The last set of factors in my five-point framework involves the ubiquitous
question of the society's responses to its problems, whether those problems
are environmental or not. Different societies respond differently to similar
problems. For instance, problems of deforestation arose for many past societies,
among which Highland New Guinea, Japan, Tikopia, and Tonga developed successful
forest management and continued to prosper, while Easter Island, Mangareva, and
Norse Greenland failed to develop successful forest management and collapsed as
a result. How can we understand such differing outcomes? A society's responses
depend on its political, economic, and social institutions and on its cultural
values. Those institutions and values affect whether the society solves (or even
tries to solve) its problems. In this book we shall consider this five-point
framework for each past society whose collapse or persistence is discussed.
I should add, of course, that just as climate change, hostile neighbors, and
trade partners may or may not contribute to a particular society's collapse,
environmental damage as well may or may not contribute. It would be absurd to
claim that environmental damage must be a major factor in all collapses: the
collapse of the Soviet Union is a modern counter-example, and the destruction of
Carthage by Rome in 146 b.c. is an ancient one. It's obviously true that
military or economic factors alone may suffice. Hence a full title for this book
would be "Societal collapses involving an environmental component, and in some
cases also contributions of climate change, hostile neighbors, and trade
partners, plus questions of societal responses." That restriction still leaves
us ample modern and ancient material to consider.
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