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New translation, the Magna Carta

ecologically collapsing and retrenching civilisations
written sources


a briefing document

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ecologically collapsing and retrenching civilisations: written sources is part of a series of briefing documents on housing and making living systems ecological.
This grouping is contained within a set of documents on global concerns at
comparing fertility rates and populations in europe and beyond tragedy of the commons land conservation and food production On housing and making living systems ecological
sustainable manufacture GDP and other quality of life measurements ecologically collapsing and retrenching civilisations: written sources global warming briefing documents
pressure on water resources power, ownership and freedom energy briefing documents
ecological collapse
When a billion Chinese jump: how China will save mankind—or destroy it
a green history of the world
The end of the line
Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse
The Collapse of Complex Societies

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ecological collapse Four GoldenYak award

Collapse is ponderous at times, but it is vital that the data gets ‘out there’ as soon as possible. It is at least good enough to serve the purpose and that is enough for me lacking anything else since the rapidly dating A green history of the world.

For several years I have been whingeing that this book, Collapse, should be written. Despite the shortcomings, I think the lessons of this book are so important and, for the lack of anything better, I am going to recommend it.

While Jared Diamond does refer in passing to specific industries from his own knowledge, such as oil, mining and forestry, his discussion of the nuts and bolts of ecology is much more limited than is Ponting’s. The strength of the book is in the collecting together of large numbers of case studies of previous collapsing societies and societies under stress.

Several reviews have waxed lyrical about the 100 of 550 pages that are devoted to difficulties in Norse lands. As far as I am concerned, the book would have been better without it. Diamond writes in lifeless, tedious prose, and struggling through the book I regard as hard work. In fact, he could have lost yet another hundred pages to great advantage.

Nevertheless, as with so much poorly written science popularisation, this is probably the best you have at the moment. It does not, however, fully surplant Ponting’s work, reviewed below. In summary, the prime value of this book is in the case studies, which fortunately comprise the bulk of the book. Unless you are coming new to this area, better to regard this work as a data source, than to bring expectations of theoretical insight to the joy of reading it.

Collapse by Jared Diamond

Collapse by Jared Diamond, Viking/Penguin, December 2004, hbk, 0670033375
$17.97 [Barnes &]

£6.59 []
2006, Penguin, pbk,
ISBN-10: 0140279512
ISBN-13: 978-0140279511

Collapse by Jared Diamond

For some balance on population scaremongering, see Peoplequake by Fred Pearce four GoldenYak (tm) award.

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When a billion Chinese jump by Jonathan Watts

When a billion Chinese jump: how China will save mankind—or destroy it
by Jonathan Watts Four GoldenYak award

8.54 []

$11.94 []

Scribner, original edition, 26 October 2010
ISBN-10: 141658076X
ISBN-13: 978-1416580768

When a billion Chinese jump by Jonathan Watts

I would recommend this book as an introductory reader for any relevant studies, as well as being very useful background for those trying to keep abreast of a rapidly changing modern world. For a more extensive review.


 three and half GoldenYak (tm) award    A green history of the world
by C. Ponting

[the GoldenYak rating would be substantially higher, but for the criticisms noted below.]
from amazon $11.20 (
Reprint edition (April 1993), Penguin USA , 0140176608 pbk
10.13 (
Reprint edition (April 1993), Penguin, 0140176608 pbk

This book endlessly catalogues the despoliation of planetary resources in a wide range of areas of history, activities and geography.

At times it goes over the top, as is common with material coming out of the evangelising green lobby. This can undermine the message at times, when the political agenda tends to overwhelm the real on the ground facts, or when the author is carried away with the shallow ‘capitalism bad’ mantra.

There are very real problems with population and resource pressures. It does no good to exaggerate these problems, as that makes them too easy to be dismissed by those who would rather not face the problems, but instead hope to carry on with ‘business as usual’.

The book is now a dozen years out of date, which is a very long time in this growing field. It could very much do with an update. However, the wide ranging history covered, its application to the rise and fall of civilisations and its dire warning for the future, make this a resource of considerable value.

This book should form part of any modern civics curriculum, but should be read and used with caution.

To the end of the line by Charles CloverThe end of the line by Charles Clover, Ebury Press, 2004, hbk, 0091897807, £8.99 [] Four GoldenYak(tm) award
For the current state of the fishing industry and fisheries, The end of the line is much better than either of the books discussed above. Recommended basic reading on this subject.


Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse

.rtf version (requires MS Word or similar)
google cache html (not so pretty, but also not so MS dependant)

Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse is probably worth a quick scan, despite being over-loaded by redundant jargon. The item compares catastrophically collapsing civilisations with those adjusting to a lesser but more stable lifestyle through varying accidents.

“These parallel differences between R-selected and K-selected nonhuman species. A society that maximizes its production of capital, like an R-selected species, prospers in an environment with substantial uncaptured resources but falters once these are exhausted. Its successors are likely to be societies that, like K-selected species, use key resources more sustainably at the cost of decreased production of capital. Nonhuman climax communities also typically display a higher diversity of species, but a lower population per species, than earlier seral stages, and produce notably lower volumes of biomass per unit time (Odum 1969).

“Broadly similar changes often distinguish precollapse and postcollapse societies. Thus the collapse of the western Roman Empire, for example, could be seen as a succession process in which one seral stage, dominated by a single sociopolitical "species" that maximized capital production at the cost of inefficiency, was replaced by a more diverse community of societies, consisting of many less populous "species" better adapted to their own local conditions, and producing capital at lower but more sustainable rates. [...] ”

‘Seral’ or ‘seres’ is really just another word for ‘stage’: a presumed arrangement.return to the index


The Collapse of Complex Societies (New Studies in Archaeology)

collapse of complex societies, book cover

by Joseph Tainter, Colin Renfrew, first published 1988

Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1990, 052138673X
$36.99 ( / 23.99 (

The authors appear to take an information-theoretic approach to social collapse. This looks either trivial or unconvincing or irrelevant in the context of the ecological collapse, but you may wish to know about it.

From a review at amazon:

“[...] the "number of challenges with which the Universe can confront a society is, for practical purposes, infinite," complex societies need to keep on increasing their level of complexity in order to survive new challenges. Tainter's thesis is that these "investments in additional complexity" produce fewer and fewer returns with time.

“The hunter-gatheres of the above example incur costs as they try to solve their food-shortage problem. If they conquer their neighbours, they have to garrison those territories, thus raising the cost of government. If they start agriculture on a larger or more intense scale in their own territories, they have to create a new class of citizens to man the farms, distribute and store the grain, and guard it from animals and invaders. In either case, the increases in access to energy (food) are offset somewhat by the increased cost of social complexity.”


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