Among the ancient and modern societies Diamond analyzes in Collapse, choose one from each group (i.e., one ancient and one modern) where the two societies confronted similar environmental challenges (e.g., deforestation, soil degradation, water quality/availability, climate change, etc.). Discuss the nature of the problems they confronted, and compare how the two societies reacted to their crisis, as well as whether or not collapse occurred or is likely to occur.

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In Collapse, Jared Diamond describes deforestation and the many environmental ills which followed in its wake on Easter Island, where widespread tree-felling began a thousand years ago. Later in the book, he also describes the phenomenon and its effects in Haiti in modern times.

Easter Island

Inhabited from the year 900 onwards, the once varied and widespread forests of Easter Island had disappeared when the first Europeans arrived in the 1700s. By that time, they had probably been cleared completely for almost two hundred years. Diamond writes that the deforestation of the island is "among the most extreme in the world." The islanders had used the trees for many things: for food, making rope and canoes, for heating their homes in the cold winters and for cremating their dead. Easter Island had already been home to much fewer species of fish and birds than was the case in other Pacific habitats. The islanders relied on timber from large trees to build seagoing canoes which they needed to venture far from shore in order to catch dolphins and ocean fish like tuna. The effects of deforestation were fatal. The population dwindled, the system of government collapsed, and there is even evidence of widespread cannibalism on the island in the years before Europeans arrived. The production of the island's storied statues also ceased and the many unfinished ones left in the quarries are a tragic sight.


Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Diamond contrasts the environmental damage in Haiti, especially the deforestation there, with the situation of its neighboring country. The Dominican Republic has also lost most of its forests, but 28 percent of the land is still covered with trees while only one percent of Haiti is forested. The author writes that a "higher population density and lower rainfall was the main factor behind the more rapid deforestation" of Haiti compared to its neighbor. The Dominican Republic's rulers have also prioritized the protection of forested land while "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the ruthless dictator who ruled Haiti for many years, was indifferent to the plight of forests in his country. The main effect of deforestation in Haiti has been the disappearance of the charcoal which her poverty-stricken populace has relied upon as fuel. It was the felling of trees for the production of charcoal which mainly doomed Haiti's forests to extinction. It must be noted that Haiti is the poorest country in the world outside of Africa.

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