Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

by Jared Diamond
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In Collapse, Diamond presents a five-point framework of factors that may contribute to an environmental collapse of a society. Match each of the following factors with the appropriate example.  -a.b.c.d. The impact of climate change -a.b.c.d. Hostile neighbors -a.b.c.d. Friendly neighbors -a.b.c.d. Society's response to a problem a. Japanese imports of wood b. Deforestation in New Guinea's highlands c. The fall of the Roman Empire d. The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia

Each of these examples can be interpreted using Diamond's five-point framework in Collapse. Japan's reliance on timber imports is an example of the "friendly neighbor" concept; Rome's fall can be attributed to the "hostile neighbor" idea; the eruption of Mt. Tambora shows the influence of climate events on human societies; and the rise of New Guinea highland silviculture in response to deforestation shows how a society can mitigate environmental degradation through a consistent response.

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Let's look at each of the examples your question mentions and see how they fit into Diamond's five points.

Japanese import of timber: Modern Japan's reliance on timber imports is an example of what Diamond calls "exporting deforestation," in which Japan preserves its own forests by depleting the forests of other countries. This trade is (perhaps ironically) an example of the "friendly nation" concept, in that Japan is able to find other countries willing to trade timber for other goods.

Deforestation of New Guinea's highlands: Diamond refers to soil cores taken from swamps to recreate the history of highland forests. He finds evidence that deforestation and the introduction of silviculture are connected to several volcanic eruptions which rejuvenated soils and led to spikes in the human population. Diamond sees the planting of ironwood trees as a way of mitigating deforestation as an example of "bottom-up" forest management.

The fall of the Roman Empire: Diamond refers to the controversy among historians about why Rome fell—it was either an example of hostile outside nations becoming more powerful or a case where Rome itself became weaker and less able to defend itself.

The eruption of Mt. Tambora: Diamond refers to this eruption in 1815 as a climate event that affected the entire world. The ash injected into the atmosphere by this eruption significantly reduced the amount of sunlight that reached the ground, affecting crop yields and indirectly causing starvation.

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The five factors relate to each of these instances in various ways. I will portion them out appropriately for you.

1) Japan's imports on wood is an example of friendly neighbors and their influence on the nation and economy. If the neighbors were to restrict wood trade with the Japanese, that industry would quickly collapse.

2) Deforestation of New Guinea is an example of society reacting well to environmental changes. The highland people of New Guinea were able to react and adapt to the deforestation and prevented the community from being destroyed in the process.

3) The Roman empire fell because of hostile neighbors - they entered into great conflict with neighboring nations and eventually split and fell.

4) Finally, the eruption of Mt. Tambora created such dramatic climate shifts that much of Europe and America suffered severe famine, causing communities to change and, in some cases, collapse.

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The answer to this question can be found in the Prologue to Collapse.  It is found in the pages after the first mention of the framework.  I have this book on Kindle only and so I can’t give you a page number, but you can look up “neighbors, hostile” in the index to find this area of the book.

In the Prologue, Diamond offers five factors that can determine whether a society collapses.  Different societies can be impacted by different combinations of these factors.  The factors are

  • Environmental damage
  • Climate change
  • Hostile neighbors
  • Trade with friendly neighbors
  • Society’s response to problems

Of these, your question asks about all but environmental damage.  Let us look at what each of these means, with reference to the examples cited in your question.

One factor that can help to make a society collapse is pressure from hostile neighbors.  Diamond mentions the fall of the Roman Empire as a classic example of the importance of this factor.  Therefore, Option C goes with “hostile neighbors.”  Diamond points out that the Roman Empire is said to have fallen in large part because its “barbarian” neighbors kept invading it.

A second factor is climate change.  Diamond points out that this does not have to mean human-made climate change.  This is where the eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1815 comes in.  Diamond says that this eruption caused the climate to cool so much that famine broke out even in such places as Europe and North America.  Therefore, Option D goes with “The impact of climate change.”

A third factor is trade with friendly neighbors.  What Diamond is saying here is that your society can collapse if your friendly neighbors stop trading with you.  In good times, friendly neighbors trade with one another.  Diamond says, for example, that other countries sell wood to Japan today.  This helps Japan’s society survive.  If the neighbors were to stop trading with Japan, Japan would be hurt.  Therefore, Option A goes with “friendly neighbors.”

Finally, there is society’s response to a problem.  Different societies can all face the same problem, but respond in different ways.  Diamond says that the people of the New Guinea highlands responded well to deforestation and therefore their society did not collapse.  Therefore, Option B is the correct answer to “Society’s response to a problem.”

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