“Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything,” [Gerald O’Hara] shouted, his thick, short arms making wide gestures of indignation, “for ‘tis the only thing in the world that lasts and you don’t be forgetting it! ‘Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for—worth dying for.” (Mitchell, Gone with the Wind)
In a series of vignettes, structurally reminiscent of Jared Diamond’s Collapse, David R. Montgomery explores the history of mankind and its destructive relationship with the most foundational of natural resources:
Montgomery demonstrates that a society’s land, not in its area but in its fertility, is one of its most critical resources: loss of productivity in the land inevitably leads to the “erosion of civilizations.” With more than ten billion people expected to inhabit the Earth by 2100, he calls for drastic agricultural reform with and eye down towards the soil and not merely up toward the sky and the changing climate.
With a chilling talent for storytelling and a well rounded understanding of all sides of the issue—geologic, ecologic, economic, societal, etc.—Montgomery brings to the surface a looming disaster that is already under foot and delivers a stern warning: if we, as a global civilization, fail to heed the warning signs, we too will be buried in the consequences of our own making.
In Collapse, Jared Diamond–author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs and Steel (which I admit, is still on my “To Read” list)–examines the life cycle of some of humanities greatest societies. Easter Island. The Mayan Empire. The Vikings. Modern day Montana.
His writing spans the length of human history and the breadth of planet Earth, and leaves readers with a warning: when societies become to grand–too large and too greedy–when they outgrow the natural limits of their surroundings and really on hubris rather than reason to get them through hard times, ecological suicide is the inevitable result.
Diamond’s storytelling makes for a compelling read, and each chapter stands more or less on its own, so no need to be intimidated by the dense material.
Collapse should be a cornerstone of any library. Find it on Amazon here.
I recently found Goodreads, and what a find it has been! It has expanded my bookshelf far beyond the “…Also Bought” and “Frequently Bought Together” suggestions from Amazon. (Not to knock Amazon. The Kindle has also–inexplicably–increased my appetite for reading, lately.)
One of the best parts of Goodreads is their lists. Yes, you can vote on your favorite books in various categories (which I have done liberally), but they also show you all the books you never knew you always wanted to read. My “want to read” list is growing to daunting proportions.
But I want to call out one list in particular: “Some Great Books on Nature.” Unsurprisingly, I suppose, it features some truly great books on nature. I voted for three: The Green Book, Flight Behavior and (one of my absolute favorites) Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.
Find me on Goodreads.
I am a creative: a photographer, a writer, a problem-solver.
I am committed to fostering collaboration to achieve balanced multiple uses of our natural resources in order to foster healthy economies and resilient ecosystems.
Our Earth is at a turning point, with an agitated atmosphere, a swelling sea, and diminishing resources. We face a choice: we can continue on this destructive path, reaping today’s gains at the expense of tomorrow’s existence; we can revert our society to one that lives in total concert with the natural world; or we can find middle ground.
Finding this sustainable way forward will require conversation, and good conversation must be both inspired and informed.
The best chance we have a sustainable future is by each person finding their own inspiration and information through experience–hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or sailing around the globe–but few of us have the opportunity to take on such epic adventures with nature.
The next best thing? Not scientific journals or ranting news personalities. Books. Movies. Photographs. In short, stories. Stories that show us the importance of mankind’s relationship with our planet.