Friday, April 29, 2005

Review: Collapse by Jared Diamond

What a slacker I am at this. Still, I have not been idle. I have been working on this book since Sunday.

So, what do I think of it? It is pretty good, but not everything it should be. The book is concerned with the collapse of civilizations and specifically the environmental causes of that. He looks at a number of civilizations to understand this better.

He starts with Montana, and examines the problems, environmental, social and economic, that the state has, eg. its poverty clashing with the rich newcomers, the problems caused by mining and faulty forest management and drought. These are serious problems and he looks at them from all angles. After reading that chapter, I had no solution to all of its problems - it stumped me. But the comment that struck me the hardest was that nobody, even the mining companies who have left some very toxic waste, are trying to act particularly selfishly. People from the farmer with two jobs to the CEO with two cabins in the Bitterroot Valley, are acting with particular disregard of their neighbors, at least in their own minds. They are simply acting in their best interest.

Next, he begins to look at historical examples, beginning with Easter Island. The main lesson here is that some environments, appearances notwithstanding, are more fragile than others. The Easter Islanders were probably not any worse than other Pacific Islanders, but the climate of Easter Island did not allow for the same manner of treatment of the environment.

Next he treats the problem of Pitchairn (before the mutiny on the Bounty) and Henderson Islands. And while there were some problems, like deforestation of the puny Pitcairn Island, the big problem was the collapse of a (civ. on a ) neighboring island. He likes to point out the problems of overpopulation, and portrays Malthius in a positive light. He never actually calls for population controls, but I don't know what else he could mean. Perhaps if the former extinct inhabitants of Patcairn island had been more careful, they might still have forests and be around today. Frankly, the folks on Henderson Island, never really had a chance, though they did remarkably good anyway, as long as they lasted.

Thus far, the lessons I have taken from this book, whether or not the author intended it this way, is that you can't be careless with your environment, whether you are farming, mining, harvesting wood or whatever. Of course, every farmer knows that. You have to take care of your land. Next, you have to be locally self-sufficient. That was the problem with the last two islands I mentioned. When trouble came, (and it always does eventually) and their trade routes were interupted, they were not ready for it. Neither are we as a nation.

Next time I will tackle his take on the Anastazi, Maya, and hopefully the Vikings.

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