Partha Dasgupta applies some economics to Jared Diamond's new book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. The result is not pretty:
The more important reason why Diamond’s rhetoric doesn’t play well any longer is that it presents only one side of the balance-sheet: it ignores the human benefits that accompany environmental damage.
Victor Davis Hanson applies some history. The result is not pretty:
Diamond’s natural determinism and condemnation of the West’s pathological means of exploitation are nothing new, but represent a synthesis of the previous pessimisms from Marx and Toynbee to Paul Ehrlich and Kirkpatrick Sale. Most scholars, however, would accept the notion that societies like those of the Egyptians, Romans, Aztecs, or Ottomans — civilizations that, unlike those of Diamond’s tiny settlements at Pitcairn Island or Vineland, had millions of inhabitants — at some period in their growth, evolution, and maturity inevitably declined; whether abrupt or insidious, such breakdowns were largely due to government overcentralization and rigid bureaucracy, affluence and leisure among a bored elite, high taxation, and depopulation in the countryside — all of which made rulers insensitive to change and unable to react rapidly to the radically new stimuli of invasion, novel religions, internal dissent, and, yes, occasional natural challenge.
In contrast to this broad historical picture, most of Diamond’s examples are slanted: They involve fragile, mostly isolated or island landscapes that witnessed colonists, renegades, or adventurers who sought in their greed or ignorance to put too many people in the wrong place.