On Wednesday night, students overflowed into the upper balconies of Irvine Auditorium to hear a final lecture for the Year of Water.
The Philomathean Society and the Provost hosted Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond to speak on the role of water in the collapse of modern and ancient civilizations.
Diamond, author of popular books Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel began by showing the audience a single piece of yellow paper on which he had outlined his first book.
“Eighteen chapters explaining 18 collapsed societies,” Diamond said. “To which my wife responded, ‘how depressing — nobody will want to read it.’ But of course it’s not the case that all are doomed.”
He gave examples of both modern and ancient societies facing similar problems, focusing specifically on the complete deforestation of Easter Island in Polynesia.
“The case of Easter Island grabs people the most,” Diamond said. “It is an obvious metaphor for the state of planet earth … when resources run out, like Easter Island, we have no neighbors, no surrounding galaxies to help.”
Diamond also spoke of the differences between modern societies and those of the past, providing lessons drawn from history.
He criticized government and politicians’ decision to place business interests ahead of environmental issues. He urged the audience to “take environmental problems seriously”, adding that “the environment is not a luxury to deal with after our economy gets into shape.”
Warning against society’s “insulated elite” in gated communities, Diamond said, “Just as the Mayan kings didn’t look out their windows and see the problems of deforestation, the wealthy people are walled off from their communities drinking bottled water.”
Many students in attendance, including those who had not read his work, were intrigued by Diamond’s perspective.
Wharton junior Bryant Yik added, “Although I didn’t study Diamond before, I found a lot of things he’s saying very relevant.”
Members of the Philomathean Society were satisfied with the lecture, yet desired to hear more.
“I would have liked if he talked more about ways to implement some of his ideas,” Wharton and Engineering sophomore and Philo member Johnathan Mell said.
“He tends to take a position with governmental intervention, which is definitely the most sufficient way in some respects,” College freshman and Philo member Michael Lautman said. “But only when there is a positive solution.”