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Cutting down the last tree

Jared Diamond offers hindsight on past environmental disaster, but he may underestimate the extent to which technology can save us from our own folly

By Oliver Morton   February 2005

Collapse by Jared Diamond. Allen Lane, £20

In “Guns, Germs and Steel” (1997) Jared Diamond offered a magisterial account of some of the conditions that allowed Europe and Asia to emerge as cradles of earth-spanning civilisations, while Africa, Australasia and the Americas did not. Deploying expertise in many fields, especially biogeography, Diamond argued that civilisation was most easily developed in places—notably the fertile crescent—that happened to be well endowed with domesticable plants and animals. The reader, even if not convinced by all the arguments, came away convinced that the environment had done a great deal more to shape the…

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