Among the ancient and modern societies Diamond analyzes in Collapse, choose one from each group (i.e., one ancient and one modern) where the two societies confronted similar...

Among the ancient and modern societies Diamond analyzes in Collapse, choose one from each group (i.e., one ancient and one modern) where the two societies confronted similar environmental challenges (e.g., deforestation, soil degradation, water quality/availability, climate change, etc.). Discuss the nature of the problems they confronted and compare how the two societies reacted to their crisis, as well as whether or not collapse occurred or is likely to occur.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In my answer to this question, I will look at the ancient society of the Native Americans of the Southwest (the Anasazi) and at the modern society of Haiti on the island of Hispaniola.  Both the Anasazi and Haiti faced the environmental problem of deforestation. The Anasazi and the Haitians seem to have responded to the deforestation in similar ways.  This helped cause the collapse of the Anasazi society and it is contributing to the serious threats faced by the people of Haiti.

In Haiti, deforestation is one of the most important problems that is faced by the population.  Deforestation has caused many problems in Haiti. It has caused a lack of building material and a lack of fuel.  It has caused the degradation of the watersheds, making it much less possible to exploit potential sources of hydroelectric power.  It has helped to bring about soil erosion and a loss of fertility in the soil.  All of these problems help to make Haiti poor.  They help force people into the cities where they live in slums.  It helps cause Haiti to need to import food and fuel.  Thus, deforestation can be seen as a core cause of Haiti’s problems.

Deforestation also harmed the Anasazi, though perhaps not as badly as it harms Haiti.  Diamond says that pack rat midden studies show that there used to be a lot of trees in densely populated areas such as Chaco Canyon.  However, the Anasazi used up these trees as building material and, presumably, as fuel.  When the pinyon pine and the juniper were gone, the Anasazi lost building material, fuel, and a food source (pinyon nuts).

The major difference in how Haiti and the Anasazi dealt with deforestation comes largely from their place in their regions.  Haiti is a poor country without the ability to buy much from the outside to make up for its lack of domestic resources.  This means that Haiti has responded to deforestation simply by continuing to cut down its trees, by attempting (in some areas) to cross over and cut down trees in the Dominican Republic, and by importing as much as it can.  This has caused Haiti to be very poor.  By contrast, the Anasazi (at least in Chaco Canyon) were important in their region.  They could get people to bring them things like large trees from hundreds of miles away.  This allowed them to stave off collapse. 

In the end, however, the Anasazi society did collapse because it was too big to survive in a marginal environment.  I would say that it is unlikely that Haiti will collapse completely because there are too many rich states like the United States that are willing to try to help it.  However, Haiti seems to be at the point where it would collapse if it were left to fend for itself without help from foreign countries.

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