Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Questioning Collapse

From Munich, Germany

One of the pleasures of being in residence at the Rachel Carson Center is finding the incentive and time to read. On 11 February, we will launch a reading group composed of research fellows, professors and graduate students. Our first book is Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability and the Aftermath of Empire, which is hot off the Cambridge University Press. Although it sounds academic, the text is actually written in an accessible popular style. The various chapters challenge some of the popular ideas – including those promoted by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – that put the blame on indigenous peoples as environmental destroyers responsible for their own demise. Remember the ‘ecocide’ of the inhabitants of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), those Polynesians who are portrayed as carelessly deforesting their isolated island in a quest to erect massive statues?
Archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo set the record straight. It wasn’t the negligent ecological practices of local people that destroyed the Jubaea palm trees that once covered Rapa Nui, but the invasion and massive population growth of Polynesian rats that systematically ate their way through palm nuts and tree seeds, disrupting the regeneration of the forest. Although fire linked to agriculture may have played a role, it was the rodents and later sheep that bear the brunt of the blame. The decline of the human population, by the way, happened after first contact with Europeans especially from 1750 to 1800. We do have a lesson to learn from Rapa Nui, and it is that we should not jump to rash judgments about the lack of resilience and sustainability of local ecological knowledge and practice.

1 comment:

  1. Thought you might be interested in our post, titled, "Jared Diamond reviews book about himself in Nature (Journal) -- Without disclosing the obvious conflict"

    "There are many things that writers, and the publications that publish their work, can do to lose the trust of readers. One is to write about subjects that present clear conflicts of interest. Another is to fail to be transparent about those conflicts with their readers.

    "The February 18 issue of the journal Nature provides a clear case in point. In the issue, Pulitzer winning scientist, Jared Diamond, reviews a book of essays called Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire. The review is largely negative. What Diamond doesn’t disclose to the readers of the review, however, is that Questioning Collapse is not just a book about “collapse”... It’s a book about his bestselling book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Even more, it is a book of essays directly criticizing and critiquing Diamond’s own work and writings."

    Full story found at