Friday, April 25, 2008

Sustainable Societies

A sustainable society is defined as a society that continues to persist and thrive overtime, still providing high quality life for the inhabitants of said society without harming or destroying, but continuing the productivity to ensure that, the resources which are needed to survive are available.

There are many factors which contribute together to make a society sustainable. The society in question must care for and conserve for their environment and natural resources. The society must have a good government. A government which is able to adapt with change to better the society, and can respond to crisis quickly and efficiently. This can all depend on the type of leader the government is led by, the thoughts and beliefs of the society, i.e. religious views, the economy of the society and many other factors. The society would have no enemies, or the enemies they did have would be weak, posing little threat to the existence of the society. The society must have a positive trade system, which would consist of reliable trade partners. The last factor is the response that the society would have when posed with a threat. A societies resiliency can play a big part in whether a society will collapse or survive through the rough times.

In my report I will be discussing the conservation of the environment and natural resources, trading partners and response to crisis.

Conserving Natural Resources & The Environment

The environment plays a big role in the survival of society, but it can also cause many problems from deforestation to soil erosion to water usage if not used and preserved in the right way. These key factors alone have been responsible for the downfall of many societies.

One example of a society which has overcome environmental problems and is ensuring that these resources are available for many years to come is Japan. Starting in the 6th century the inhabitants of Japan began to clear forests not only to use the areas to build up an urban community but also the demand for top quality timber was high, as well as wood being used to fuel the production of steel, copper and many other materials. By the 17th century construction of shrines, temples and other large buildings were beginning to be erected all being made from the same timber. This is clearly a case where how the Japanese responded was prominent in them overcoming the looming crisis ahead. By the end of World War II Japan was suffering major wood shortages. The Japanese government immediately began mass timber plantations and began importing timber, saving themselves from a near fatal collapse.

Another example of a society which has overcome environmental problems is the Dominican Republic. A study in 1981 showed that erosion was one of their major environmental problems. A study only 19 years later showed that this problem had increased by 400%, but clearly showed that most of this damage had occurred in the 1980s and also showed that as time went on, it was beginning to slow down. Deforestation was also a problem they faced. Once 75% of the Dominican Republic was covered by forest, but by the 1980s there had been a large decrease in the amount of area covered. The government responded by launching a number of programs, both locally and nationally. Alternative fuels were discovered, and the amount of land that was protected was increased. Slowly these resources began to recover, saving the Dominican Republic.

To see how important the conservation of natural resources and the environment is we must also compare it to a society which failed to do so. The environmental damage caused on Easter Island played a large role in the collapse of their society. With a limited water supply available it would have been wise to have used this resource with care, but instead they abused this resource. Deforestation also played a part, with almost no trees left on the entire island in the end. This played a large part in the collapse, showing that the environment is very important to the survival of any society.

Trading Partners

Many materials, items, food etc are needed in the existence of any society but are not always available in their location, which is why reliable trade partners are needed.

China is one of the largest trading empires in the world, exporting and importing thousands of products everyday, from and to many countries all over the world. One of Chinas major imports is gas and oil, with 70% of their usage being imported from other countries. Without this, China would not be able to run efficiently, and in turn would not be able to manufacture the fuel to produce many of Chinas major exports to other countries.

Bhutan is a small country which is boarded by India and Tibet. It is considerably less powerful than both, and at any time either India or Tibet could invade Bhutan and conquer it successfully. By successful trade relations built up over time Bhutan has maintained a friendly relationship with each country.

These societies have built up many valuable trading partners over many decades, but what happens when a society does not have access to reliable trade partners?

Rome was highly dependant on it’s trade partners, and as time went on Rome began to grow both in wealth and power. As powerful and as wealthy as they became though, the fact still remained that without friendly trade partners, Rome was not self-sustainable. So when trading partners became hostile, and the trading between societies began to perish Rome declared a war and went out to conquer Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. Though successful in the end, this proved to be a factor of collapse as the more land they conquered, the more resources they needed to be available.

Response To Crisis

How a society responds to crisis plays a large role in the factors that lead to a societies sustainability. How a society responds can make or break a society. A good response depends largely on a competent government and a peaceful society which is willing to work together through tough times.

Japan is a great example of a society which responded well when presented with a crisis. They were presented with a near fatal deforestation problem, but were able to respond quickly to ensure that this did not happen, preventing a near collapse.

In comparison a society whose response to crisis was not effective enough to prevent their collapse is the Mayans. Due to their strict religious beliefs and views they refused to deal with the problems, mostly environmental, presented to them. Instead of trying to help, and try and reverse, the damage done by climate change, drought, etc, they instead chose to believe that it was the Gods angry at them causing the damage. In turn they continued to try and please their Gods, which was doing more and more damage.


The points presented to you above is only a brief outline of the factors involved in a societies sustainability. A combination of these factors must be achieved for a society to be self-sustainable. Societies today should look to past societies, especially those on the verge of crisis, and learn from the lessons that they present to us, in order to achieve sustainability for centuries to come.

Sustainable Seattle (2005, 22 February) What Is A Sustainable Society?
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Wikipedia, Last Updated: 17 April, 2005 Environmental Issues In Japan
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Kuroda, Y. Underlying Causes of Deforestation and Forest Degradation
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Dominican Republic Environmental Assessment (2001, September)
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Blackburn, G. (2008, March 18) The Collapse Of Easter Island
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CIA The World Factbook (Last updated 2008, April 15) China
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Chan, A. (2008, March 20) The Roman Empire – Collapse Of Complex Societies
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Country Studies (no date available) Bhutan Trade
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Reji, R. (2008, March 20) Collapse: Ancient Maya
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