Happy Monday, ladies! How was your weekend? It was my first weekend home and there was lots of visiting happening! Especially for Easter. Things are revving up around here and we’ve been crazy busy. Make sure you come back next Monday to find out why! (Literally, the secret is killing me, but I have to wait a few more days). Anyway, in today’s post I’m talking about the book I read in Peru: Collapse by Jared Diamond.
If you haven’t heard of Jared Diamond by now, well, you probably don’t read non-fiction. But Diamond is frequently quoted in many fields, particularly for his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, which won him a Pulitzer Prize. It was the first book assigned to me in college. Instantly, I was blown away at how simple and easy it was to read considering the topic and Diamond’s standing as an academic (folks who are notorious for making the simple complicated). Collapse was no exception.
Collapse is one part dystopian historical non-fiction and one part environmental exposé. Diamond attempts to make the argument that environmental problems have been the leading ultimate cause of the collapse of societies. He doesn’t necessarily claim environmental determinism, but he does claim resource management will ultimately determine how people live or don’t live in the future.
Diamond uses examples from ancient societies and modern societies to explain his point. He focuses on how they interacted with their environment and how their beliefs either led them to succeed or fail. Diamond also compares modern societies who successfully (and with little damage) are able to log, extract oil, mine, etc. to modern societies who do it recklessly and damage the environment. I appreciate the contrast because it’s obvious that we can’t force entire industries out of business, nor would we really want to because that would only add problems (think: lost jobs, higher prices, etc.).
I haven’t read it yet, but there was a massive scholarly response to Diamond’s book called, After Collapse. It’s a more academic text, but I look forward to reading it. The topic mostly covers how societies regenerate after collapse. At first glance, I have to agree with the response. Diamond does fail to mention the after part, but societies do have to collapse before they can regenerate. So my guess is the argument will be the other side of the same coin.
- Pgs. 57, 230, 246, & 275: First, I appreciated Diamond’s focus on the need to reevaluate our values as a society, continually. Especially as we deplete available resources, discover new techniques, and find find failures in old ones. We need to be especially cognizant of when values clash, and look for compromises to remedy those clashes; and for when we let old, outdated values inhibit prosperity in the future.
- Pgs. 64, 450, & 466: Economic concerns are valid concerns. Environmentally friendly policies are incredibly important, but they cannot come into place without considering their economic toll. But environmentally friendly upfront costs can actually lead to more profit in the future, as was the case for Chevron and Rio Tinto.
- Pgs. 201, 339, & 438: Beware what your eyes tell you about the environment. First, just because the grass is green now doesn’t mean there’s adequate nutrients and water to keep it green tomorrow or a year from now. Our eyes also fail to notice small changes over time, to the point where we fail to notice a huge difference 10 years later. (Have you ever sat at your computer so long and so focused that when you looked up you were startled to find it was dark? Environmental damage acts the same way.) And don’t think recovery will happen as fast as growth was prior to destruction. Finally, never assume one ecosystem can respond to the same actions as another – even if they look similar.
- Pg. 419: Never be afraid to challenge assumptions and ask questions, even of teachers, mentors, politicians, people who know what they’re doing, etc.
- Pgs. 326-328, 348, & 484: Diamond spends a little time talking about good versus evil. He talks about genocide, and its roots; how explaining bad things doesn’t equal excusing them; and dealing with the cognitive dissonance of appreciating the environmental policies of one of the world’s worst dictators. These pages don’t necessarily provide answers in neat little bows, but they did remind me to step back and think really hard before wrapping something under such a simple term like good or evil.
IS IT FOR YOU?
If you’re a current events, history, environmental, or general nonfiction fan, absolutely. But even if you’re not those things, Diamond makes some points that really everyone should attempt to digest and understand. Think critically about it, but read it.
If you really aren’t into it, try looking up some summaries, and get your hands on the Further Reading sections, Pgs. 569-574, where Diamond talks about the kinds of things individuals can do in their everyday life that can help the environment. You’ll also find in the last chapter a discussion of the top 12 environmental issues today and responses to anti-environmental-policy statements (starting on Pgs. 487 and 503, respectively).
I’m not preaching we should all become zero-waste aficionados, because for some that kind of adjustment simply isn’t possible. However, there are things that are totally within the realm of anyone’s lifestyle and we, as a community, should make a concerted effort to do those things.
What’s your favorite read this year? I’m on the hunt for some good books!