Excerpt from Collapse by Jared Diamond, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

by Jared Diamond

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  • First Published:
    Dec 2004, 575 pages
    Jan 2006, 592 pages

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Print Excerpt

Chapter 13: "Mining" Australia
Australia's significance
Early history
Imported values
Trade and immigration
Land degradation
Other environmental problems
Signs of hope and change


Chapter 14: Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?
Road map for success
Failure to anticipate
Failure to perceive
Rational bad behavior
Disastrous values
Other irrational failures
Unsuccessful solutions
Signs of hope

Chapter 15: Big Businesses and the Environment: Different Conditions, Different Outcomes
Resource extraction
Two oil fields
Oil company motives
Hardrock mining operations
Mining company motives
Differences among mining companies
The logging industry
Forest Stewardship Council
The seafood industry
Businesses and the public

Chapter 16: The World as a Polder: What Does It All Mean to Us Today?
The most serious problems
If we don't solve them . . .
Life in Los Angeles
One-liner objections
The past and the present
Reasons for hope

Further Readings
Illustration Credits

The World: Prehistoric, Historic, and Modern Societies
Contemporary Montana
The Pacific Ocean, the Pitcairn Islands, and Easter Island
The Pitcairn Islands
Anasazi Sites
Maya Sites
The Viking Expansion
Contemporary Hispaniola
Contemporary China
Contemporary Australia
Political Trouble Spots of the Modern World;
Environmental Trouble Spots of the Modern World

Prologue: A Tale of Two Farms
Two farms. Collapses, past and present. Vanished Edens? A five-point framework. Businesses and the environment. The comparative method. Plan of the book

A few summers ago I visited two dairy farms, Huls Farm and Gardar Farm, which despite being located thousands of miles apart were still remarkably similar in their strengths and vulnerabilities. Both were by far the largest, most prosperous, most technologically advanced farms in their respective districts. In particular, each was centered around a magnificent state-of-the-art barn for sheltering and milking cows. Those structures, both neatly divided into opposite-facing rows of cow stalls, dwarfed all other barns in the district. Both farms let their cows graze outdoors in lush pastures during the summer, produced their own hay to harvest in the late summer for feeding the cows through the winter, and increased their production of summer fodder and winter hay by irrigating their fields. The two farms were similar in area (a few square miles) and in barn size, Huls barn holding somewhat more cows than Gardar barn (200 vs. 165 cows, respectively). The owners of both farms were viewed as leaders of their respective societies. Both owners were deeply religious. Both farms were located in gorgeous natural settings that attract tourists from afar, with backdrops of high snow-capped mountains drained by streams teaming with fish, and sloping down to a famous river.

Those were the shared strengths of the two farms. As for their shared vulnerabilities, both lay in districts economically marginal for dairying, because their high northern latitudes meant a short summer growing season in which to produce pasture grass and hay. Because the climate was thus suboptimal even in good years, compared to dairy farms at lower latitudes, both farms were susceptible to being harmed by climate change, with drought or cold being the main concerns in the districts of Huls Farm or Gardar Farm respectively. Both districts lay far from population centers to which they could market their products, so that transportation costs and hazards placed them at a competitive disadvantage compared to more centrally located districts. The economies of both farms were hostage to forces beyond their owners' control, such as the changing affluence and tastes of their customers and neighbors. On a larger scale, the economies of the countries in which both farms lay rose and fell with the waxing and waning of threats from distant enemy societies.

From Collapse by Jared Diamond. Copyright Jared Diamond 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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