1. Give a basic definition of environmental determinism. What is Ludwig von Mises' take
on the concept?
1.a) Abasic definition of Environmental Determinism (also known as climatic or geographical
determinism) is the view that physical environment sets limits on or determines the fate of
humans. The claim that physical geography, particularly climate influenced the mind set of
people, which in turn defined the behaviour and culture of the society that those individuals
formed. Example tropical climates said to cause laziness, relaxed attitudes and promiscuity,
while variable weather of middle latitudes led to determination and good work ethics.
b) Ludwig von Mises’take on the concept of environmental determinism is that there is a
misconception in the interpretation that physical, geological, climatic conditions, flora and fauna
of a region determines the thoughts and actions of its inhabitants. Instead Ludwig von Mises
identifies the misconception of the above interpretation as geography as an active and human
action as a passive factor. So geography determines the fate of humans but human action does
not. Man lives in a definite geographical environment and is forced to adjust his action to the
conditions of this environment. But the way he adjusts himself, methods of social, technological
and moral adaptation, are not determined by external physical factors. For example the North
American continent did not produce the civilization of Indian aborigines.According to Ludwig
von Mises the truth in environmentalism is the cognition that every individual lives at a definite
epoch or geographical space and acts under the conditions determined by this environment. The
environment determines the situation but not the response. The response the actor (s) choose
depends on their individuality. So geography therefore does not determine the fate of humans,
but rather, human action determines the fate of humans, according to Ludwig von Mises.
Ludwig von Mises arguments environmental determinism looks upon geography as an active and
upon human action as a passive factor. He feels that Geography sets a task, but man has to solve
it. Man lives in a definite geographical environment and is forced to adjust his action to the
conditions of this environment. But the way in which he adjusts himself, the methods of his
social, technological, and moral adaptation, are not determined by the external physical factors.
An example Ludwig von Mises uses is that theAmerican continent produced neither the
civilization of the Indian aborigines nor that of theAmericans of European extraction, Fur coats
are practical in Canada but less so in Tahiti.
2. What is Ricardo Hausmann's argument as to how the fact that a country is 'landlocked'
affects its growth prospects? How does he account for the plight of tropical agriculture?
Ricardo Hausmann’s argument that a country that is “landlocked” affects its growth prospects
because landlocked nations may never enjoy access to internal (local) and external (international)
markets. Also landlocked nations need new technologies to flourish in the global economy.
Nations with populations far from a coastline tend to be poorer and show lower rates of
economic growth than coastal countries. Landlocked countries, in today’s global market place
would require inputs from various locations around the world, however transportation costs are
high *study* shipping goods over 1 km of land costs as much as shipping them over 7extra km
of sea. Landlocked countries if no physical infrastructure (roads, railways, ports) had to access navigable rivers and sea. Crossing borders costly for landlocked countries. *Study* crossing
United States and Canadian border add four thousand to sixteen km of transportation costs.
Landlocked countries have the challenge of co-ordinating infrastructure expenditures with
neighbouring countries, political and commercial problems inhibit their passage to sea.
b) Ricardo Hausmann accounts for the plight of tropical agriculture by saying because of little or
no research and development in tropical agriculture, tropical countries left out of “modern-
technology club,” they have little or no money to spend on research and development, so they do
not know which variety or crop to plant and where it can grow, non existent expenditure of
private agricultural producers, so no private funding, agricultural workers produce only a little
more than what they require for personal subsistence so no exporting, cannot support large urban
populations and high transportation costs in accessing world markets.
In today’s global market place most industrial products require inputs from various locations.
Unfortunately transportations costs are often determined by a country’s geography, therefore if
transportation costs are high, local companies will be at a disadvantage it would be hard for them
to export and import. Countries far from sea do not enjoy the physical infrastructure (railways,
seaports) as well. Governments in landlocked countries face the additional challenge of
coordinating infrastructure costs with neighboring countries. The divergence of agricultural
productivity between the developed and developing world is grounded in dramatically different
research and development capabilities. Geography aggravates this disparity plant varieties need
to be adapted to the local climate meaning that research and development geared toward rich
temperate zone agriculture is of little use in tropical areas. The tropical countries are left out of
the modern technology club so agricultural sector much less dynamic in tropical areas than in
3. What is Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin's take on the various environmental determinist
explanations that have been used to explain Africa's current social and economic plight?
Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin’s take on the various environmental determinist explanations that
have been used to explainAfrica’s current social and economic plight is that geography and
history, that is environmental determinism does not matter significantly for the ability of Third
World African countries to grow and reduce poverty. In Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin’s *study*
while poverty levels start out matching the environmental determinist hypothesy, the poverty
rates for countries on either side of the breakdown tend to converge, with the disadvantaged
countries reducing poverty significantly to catch up to the advantaged ones. Therefore neither
geographical nor historical (that is, environmental determinism) disadvantages are obstacles to
Africa’s current social and economic plight, poverty reduction.
• It has been suggested that geography and history matter significantly for the ability of
African countries to grow and reduce poverty. Some argue that coastal countries, or countries that are mineral-rich, will perform better than landlocked and mineral-poor
countries in general. Others argue point to adverse geography as a cause of slow
development: in particular, countries that have unfavourable agriculture should be poorer
than countries with more favourable conditions. Others have suggested that troubled
history may have a persistent effect on growth performance.
o However, Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin argue thatAfrican poverty decline has
taken place everywhere, in countries that were slighted as well as in those that
were favoured by geography and history. For every breakdown discussed above,
the left panel of the corresponding Figure shows GDP in countries to each side of
the breakdown, while the right panel shows poverty rates.
o While the levels of the poverty series start out matching the hypotheses set out
above, the poverty rates for countries on either side of the breakdown tend to
converge, with the disadvantaged countries reducing poverty significantly to
catch up to the advantaged ones. Neither geographical nor historical
disadvantages seem to be insurmountable obstacles to poverty reduction.
4. What is Diamond's take on traditional 'environmental determinist' arguments?
Diamond believes that there is no objective evidence for neither racial nor genetic superiority.
• Furthermore, Diamond does not believe that a person’s climate will stimulate their
inventiveness. Just because a person lives in a cold climate does not mean the climate
will stimulate inventiveness. Even though Europeans live in colder climates compared to
those living in warm climates they inherited agriculture, the wheel, writing, and
metallurgy which all come from warm climates. Colder climates do not make you
• There is also the belief that lowland river valleys in dry climates depended on irrigation
and centralized bureaucracies. But this is not the case.Archaeological studies have shown
that complex irrigation systems did not accompany the rise of centralized bureaucracies,
but followed after a considerable lag. This means that bureaucracies were in place before
the irrigation systems.
• Another type of explanation ED provides lists the immediate factors that enabled
Europeans to kill or conquer other peoples, especially guns, steels tools, disease, and
These explanations are on the right track as those factors were directly responsible for European
conquest. However, it is incomplete because it only offers a proximate explanation identifying
immediate cause. It invites a search for ultimate causes: why were Europeans the one to end up
with guns, germs, and steel and not theAfricans? 5. What is the megafauna 'overkill' hypothesis? What are the main arguments in its
• The megafauna overkill hypothesis is a theory developed by Paul Martin. It is also
known as the Blitzkrieg Scenario.
• It states that wherever humans went, it has always been accompanied by the extinction of
large animals (Megafauna)
• How?: Humans look harmless. However, humans have weapons and lots of experience
hunting large species in other continents. Furthermore, humans could create fire forcing
habitat change. The animals inAfrica co-existed with humans so they knew the danger of
humans and stayed away and this is why they did not go extinct.
• Arguments in favour:
o Following human arrival, MF disappeared everywhere in all habitats.
o There are North American kill sites for Mastodons and Mammoths
o In Cuba, MF had managed to survive until humans showed up.
o The disappearance of lesser species can be attributed to the changes in the traditional food
chain/habitat at the time due to the disappearance of megafauna (prairies had reverted back to
forests). Furthermore there was indirect human influence like bringing rats which changed things
significantly for the natural habitat.
6. What are the main arguments against the megafauna overkill hypothesis? What are the
alternative explanations for the disappearance of megafauna outside ofAfrica? What is
Diamond's position in this debate?
o Not enough humans to wipe out all the MF
o Certain MF still around NorthAmerica today such as Elks, Bears, and Bisons.
o Humans and MF co-existed for a very long time.
o Minifauna (rodents) also disappeared.
o Archaeological evidence only points to a few kill sites.
o Some African MF do not fear humans.
• The alternative explanation provided by critics is perhaps it was due to climate change.
One such climate change being a severe drought on an already dry Australia causing an
extinction of megafauna in Australia.
o Diamond believes it cannot be pure coincidence that the arrival of humans always seemed to
coincide with the exctinction of megafauna. How come these animals survived all this time
before, but it was only with the arrival of humans did they go extinct? How come climate change
did not cause the extinction of the megafauna already? The main arguments against the megafauna overkill hypothesis, humans were too few, certain
megafauna still around north America (Elk, bears, bisons,etc), Humans and megafauna long co-
exisence, minifauna(small rodents) also disappeared, archaeological evidence (few kill sites),
someAfrican megafauna do not fear humans. Other possible causes Climate change (23 ice rd
age) humans arrived at time of profound climate change when plants were already carbon
starved, Natural causes germs from dogs, rodents etc.
Problems with Blitzkrieg Scenario
- Humans were too few
- Certain mega-fauna still around – NorthAmerica (elk, bears, bison, etc.)
- Humans and mega-fauna long coexistence
- Mini-fauna (small rodents) also disappeared
- Archaeological evidence (few kill sites)
- SomeAfrican MF – no fear of humans
Other Possible Causes
- Climate Change (23 Ice age)
o Humans arrived at time of profound climate change when plants were already
- Natural causes
o Germs from dogs, rodents, etc.
Overkill doesn’t coincide with human arrivals, But with development of technologies of mass
hunting/destruction, thereby reconciling humans/MF 7. Describe concisely the range of Polynesian environmental conditions. Describe concisely
the types of societies that resulted from these conditions. What does this prove according to
o Climate: Warm tropical to cold sub Antarctic
o Geology: CoralAtolls to Continental
o Rainfall: Highest recorded to too dry for agriculture
o Physical Geography: (Alpine) mountain ranges to coral beaches
o These above conditions had an effect on a human societies population size, density, and structure.
This is because the environment determined if there was wild food, useful materials, fresh water,
whether or not tropical agriculture was possible, and if trade with other settlements was possible.
• Polynesian Societies:
o Subsistence: Hunter-gatherers to intensive food production
o Social Organization: Fairly egalitarian to extremely stratified
o Political Organization: Tribes to multi-island proto-empires
o Material Culture: Personal utensils to monumental stone architecture
o The Chathams are relatively small and remote islands, capable of supporting a total population of
only about 2,000 hunter-gatherers. With no other accessible islands to colonize, the Moriori had
to remain in the Chathams, and to learn how to get along with each other. They did so by
renouncing war, and they reduced potential conflicts from overpopulation by castrating some
male infants. The result was a small, unwarlike population with simple technology and weapons,
and without strong leadership or organization.
o In contrast, the northern (warmer) part of New Zealand, by far the largest island group