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Customer Review

22 of 53 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious and over-rated study, 2 July 2009
This review is from: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive (Paperback)
Jared Diamond is Professor of Geography and Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. He writes, "This book employs the comparative method to understand societal collapses to which environmental problems contribute. My previous book (Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies) had applied the comparative method to the opposite problem: the differing rates of buildup of human societies on different continents over the last 13,000 years."

Part One looks at the environmental problems of modern Montana, Part Two at some failed societies - Easter Island, Pitcairn Island, the Anasazi civilisation in the US Southwest, the Maya, and Norse Greenland. Part Three looks at five modern societies, Rwanda, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, China and Australia, Part Four at the lessons.

He shows how people have in the past inadvertently destroyed the resources on which their societies depended, by "deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact of people."

Now there are four new threats: "human-caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full human utilization of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity." Diamond outlines "a five-point framework of possible contributing factors that I now consider in trying to understand any putative environmental collapse. Four of those factors - environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbours, and friendly trade partners - may or may not prove significant for a particular society. The fifth set of factors - the society's responses to its environmental problems - always proves significant."

Currently, some countries are indeed depleting their forests, wetlands, coral reefs, wild fish stocks (he fails to mention the EU's disastrous Common Fisheries Policy), species, farmland soil, freshwater underground aquifers and fossil fuels. But Diamond wrongly asserts that environmental problems are `accelerating exponentially'. This is not so: for example, through good forest management, Europe's forest area is growing by about 0.5 million hectares a year.

He notes the conflict between the short-term interests of those in power and society's long-term interests, writing, "what makes money for a business, at least in the short run, may be harmful for society as a whole." But he defends capitalism's most powerful bodies, the multinational corporations, while admitting that profit not welfare drives all their activities.

The logic of his argument leads him to call for long-term planning and a reconsideration of our core values, but he never says a word against capitalism and never mentions Cuba. Yet Oxfam's Duncan Green wrote, "As of 2003, Cuba was the only country in the world that managed to live within its environmental footprint while achieving high levels of human development. This was probably due to its unique combination of sound environmental management, excellent health and education provision, and an inability to generate sustained growth in the market economy." (From poverty to power, 2008, page 114.)
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Oct 2009, 17:46:13 BST
Gemma Dass says:
Your only real point is that he missed out Cuba - the rest of the review is just a description of the book, while being low on actual evaluation. As such I don't believe it's a particularly helpful review as a whole, and it hasn't properly explained why your rating is so low.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Aug 2010, 12:34:16 BST
Sorry, a description of a book should I think be an essential part of a review.
My low rating of the book reflects my feeling that its author and his works have been over-promoted and that the balloon needs puncturing.

Posted on 2 Nov 2010, 23:15:50 GMT
B. Daly says:
Did you consider that perhaps Europe's forest might be decreasing because it is exporting its deforestation, and that there's a limit to how long such practices can continue?

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Nov 2010, 09:59:14 GMT
Good point - every country needs to take responsibility for its own reafforestation, and not allow 'its' companies to exploit and ravage other countries' forests.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2012, 20:56:33 BST
Anon says:
This is nonsense - any review of a book should stand absolutely clear of what the reviewer thinks of the author's over-promotion ... for a review to be remotely useful, it must be based on an objective analysis of the logic of the arguments set out in the book ...

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Apr 2012, 10:01:37 BST
Isn't it relevant that this author has been hyped?
My review does try to analyse the logic of the author's arguments. Could Steve please tell us what he thinks of Diamond's arguments?
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