Collapse discusses different civilization’s ecological impacts on their environments and the overall consequences of a people’s attitude toward the environment.
He writes first of societies that did not respect or understand their surroundings, and as a consequence became extinct. Perhaps the most interesting story Diamond tells is that of the people of
Of course, construction on such a large scale took its toll on the island’s resources. Trees, which were necessary for transporting and erecting the moai, were extremely valuable to the islanders for construction purposes. But they also prevented the soil from eroding into the ocean and decreased leaching of necessary elements. A chain reaction was initiated, and soon the people had inflicted such damage on their surroundings, that the island has no longer habitable. Animals decreased in population and diversity. Plants and marine life followed suit, leaving the islanders with a fraction of the resources they once enjoyed. Hundreds of years later, European ships happened on the tiny island and found a desolate place, with a population much smaller than had inhabited the island hundreds of years earlier.
The second, more positive, section of the book tells about societies that understood their environments, and thrived as a result. Diamond offers the story of another island, Japan. The Tokugawa Shoguns of Japan recognized that the population could very easily decimate the forests of Japan, and they took action to prevent deforestation. By creating a “tree census”, they were able to determine which forests were in danger of being destroyed. The government worked with local towns and leaders to ensure that they understood from where they could harvest wood and how much could be used. Their system was successful, and Japan continues to enjoy their forests.
I think the author was clever to use two examples, both island nations that harvested trees, to show that we can use the earth’s resources without destroying our environment. We simply need observe the problems we are causing, and correct them to avoid inflicting more damage. The book is an excellent read and includes many fascinating stories to support Diamond’s viewpoints.
In Collapse, Diamond addresses the viewpoint that technology will solve all of our environmental problems. Some people are of the opinion that whether or not we decide to ignore environmental issues, technology will eventually solve them for us. Diamond answers simply that new technology often creates more problems than it solves. Relying on technology to solve all of our problems is not a viable solution. Further, he argues that the purpose of technology is to increase our ability to do things, quantitatively not qualitatively. So if technology is going to be part of the solution, we need to adjust our outlook on the environment now, so when the technology is available we understand how to use it to help solve our problems.
Most people that I discuss environmental issues with feel that technology will play a large role in solving problems. But we already have so much technology that we do not take advantage of, so how will more technology help? By simply recycling we become a part of the solution, but not everyone chooses to recycle. We need to stop focusing on the marvelous technology we hope for, and address the problems in the present.
I certainly hope, along with Jared Diamond, that we can do so before another Collapse!
(I read the entire book)