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March 16, 2007


John Feeney

"This type of decision-making is the opposite of the short-term reactive decision-making that too often characterizes our elected politicians …."

That's a key, I think, and is the challenge. Both politicians and corporations seem mostly to make decisions based on short term gain without enough concern for long term consequences. Finding a way to break that habit would have a lot of value. (Seems like getting lobbyists out of the political equation would be a good step too.)


From the Diamond quote: "On the other hand, we shall be able to solve our problems — if we choose to do so. ... Because we are the cause of our environmental problems, we are the ones in control of them, and we can choose or not choose to stop causing them and start solving them."

Are we going to step on the environmental breaks and skid out of control? The pace we are doing the damage may be too rapid for us to gain control before we metaphorically crash.

I just hope someone teaches us how to pump break soon.

Myron Paine

Diamond did not "dig" very deep to find a society that would match his all ready formed conclusions. When I first started reading about Greenland, six years ago, I swiftly learned most of the themes that Diamond wrote about in his book Collapse.

Now, after six years of research I have just read the TRUE history left by the Norse in Greenland, entitled the "Maalan Aarum" (Walam Olum) meaning "Engraved years." The Norse felt the hunger caused by over grazing their pasture lands. Many of them left to "the other side" (of Davis Strait--America).

Those who stayed lived mostly on food from the sea. When the Little Ice age closed the options of those remaining they too walked on the ice to "the other side."

The Norse in Greenland faced two great ecological challenges. In both cases they decided, as a group. and left while they still had options. As a society they were successful, as Algonquin speaking tribes in North America and not as Norse in Greenland.

Where in the world of the 1300s, dominated by Popes, Kings, Khans, and other dictators, were there groups of people who could decide their own reaction to changing ecological conditions? Probably only in Iceland and Greenland, where the democratic “Althing” was the governing body.

The Vikings (Old Norse) succeeded against over whelming odds. They occupied 1/3 of North America when their cousins the English and the French landed on their shores. Diamond wrote in his previous book how germs, guns, and steel could destroy civilizations. He was perceptive in that book, but in Collapse he apparently rushed to print without doing his homework.

One of the rare civilizations in the 1300s with democratic government overcame two major ecological disasters by taking the best option available—moving. That survival of a democratic group under great stress is the story Diamond should have written about.


John Feeney


Interesting comments. I'm not too clear though on where you disagree with Diamond. (I haven't yet read Diamond's book. Perhaps you're referring to something I just haven't read.) I would think that the Norse having to leave their home as a result of overgrazing might constitute a "collapse" of their society. But if they were able to carry on or reinvent themselves as the Algonquin speaking tribes, perhaps they could be said to have averted collapse. But then it becomes tricky to define "collapse," no? I mean, what if a group has to leave their home due to environmental degradation, and 20% of them survive to rebuild a life elsewhere. Has that society collapsed? Anyway, just some thoughts.


Small comment: The term 'Abeliene Paradox' is incorrect. It is called 'Abilene Paradox'.

Slightly more relevant comment: I'm not quite sure why this paradox is relevant here.

Dave Iverson


thanks for the catch on the proper spelling of Abilene Paradox. I am horrible at seeing such errors in my own work.

I think the link between Crowd Psychology and the Abilene Paradox is straightforward: People want others to take the first step and "speak up" in a group setting, but when no one else does each individual does not either. Thus the whole group wanders off to someplace no one (or almost no one) wants to go.

In the Collapse case, I suspect that the majority of people don't want, say, "the market" (individual choice/Madison Ave. directed) to dominate all life decisions, but since too many remain silent, else are too uninformed to enter into active converstaion, else have no proper means to enter into the converstaion, the whole of the body politic is lead by the minority.

See too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abilene_paradox

John Feeney

Heh, I hadn't heard of the Abilene paradox. There does seem to be some kind or kinds of groupthink that go on with regard to these things. Could be an Abilene paradox sometimes or maybe there's also the "bystander effect":


It seems there's at least a combination of "There's nothing I can do," and "Someone else will do something."

Maybe those old social psych classes from college will come in handy after all. :)


It doesn't help in making decisions that the theoretical framework for making decisions involving trade-offs and scarcity, aka economics, rejects the concept of environment being finite or limited.

If economists described the economy as a description of the relationship between the factors of the environment, which is the center of everything, the transactions involving the environment would naturally be priced.

Without the tools of economy, like money, the factors of the environment had limited independence from it, with a circular flow that was small and immediate. As the tools of economy become more sophisticated, tools that allow the several years of labor expended in two months to be paid over thirty years. That disconnects the construction from the environment so those involved in the activity don't readily connect to the environment.

Money and finance are not intuitive; we trust they work, but can easily validate the trust by referring to the theory. If the theory provided the basis for paying for environmental services, they would be included and trusted automatically.

Just think of the irony; people everyday make plans for investments that span decades, either trading labor today for goods three to five decades later, or goods today in exchange for labor over the next three decades. But dealing with environmental issues that require planning ahead two decades to see results, and all of a sudden, the problem is nearly intractable.

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