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Jared Diamond on Societal Collapse and Sustainable Living

October 31st, 2008 by Max Gladwell · 1 Comment

A classic yet timely TED presentation from award-winning scholar and author Jared Diamond.

Jared Diamond’s Collapse is one of the defining texts in the Max Gladwell ideal and worldview, which is why it has a permanent place in our “Recommended Reading” sidebar. Very simply, Collapse demonstrates how unsustainable living will, in fact, lead to a society’s downfall and total collapse. There are many other reasons why societies succeed or fail, but living within its ecological and technological means is chief among them.

Diamond’s case studies, as it were, include Easter Island, the Mayan Civilization, and the Anasazi…three societies that suffered complete extinction.

(Click on the Flash Player button below to see the video presentation if it’s not already viewable.)

The primary take-away from the book is that these isolated societies of history are analogous to today’s global society. Because we’re all connected in this global economy/ecology. And if we continue to operate as they did, consuming natural resources at a rate far greater than they can replenished or replaced, often in the name of status and conspicious consumption, we’ll end up as they did. We’re clearly on that path. It’s just a matter of time and whether or not we choose to do anything about it.

“As Malcolm Gladwell observes, ‘Diamond’s distinction between social and biological survival is a critical one, because too often we blur the two.’ Diamond’s ability to tackle daunting questions (and pose unsettling answers) in a straightforward voice may be reason enough to share his optimism that recognizing a problem paves the way for solving it.”

We share Diamond’s optimism. But everyone needs to buy into it.

As a related bonus, here is William McDonough’s TED presentation on one way we can avoid collapse: sustainable, cradle-to-cradle design. (Click on one of the buttons to open the Flash video player.)

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Tags: Online Video · Sustainability