For Instructors

"Blue Planet Prize Story" contains three supplementary units on environmental issues: "Story Guide," "Further Reading and Research," and "For Instructors."
These contain useful information that instructors can use to help students understand the content.
Please use these during classes and for self-learning by students.

[Target Audience: Teachers, parents, and others involved in education]

Summary of the Story

Prof. Diamond has clarified the relationship between environmental problems and human civilizations through his extraordinary broad and deep intellectual pursuits. In his book Collapse, he discusses civilizations that collapsed due to environmental factors and civilizations survived to show what we can do to protect modern and future civilizations.
The mystery and allure of ancient civilizations attract us. We recommend that instructors provide students with opportunities to better understand how civilizations developed and how they are related to the environment through the exploration of ancient civilizations so they can think about how we might make our societies better.

Teaching Examples

How could people have prevented the collapse of ancient civilizations?

1. Instructors should choose one ancient civilization that flourished but collapsed.
  • Prof. Diamond introduces various ancient civilizations in his book Collapse. Use the book as a reference.
2. Ask students to list the characteristics of the ancient civilization.
Students can also work as a group.
  • Ask students to write down what the environment and life of the people were in the civilization and how it collapsed. (These two aspects should be addressed separately)
  • Students should use books and the Internet. Prof. Diamond's books can also be used as references.
(Example) Easter Island

(1) Environment and life in the civilization

  • It is a remote island in the South Pacific Ocean.
  • The island used to be covered by subtropical rainforests.
  • People began inhabiting the island from about A.D.800. The first residents were Polynesians who came to the island by canoe.
  • They made moai, the giant stone statues.
  • The volcanic island had a mild climate and the soil was fertile. They grew sweet potatoes and yams, and they raised chickens.
  • Six species of land birds and at least 25 species of sea birds lived on the island, and people hunted them for food.
  • There were only a few fish around the island. People paddled offshore to catch porpoise and tuna.

(2) How it collapsed

  • Humans continued cutting down trees to use as fuel, to make canoes, or to move stones to make the moai. As the population grew, the number of trees that were being cut down increased.
  • By the 1600s, most of the trees had been cut down. As a result, soil erosion progressed, and trees could no longer grow.
  • The land birds that had made their home in the forests disappeared and most of sea birds disappeared along with them. The islanders had lost an important source of food.
  • They could not make canoes, which made it impossible for them to fish.
  • Food shortage became serious and that caused conflicts among residents. The population of the island drastically dropped from 10,000 at the peak to 2,000.
  • An epidemic caused a sharp decrease in population. The number of residents dropped to a few hundred in the end and their civilization collapsed.
3. Students discuss the following freely.

(1) Instructors should let students consider what the people should have done to maintain their civilization. Students should think from the standpoint of the people at that time.

  • They should have planted more trees as they cut down them.
  • If it were a continent and not a remote island, people would have been able to share trees and food.

(2) What can we learn from collapsed civilizations?

  • Deforestation is still serious. Can we solve this problem?
  • Currently, the entire Earth may be like the Easter Island.
  • If so, it may be necessary for us to work on forest conservation on a global scale.


Prof. Jared Diamond