From TED Talks, Jared Diamond speaks on Why do societies fail? Taking lessons from the Norse of Iron Age Greenland, deforested Easter Island and present-day Montana, Jared Diamond talks about the signs that collapse is near, and how — if we see it in time — we can prevent it.
His best-known work is the non-fiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel (1998), which asserts that the main international issues of our time are legacies of processes that began during the early-modern period, in which civilizations that had experienced an extensive amount of "human development" began to intrude upon technologically less advanced civilizations around the world. Diamond's quest is to explain why Eurasian civilizations, as a whole, have survived and conquered others, while refuting the belief that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, genetic, or moral superiority. Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies do not reflect cultural or racial differences, but rather originate in environmental differences powerfully amplified by various positive feedback loops, and fills the book with examples throughout history. He identifies the main processes and factors of civilizational development that were present in Eurasia, from the origin of human beings in Africa to the proliferation of agriculture and technology.
In his following book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), Diamond examines a range of past civilizations and societies, attempting to identify why they collapsed into ruins or survived only in a massively reduced form. He considers what contemporary societies can learn from these societal collapses. As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, he argues against ethnocentric explanations for the collapses which he discusses, and focuses instead on ecological factors. He pays particular attention to the Norse settlements in Greenland, which vanished as the climate got colder, while the surrounding Inuit culture thrived.
He also has chapters on the collapse of the Maya, Anasazi, and Easter Island civilizations, among others. He cites five factors that often contribute to a collapse, but shows how the one factor that all had in common was mismanagement of natural resources. He follows this with chapters on prospering civilizations that managed their resources very well, such as Tikopia Island and Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate. (Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jared_Diamond)
In Collapse, Diamond distances himself from the charges of "ecological or environmental determinism" that were leveled against him in Guns, Germs, and Steel . This is particularly evident in his chapter comparing Haiti and the Dominican Republic, two nations that share the same island (and similar environments) but which pursued notably different futures, primarily on the strength of their differing histories, cultures, and leaders.