societies anywhere else in the world today, and from what has happened in societies at any time in the past. My hope in writing this book has been that enough people will choose to profit from that opportunity to make a difference.