3. The history of civilization and sustainable society


After finishing Guns, Germs, and Steel, Prof. Diamond became interested in a new issue - Why do some civilizations collapse while others do not? While the Mayan and Khmer civilizations and the civilization on Easter Island collapsed after once flourishing, civilizations like Japan have continued for such a long time. Why is this?
Prof. Diamond answered this question in his book Collapse published in 2005. He showed that environmental factors determined whether each civilization would continue or collapse.

For example, the Khmer Empire, well known for its Angkor Monuments, was the most powerful empire in Southeast Asia. Located in the center of the empire was Lake Tonle Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. This lake floods the surrounding areas during the rainy season to produce an ideal environment for rice farming, and the rich ecosystem in the area leads to an abundance of fish. Although the area has an abundance of water, the amount of rainfall varies significantly by season and year due to monsoons, and this makes flood control impossible. Water reservoirs were built to create channels in a complicated flood control system, but the unpredictability of floods and droughts made it impossible to maintain the system. Weakening of soil due to deforestation was one reason for the empires inability to control flooding. Because people in the Khmer Empire could not respond to these issues, the Khmer Empire declined and finally failed.
Meanwhile, Japan confronted deforestation in the early Edo Period (1603-1868). Due to a rapid increase in population, wood was in high demand for construction and fuel, and trees were recklessly cut down. Further compounding the problem was the governments policy of strict national isolation, a policy that prevented the import of wood from outside the country.

To address the problem, the government issued edicts to prevent overlogging. For example, the number, type and location of trees was recorded, and strict rules determined when, where and how many of them could be felled. The government sought not only to reduce the loss of trees, but also implemented a program of systematic reforestation. With abundant rainfall and fertile soil, trees grew easily, and the forests were steadily restored.
Civilizations are dependent on the environment. Having the right environmental conditions and taking action to address problems at an early stage determines whether a civilization can prevent degradation that leads to unsustainability.

The World Until Yesterday

Prof. Diamond then asked, "What can we learn from traditional societies?" His interest in this question led to the publication of The World Until Yesterday in 2012.
Prof. Diamond interacted with New Guineas traditional society over a long period of time, during which he experienced a lifestyle completely different from that in his home country (the United States). However, our ancestors lived in traditional societies, and the history of humankind is much longer than the history of civilization. While human history stretches over 6 million years, it was only 11,000 years ago that we started farming. For the approximately 5.99 million years prior to this, humankind evolved slowly living a hunter-gatherer existence. The basic features of humankind developed over millennia in traditional societies.
Among the traditional societies included in "The World Until Yesterday", there are many examples that those of us living in modern societies can learn from. The bond among people is strong and individuals are not isolated. Children are raised not only by their parents, but also by the other adults around them. Children's rights are respected so that they can become independent at an early stage. With the wisdom and experience they have accumulated over time, the elderly people are respected and have important roles.

When Prof. Diamond was looking for someone to carry supplies he needed for his research on birds in New Guinea, a boy aged about 10 helped him for about a month. The boy did not ask his parents but negotiated with Prof. Diamond by himself and accepted the work. Children of the village were considered independent at 10.

Of course, traditional societies have their advantages and disadvantages. Prof. Diamond believes, though, that learning the good points about different societies can help us to address issues that our society has encountered, issues such as child rearing and the elderly finding purpose in life.

From left The World Until Yesterday, Collapse, and Guns, Germs, and Steel

From left The World Until Yesterday, Collapse, and Guns, Germs, and Steel

4. Future civilization that we should aim for


Prof. Jared Diamond