The Collapse of a Green Parable for Collapse

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorSep 21, 2011 4:30 PM


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UPDATE: Some of the information and assertions in this post have been disputed by Jared Diamond here. In 1995, Jared Diamond wrote an article for Discover magazine that began:

In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?

Diamond expanded on his thesis ten years later, with the best-selling Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Many people concerned about resource depletion and overpopulation now think of Easter Island as a symbolic case study. Something about those statues, too, that seems to haunt us.

I have noted that Easter Island as a green parable and cautionary lesson

 appears to rest on scientifically shaky ground.

Mark Lynas discusses the latest evidence that calls the tale into question.

More recent archaeological work has now challenged almost every aspect of this conventional "˜ecocide' narrative, most completely and damningly in a new book by the archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo entitled "˜The Statues That Walked'. Hunt and Lipo did not set out to challenge the conventional story: their initial studies were intended merely to confirm it by providing some greater archaeological detail. However, as they dug and analysed, things turned out very differently.

Moreover, Lynas suggests that we might be drawing the wrong lessons from the history of East Islanders, since the modern-day inhabitants aren't doing so bad:

Perhaps the more recent studies of their history will help challenge the Hobbesian and pessimistic view that human nature necessarily tends towards destruction and violence. Resilience and sustainability are just as likely outcomes, even over the longer term.

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