LTE: Deforestation can start a society’s death spiral

Portland Press Herald

A thoughtful letter to the editor by Aurora Linnea (Jan. 27) speaks to the potential dangers of the deforestation now beginning in the Central Maine Power corridor.

In many parts of the world, a relentless cascade from excessive eradication of trees, to topsoil erosion, drought and then eventual extinction of animal and plant life has predictably led to widespread starvation and disintegration of the social fabric. Sometimes then a military conquest delivers a coup de grâce.

Collapse,” a grimly fascinating 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by scientist and geopolitical scholar Jared Diamond (author of the similarly acclaimed “Guns, Germs and Steel”), documents the malignant role that deforestation has played in human history. In societal collapses as diverse as the doomed early Norse colony in Greenland, remote Easter Island in the Pacific and the once-powerful empires of Angkor Watt in Asia and the Anasazi and Mayan civilizations in North America, overuse and eventual eradication of native forests and plants led eventually to a death spiral for that society.

As Diamond explains, complex combinations of other factors to varying degrees – hostile neighbors, overpopulation, climate change, even the loss of a crucial trade partner or partners – may contribute to a particular society’s collapse to various degrees in different times and places. But as the Press Herald letter writer warns, reckless “violence against the land accumulates and bites back as blight. … we choose short-sighted destruction at our peril.”

James H. Maier, M.D.

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  • Sandra Howard
    published this page in News 2021-02-20 05:07:10 -0500