- An environmental collapse that would transform the world
into a "global Somalia" could begin in 50 years if we fail to
do anything about it, a world authority on the rise and fall of civilisations
warned yesterday. Professor Jared Diamond, of the University of California,
Los Angeles, said society was on the brink of irreversible decline unless
12 major environmental problems were tackled.
- Professor Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, has
spent many years studying the reasons why some societies in history thrived
and others slipped into decline. He cited present-day Somalia as among
several places where environmental degradation has already helped to trigger
a collapse of government and the rule of law.
- "Conditions of Somalia will spread," he said.
"Somalia is an example of a worst-case scenario. State government
has collapsed; it is a dry landscape, difficult to manage and, not surprisingly,
it has problems of environmental degradation.
- "There are plenty of countries where state government
is moving towards collapse ... We will be living in a global Somalia if
we don't do anything about it. My children, who are 17 years old, will
be living in a global Somalia unless we solve our problems."
- He warned that the omens were not looking good for the
rich countries to survive the 21st century without a serious and possibly
catastrophic drop in their present standard of living.
- "If we continue doing the things we are doing now
the outcome, which is not the worst-case scenario but the actual outcome,
would be that we don't arrive at the end of the century," Professor
Diamond said. "Most of our problems are ones with 30- to 50-year time
fuses. That is the rate at which we are exploiting the world ... So if
we carry on we do not arrive at the end of the century with a First-World
- Professor Diamond, who was in London to publicise his
book Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail or Survive, said there were
several possibilities if exploitation of the planet and its resources continued
at the present rate. "The worst-case scenario can range from an apocalypse
to something greyer. An apocalpyse would include fighting in dead earnest
[over natural resources]," he said.
- "There are also gentler outcomes. Today, there are
countries that are poor and getting poorer. So one gentler outcome would
be that poverty just spreads. Today, most African countries are poor and
quite a few South American countries are poor. A gentle-worst-case scenario
is that Brazil becomes poorer and Mexico becomes poorer and in Europe poverty
spreads. Instead of eastern Europe catching up to western Europe, western
Europe declines towards eastern Europe."
- Most of the problems, such as deforestation and soil
erosion, were similar to those that led to the collapse of societies ranging
from the Maya in Mexico, the Easter Islanders and the Norse inhabitants
of Greenland, he said. But the world was also facing global warming and
more toxic pollution. "We need to do much more than we are doing now,"
Professor Diamond said.
- ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.