J.R. McNeill is an American historian credited with establishing the discipline of environmental history. He criticizes Jared Diamond's depiction of Dutch environmentalism in a chapter titled "Sustainable Survival" in the anthology Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire. McNeill takes issue with Diamond's definition of collapse as a significant reduction in a country's population numbers and societal complexity over a considerable area and for an extended period of time. He points out that the elements of Diamond's definition can be quantified arbitrarily. Context is also important in McNeill's view; he questions whether a society that lasted for 450 years, as the Norse colony in Greenland did, can be qualified as a failure while another only 100 years old can be a success.
Regarding the Dutch, McNeill recounts how Holland is singled out in Collapse for its social cohesion and widespread environmental awareness. In his book, Diamond quotes at length a Dutchman explaining how keeping the sea at bay in the country is a matter of life or death for the nation as a whole and requires solidarity from everyone. According to Jared Diamond, the Dutch have "perhaps the world's highest level of environmental awareness." McNeill, however, reveals how the Dutch rely on environmentally harmful production outside their own borders. They are the largest exporters of chocolate in the world and are also major exporters of pork and chicken. This is possible, McNeill points out, because they import enormous quantities of soya for feed from Brazil and of cocoa from West Africa. In this way, they profit from widespread ecological degradation in the countries they import from.