Page 1

As an introduction to ‘Reshaping Environments’, I viewed the lecture by Jared Diamond, ‘Why do societies Collapse’. Diamond delved into what exactly causes civilizations to collapse, doing this by observing and analyzing the errors that lead to failure in societies such as the Greenland Norse Society, the Easter Island people and the modern population of Montana. Diamond suggests that there is not one sole reason for the collapse of societies, but 5 general categories. Diamond devises a ‘5 point framework’, which identifies the key causes of collapse. If merely one of the 5 points goes wrong, the entire society will fail as a result. The first key feature is human treatment and impact on the environment, if the environment is destroyed not only will the weather and land be impossible to life on, but resources will run out and the inhabitants will have noting to live off. I was able to immediately connect this point to issues like deforestation and over consumption of natural resources today. The second point was climate change (colder, hotter wetter) which some societies are able to adapt to, but others can not such as the Vikings in Greenland. Thirdly, relations with neighboring friendly societies is greatly important, particularly for external trades. The fourth feature indicated that relations of hostile civilizations can lead to collapse, for example wars between societies. The final point is the economic, social and political system of the society, which perhaps can prevent the society from growing. I found Diamonds complex analysis refreshing, because I am so sick of people trying to simplify situations, only taking into account one aspect of and issue rather than all the contributors. The lecture gave me a general insight into the Easter Island Mystery. Immediately I was amazed by the giant stone statues on the Island. These seemed impossible with the lack of technology back then, and made me feel like there are almost endless possibilities in architecture and engineering, which I am interested in majoring in. Our lecturer prompted us to put ourselves in the shoes of the civilization who was discovering the tiny Island for the first time, and consider how we would go about setting up a society. This included what we would bring, what we would be hoping for and what we would be uncertain about. After discussing these ideas with the person beside me, the aspect that stood out to me personally was the extreme limitation of resources. To begin with, the island is very small, with only few natural resources available, but more importantly, the island is incredibly isolated making trade almost impossible. This thought confirmed Diamonds point that relations with other societies can lead to collapse. It was concluded that there were a variety of reasons that Easter Island collapsed. Another point that stood out to me was Diamonds concept that the inadvertent destruction of nature and the environment can lead o failure, In the case of Easter island the extensive deforestation destroyed the land and with a lack of shelter it began to erode. From this I was able to question whether there is a way to avoid the collapse of society by perhaps learning from cases like Easter Island or following Diamonds checklist. But more importantly, if as a society we accidentally do something and only afterwards realize the consequence, how are we able to fix it? This question immediately led me to connect with environmental sustainability, the growing issue of global warming and what our options are to reverse our errors. Presented to the class during my tutorial was a series of paintings and photographs that depicted the development of Melbourne city. The most interesting thing I learned from these images was that the roads which laid Melbourne was only newly established, still remain today as the roads in the CBD. This was something that never had occurred to me before. Due to the mass of buildings surrounding the original roads, they were unable to be altered. I was able to realize from this how crucial it is for people like Urban Designers to ensure that their plans are suitable and effective in the future. By looking at both the progression of Melbourne and the remains Easter Island today, it can be confirmed that planning and architectural decisions remain present long after they are established. By combining the errors of societies that Diamond identified, with the case of Easter Island discussed in the lecture, and finally looking at the progressive pictures of Melbourne’s development I am really able to see the importance of HOW the environment is reshaped, and the future consequences of actions. Particularly the majors that seemed very relative to these discussions were Environmental Sustainability and Urban Design and Planning.

Sources: Jared Diamond ‘Why do societies collapse’ – video lecture, TED Talks, viewed on the 3rd March 2009, retrieved from e.html.