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The Collapse of Societies: Jared Diamond’s Five Key Framework


Globalization has caused drastic environmental, political, social, economic, and cultural changes, which are attributed to various human activities. The political, social, and economic structures of the modern society have led to various implications that have resulted in incompatibilities that created conflicts. Consequently, the conflicts tend to create environments that facilitate the collapse of societies thereby threatening the survival of the human race. Therefore, a multi-dimensional perspective of addressing the issue of societal collapse is vital for sustainability. In this light, Jared Diamond came up with five key issues that contribute to societal collapse. This paper focuses on Jared Diamond’s five-key framework that contributes to societal collapse concerning political, economic, and social values as practiced by humanity

Jared Diamond’s Framework of Collapse

Jared Diamond came up with the five-key framework that explains societal collapse. The five issues raised include human environmental impact, climate change, relations with friendly neighbours, relations with hostile neighbours, and social attitudes. These factors tend to explain how societies can survive or collapse over a given period due to the dynamic nature of socio-economic and political events. However, not all these factors are responsible for the collapse of societies. However, the first one is usually significant in almost all societies.

Environmental Damage Exerted by Humanity and Climatic Change over the Years

The first framework that determines the survival of societies is the human environmental impact. This aspect encompasses all human activities that affect environmental sustainability. According to Diamond (2005), careless farming and logging activities by the Vikings unexpectedly led to deforestation and erosion. Consequently, there was the scarcity of food and charcoal in a culture, which was characterized by iron making. The implications inconvenienced the Iron Age culture of the Vikings meaning that their future was threatened since they could not smelt iron, which was a tool essential for their survival. Additionally, Diamond (2005) illustrates that the second framework that is based on climatic changes. The Vikings experienced colder climates in the 1300s due to their farming and logging activities.

The contemporary world has experienced environmental changes that have posed threats to the survival of the human race. In this case, industrialization, which is a characteristic of modern societies, has exerted detrimental implications to the environment, thus causing climatic changes. Consequently, global warming has been an issue of concern since it threatens the survival of societies in the future. Ozone depletion, extreme weather, and forest fires caused by human activities have led to environmental damage that accounts for 160,000 deaths over the past 50 years (McAnany & Yoffee, 2009). In this regard, different societies across the world have caused environmental degradation as they seek resources for economic sustenance. Climatic change in turn has been an element of the modern societies thereby threatening the survival of economies that depend highly on natural resources.

The Interdependence (Socially, Economically, and Politically)

Political, economic, and social aspects, which interdependently work together for the survival of the whole, define societies. Diamond (2005) highlights relations with friendly societies, as the third framework, which determines the survival or collapse of a society. He uses the case of the Greenlanders’ trade relations with Norway, which were interrupted by climatic changes that resulted in more ice on the sea. In this regard, political and economic ties were affected, hence threatening the survival of the two societies.

Globalization is characterized by heightened economic integration and expanding economic interdependence among different societies (Chodorov & Meyer, 2013). This aspect has seen the growth and development of international trade in a bid to satisfy the needs of each society that defines its success. For instance, the Western world depends on raw materials from the developing nations including Africa. The extraction of natural resources such as diamond and copper diamond has led to environmental implications in the Southern African region, hence affecting international trade (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2014). This aspect implies that the survival of the two societies is threatened due to the environmental impacts that have a bearing on their economic interdependence.

The European Union, the International Criminal Court, and the G8 are excellent manifestations of political interdependence in the contemporary world. Due to political interdependence, the sovereignty of states has been limited since international political organizations’ policies have to be considered. Similarly, the social aspect of the contemporary world has been affected by the post-modern culture. For this reason, nations’ social structures have been altered as people are socialized into the secular culture (Baylis et al., 2014). In this light, traditional cultures of individual states have been affected by new social and cultural values that have implications for the sustainability of such societies.

Key Conflict Areas and the Human Race’s Response to the Problems

Almost all societies have experienced conflicts that altered the political, social, and economic structures. According to Diamond (2005), the fourth framework that facilitates the collapse of societies is attributed to the relations of hostile neighbours. He uses the case to the Viking’s attack by the Inuit, who disrupted their economic activities at the sea, hence threatening their survival. Therefore, hostile relations between the Vikings and the Inuit hindered smooth economic operations. This aspect led to the collapse of the Vikings’ society.

In the contemporary times, hostile relationships have led to conflicting situations that triggered the collapse of various societies. The underlying issues for the conflicts are usually attributed to the scramble for economic resources such as crude oil. Political influence has had a great impact on propagating the conflicts, as individual political interests are favoured at the expense of the society’s survival. In this regard, these conflicts also have implications on the environment, thus putting the sustainability of the society at stake.

Darfur in Sudan was affected by civil conflicts from 2003 to 2010 whereby more than two million people were displaced by the war. In addition, thousands of people perished in the genocide. Environmental, economic, and political factors triggered the genocide that was termed as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world by the United Nations. The desert, savannah, and mountainous climatic zones in Sudan implied that land was to be owned communally for equal access to natural resources since pastoralists characterized the society. Post-colonial changes led to new policies that aimed at amending the land ownership provisions, hence triggering civil unrest since some communities felt like they were limited to access economic resources. Consequently, this aspect resulted in conflicts that prevailed for a span of seven years before the UN intervened to alleviate the situation (Hagan & Rymond-Richmond, 2008)

The UN Security Council aimed at containing the situation through measures such as disarming the Janjaweed militia group. Prior to the UN’s intervention, various non-governmental organizations had provided information about a looming genocide in Darfur. Despite several challenges faced by the UN, it collaborated with NGOs through humanitarian activities that were geared towards responding to the needs of those affected by the violence coupled with mitigating it. The UN Security Council facilitated the establishment of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) in 2005 that was aimed at ending the conflict. This move saw the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), which facilitated the end of the civil wars in 2010 (Hagan & Rymond-Richmond, 2008).

In this light, the Sudanese society was bound to collapse due to civil unrest that was triggered by environmental, civil, and political factors. The intervention of humanitarian organizations such as the UN played a central role in alleviating the crisis, hence relieving the Sudanese people from suffering. This aspect meant that the human race was determined to see the sustainability of the political, social, and economic aspects of the Sudanese society.

Political, Economic, Social, and Cultural Values that Threaten the Survival of the Human Race

The survival of contemporary societies is dependent on the prevalent political, social, economic, and cultural values. The fifth framework, which influences the collapse or survival of societies, is based on political, social, and cultural factors (Diamond, 2005). In the case of the Norse from Greenland, it became difficult to solve environmental problems due to their commitment to religious values. The Norse community exalted their God even in adverse economic conditions by cutting their expenditure on food and defence to facilitate the construction of a cathedral. The Norse’s refusal to listen to the Inuit’s advice on how to adapt to changing weather patterns and decrease in natural resources, subjected them to challenges that threatened their survival.

Similarly, some political, social, and cultural values in the 21st Century have been dysfunctional since they tend to promote the collapse of some societies. Politics is about the distribution of power and resources to the public. When political values are based on selfishness characterized by the misappropriation of funds and accumulation of power, the sustainability of political structures within a society is threatened. This assertion holds because political revolts would emerge, thus leading to violence that would further facilitate the collapse of societies (McAnany & Yoffee, 2009). Negative cultural values also tend to exert detrimental effects on the survival of the human race. For instance, acts of terrorism by religious extremists trigger political instability, thus affecting other sectors of a society, hence failed states. Social values that are not acceptable tend to have a spiral effect on world society. Immorality is an unexpected value that brings more harm than benefit to the greatest majority, and thus its continuous practice by various societies leads to unhappiness, hence the collapse of the world societies (McAnany & Yoffee, 2009).


Environmental, political, social, economic, and cultural aspects of societies have enormous implications for their success or failure. Diamond’s five-point framework for the collapse of societies provides an in-depth understanding of the underlying issues that make societies collapse. Environmental impacts, climatic changes, relations with friendly and hostile neighbours, and social attitudes contribute to the sustainability or collapse of societies as illustrated by Diamond. Some past conflicts that have affected various societies provide a view of how the factors are applicable in understanding such situations. Therefore, it is essential for the contemporary world to uphold political, social, cultural, and economic values that enhance the stability of societies over an extended period.


Baylis, J., Smith, S., & Owens, P. (2014). The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press

Chodorov, F., & Meyer, F. (2013). The Rise and Fall of society: An Essay on the Economic Forces That Underlie Social Institutions. Colorado Springs, CO: CreateSpace Publishing.

Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Hagan, J., & Rymond-Richmond, W. (2008). Darfur and the Crime of Genocide. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McAnany, A., & Yoffee, N. (2009). Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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