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Jared Diamond - Collapse (2004) - Synopsis

Jared Diamond - Collapse (2004) - Synopsis

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Published by Mark K. Jensen
Synopsis of Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking, 2004). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on May 9, 2005.
Synopsis of Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking, 2004). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on May 9, 2005.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on May 22, 2009
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Digging Deeper, UFPPC’s (www.ufppc.org) Book Discussion Series @ Mandolin Café (Tacoma, WA)May 9, 2005, 7:00 p.m. 
 Jared Diamond,
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed 
(New York:Viking, 2004).
Prologue: A Tale of Two Farms.
Huls Farm,Montana, and Gardar Farm, SW Greenland: similarities(1-3). Collapse: A drastic decline in human populationsize and/or political/economic/social complexity, over aconsiderable area, for an extended time” (3). Map (4-5). Eight causes of “ecological suicide ― ecocide” ―“deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems(erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), watermanagement problems, overhunting, overfishing,effects of introduced species on native species, humanpopulation growth, and increased per capital impact of people” (6). Typically, societies collapse rapidly (6-7).Four new threats: “human-caused climate change,buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energyshortages, and full human utilization of the Earth’sphotosynthetic capacity” (7). Most of the 12 threatsare predicted to become “globally critical” “within thenext few decades” (7). Perhaps the past containslessons (7-8). Controversy of responsibility of nativepeoples for past ecocides dismissed: “they werepeople like us” (8-10). Five factors in collapse:environmental change (11); climate change (oftencombining with environmental change) (12-13); hostileneighbors (13-14); decreased support from friendlyneighbors (14); a society’s own institutional response(14-15). A full title for this book would be ‘societalcollapses involving an environmental component, andin some cases also contributions of climate change,hostile neighbors, and trade partners, plus questions of societal responses’” (15). Claims “middle-of-the-roadperspective, with experience of both environmentalproblems and of business realities” (15-17). Scientificapproach: the comparative method (17-19). Plan of book (19-23).
PART ONE: MODERN MONTANACh. 1: Under Montana’s Big Sky.
Montana’sattractive beauty (27-30). Ravalli County (30).Advantages as a case: less abstract; exemplaryenvironmental problems (32-33). History of Montana’shuman occupation, and its economic basis (33-35). Toxic byproducts of mining (35-41). Logging & forestryproblems (41-47). Soil: nitrogen depletion, erosion,and saline seeps (47-49). Water problems (49-53). Airproblems (53). Problems from the introduction of non-native species of animals and plants (53-56).Polarization of community (56-62). Low spending oneducation; children leave Montana (62-63). Anti-government attitude prevents government action topreserve Montana’s attractions (63-65). Four individualstories: Rick Laible, state senator (66-68); ChipPigman, developer (68-70); Tim Huls, dairy farmer (70-72); John Cook, fishing guide (72-73). Montana’sdependence on income from outside (74). The value of the case of Montana as exemplar (74-75).
PART TWO: PAST SOCIETIESCh. 2: Twilight at Easter.
Easter Island “the mostremote habitable scrap of land in the world” (79).Rano Raraku quarry (79-80). Early speculations, after1722 contact (80-82). Easter Island’s geography &climate (83, 86). Prehistoric Polynesian settlementbeginning c. 1200 BC (86-87). Easter Island probablysettled shortly before 900 AD (87-90). Diamond sideswith higher population estimates (15,000 or more) (90-91). Evidence for intensification of agriculture includesrock gardens and lithic mulch agriculture (91-93).Easter Island stratified, divided radially into 11 or 12clans, and religiously & economically integrated (93-95).
 Ahu
(stone platforms and their
moai
[giant stonestatues]) (95-99). Diamond endorses “canoe ladder”hypothesis for transporting statues, which were thenlevered vertical (99-101). Van Tilburg’s estimated
ahu
&
moai
added 25% to island population’s foodrequirements over 300 years (102). Extremedeforestation: “the whole forest gone, and all of itstree species extinct” (102-07). Self-destruction oEaster Island society (107-11). Subsequent near-eradication of Easter Islanders following contact withEuropeans (111-12). Alternative explanations otherthan ecocide unpersuasive (113-14). Analysis of factors for deforestation shows Easter Island was “oneof the most fragile environments, at the highest risk fordeforestation, of any Pacific people” (115-18). Onlytwo factors involved in Easter Island collapse:environmental impacts, and social impacts (118-19).Easter Island “a metaphor, a worst-case scenario, forwhat may lie ahead of us in our own future” (119).
Ch. 3: The Last People Alive: Pitcairn andHenderson Islands.
Mangareva, Pitcairn, andHenderson Islands: relative advantages anddrawbacks for habitation (120-26). Evidence of tradenetwork established by Marshall Weiser, U. of Otago(NZ) (127-31). Trade occurred from 1000 to 1450, butstopped by 1500; Henderson Island & Pitcairn Islandgradually died out (131-35).
Ch. 4: The Ancient Ones: The Anasazi and TheirNeighbors.
Collapse of Anasazi & related cultures,1130-c. late 15
th
c., due to interrelated factors (136-37). Dendrochronology (138-39). Three types of agriculture, four strategies of application (139-43).Chaco Canyon (143). Water management issues (144-45). Packrat middens reveal deforestation after AD1000 (145-47). Chaco Canyon becomes a mini-imperial metropolis (147-50). “Explosion of environmental and population problems in the form of civil unrest and warfare . . . a frequent theme of thisbook” leads Anasazi (‘the Ancient Ones’) [153] to ruin(151-54). All factors of collapse [11-15] involved,except external enemies; ultimate cause of collapseenvironmental; proximate cause climatic (154-56).
Ch. 5: The Maya Collapses.
Romantic appeal sincerediscovery in 1839 by John Stephens (157-58).Relevance of Mayan collapse to this study (158-60).
 
Climate and geography of Mayan homeland: seasonaltropical forest (160-62). Relatively unproductive(Mayan peasantry produced twice the food supplyneeded to support itself) agriculture limited extent of military campaigns (162-66). Mayan history; Mayancalendar (166-68). Human habitation at Copán(recorded, AD 426-822; unwritten, c. 5
th
c.-13
th
c.) (168-70). Complexities of the Mayan collapse; “Whatcollapsed quickly during the Classic collapse was theinstitution of kingship and the Long Count calendar”(170-72). Warfare and drought (172-74). Populationcollapse (3-14 million to 30,000) (175). Repopulation(and redeforestation) of Central Péten (175-76). Fivefactors contributed to collapse: over population,deforestation, war, drought, and elite distractions (176-77).
Ch. 6: The Viking Prelude and Fugues.
Vikingexpansion westward and detailed record make itsevidence “the most detailed example in this book”(178-80). Brief history of Viking expansion, 793-1066(180-81, 184-85). An autocatalytic process (186-87).Settlers bring along their cultural capital (187). Vikingagriculture (188-89). Iron production (189-90).Hierarchical class structure of competing chiefs (190).Viking religion (191). Conversion to Christianity (192-93). With only six “experiments” in overseassettlement, analysis is difficult, but historicalknowledge helps (193-94). Orkneys (194-95).Shetland Islands (195). Faeroe Islands (195-97).Iceland’s volcanoes and ice (197-98). Fragile soils(198-200). Colonization, 870-930, led to deforestationand erosion (200-01). Need for conservation led toconservatism (202). Political history (202-03).Eventual prosperity from trade in stockfish (dried cod)(203). Closeness to Europe and absence of otherinhabitants positive factors, unsuitability for agricultureand environmental fragility negative factors in Iceland(204-05). Of the five factors of collapse (11-15), onlythe hostility outsiders was minor (204-05). Icelandersappreciate the importance of archaeologists (205).Vinland voyage controversy settled by 1961 discoveryof Newfoundland site (206). Two Vinland sagasindicate “Helluland” was east coast of Baffin Island,Markland the Labrador coast, and VinlandNewfoundland, probably with New Brunswick and NovaScotia (207). Leifsbudir = L’Anse aux Meadows, a basecamp (207-08). Archaeological evidence indicatesplanned abandonment (207-08). Hostility of Indiansmain factor (209). Visits for supply and tradecontinued for centuries (209-10).
Ch. 7: Norse Greenland’s Flowering.
Vikingsettlements in SW Greenland’s 2 fjord systems, 984-1400s (211-13). Cold, variable, windy, foggy climate(213-16). After the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300),which brought Inuit into the area, the Little Ice Agebegan (216-20). Flora and fauna (220-21). Settlement(221-22). Greenland Norse pastoralism (222-26).Hunting wild animals, esp. caribou and seals (227-28).No fish (229-30). Complex, integrated economy;stratification (231-25). Society: communal (farmgroups of about 20) (235-36); violent (236-39); loosefederation of hierarchical chiefdoms (239);conservative (239-40); Eurocentric (prestige of luxurytrade ― walrus tusk and polar bears & polar bearhides) (240-43). Slavish adherence to NorwegianChristian customs & fashions (243-47).
Ch. 8: Norse Greenland’s End.
Destruction of natural vegetation led to shortages of lumber, fuel, andiron (248-52). Soil erosion and turf cutting deprivedthem of useful land (252-55). Inuit: a missedopportunity and demonstration that survival waspossible (255). Predecessors to Inuit were the Dorsetpeople (256-57). Inuit technology; whale & sealhunting (257-60). Only two references to Inuits inannals, both violent (261-62). Archaeological sourcesshow Inuit learned from the Norse, but the Norselearned nothing from the Inuit (262-64). Speculationabout causes of bad relations (264-66). All fivecollapse factors (11-15) figure in Norse demise (266-67). Western Settlement goes first, starving & freezingto death in mid-14
th
c. (267-70). Exact circumstancesof the end of the Eastern Settlement in early 15
th
c.unknown (270-71). Speculation that collapse wassudden (272-73). Collapse was not inevitable, but“much of what the chiefs and clergy valued provedeventually harmful to the society” (273-76).
Ch. 9: Opposite Paths to Success.
Two contrastingapproaches to solving environmental problems:bottom-up and top-down (277-78). Middle-sizesocieties have trouble adopting either (279). NewGuinea (bottom-up) casuarina silviculture (280-86). Tikopia (bottom-up), tiny South Pacific island (1.8 sq.mi.) supports 1,200, continuously occupied for 3,000years (286-93). Japan, 1467-1868 (top down) (294-97).1657 Meiriki fire burned half of Edo (Tokyo), leading toconsumption limits and building up of reserves (299-304). Environmental & social factors in success (304-06). Other success stories (306-07).
PART THREE: MODERN SOCIETIESCh. 10: Malthus in Africa: Rwanda’s Genocide.
E.African population boom (311). Malthus (312-13).Comparative genocide statistics: Rwanda #3 inabsolute numbers, #2 in proportional terms (313).Hutu-Tutsi history (314-15). Hutus’ mass killing of est.800,000 Tutsi, spring 1994 (315-17). Ethnic strife aninadequate explanation (317-19). Overpopulation andenvironmental problems (319-21). Rising inequalitiesproduced land disputes that undermined socialcohesion (321-24). Much killing involved settlingscores (324-26). Explaining is not excusing (326-27).Population pressure not the single cause (327). Merelyan important factor (327-28).
Ch. 11: One Island, Two Peoples, Two Histories:The Dominican Republic and Haiti.
DominicanRepublic & Haiti contrasted (329-33). History of thetwo countries (333-39). Geography and climate (339).Social and political differences: French imported slavesfor intensive plantation agriculture (340). Culturaldifferences: Haitians more insular, anti-commercial(340). Deforestation (341-45). Balaguer’s policies andmotivations in the Dom. Rep.: an evilenvironmentalist? (343-49). Dom. Rep. today: growingper-capital human impact (349-52). Mixed forecastsfor the Dom. Rep.’s future (352-54). Any hope for Haitidepends on involvement with Dom. Rep. (354-57).
Ch. 12: China, Lurching Giant.
China’ssuperlatives: 1.3 billion people (358-39). Geography,population trends, economy (359-63). History of 

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