The Ruin of Easter Island

Topics: Easter Island, Moai, Rano Raraku Pages: 6 (1700 words) Published: April 9, 2013
“Will we recognize the world's natural limits and adjust our economies accordingly, or will we proceed to expand our ecological footprint until it is too late to turn back?”

--Brown and Flavin (1999)

Ensuring “environmental sustainability” through the integration of sustainable development principles into country policies alongside programs to reverse the loss of environmental resources, and the reduction of biodiversity loss significantly by 2010, was one of the goals the United Nations set in the new millennium (Zupi, 2007). Although the acknowledgement that precautionary steps need to be taken, and taken rapidly, is a step in the right direction, one must not underestimate the value of time, given that “if we do not do these things now, while we prosper, we will never be able to do them when times get hard” (Wright, 2004).

History provides the present time with various insights and lessons on what to not do and the varying factors which contribute to the decadence of a societies aim to 'progress’ (Dottori, 2008) , and small isolated and independent islands, provide a miniature model of the earth’s basic functions and may in fact be crucial in determining “trends vital to the survival of man and beast” (Decker et. al, 2005). The small and isolated island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is one such island that may be a microcosm for the planet Earth (Hunt, 2006) , providing important lessons regarding our collective future (Dottori, 2008). While there are varying elucidations on the environmental history of Easter Island, what is commonly understood is that it was a once thriving civilization that in a matter of centuries ended up in ruins. Different routes have been taken by scholars in understanding the causes of their civilizations demise. In his book, A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright exerts the fall of Easter Island as a result of the misuse of the island’s natural resources. Contrarily, Paul Rainbird takes a different approach and argues that external factors and/or natural phenomena may have played key roles in the demise of the people of Easter Island and their land (Rainbird, 2002). This paper will examine both aforementioned arguments, and will later examine what specific means could have been taken to prevent this devastation.

Despite the deferring views on the causes of wreckage on Easter Island, the advancements of modern science and technology allow for a middle ground. What is agreed upon is that prior to the arrival of Polynesians, Rapa Nui was covered with forests dominated especially by the now extinct species therein of palm trees, according to pollen records assessed by Flenley et al. (1991). Although unclear is the exact date of human arrival (Hunt, 2006) the onset of agricultural settlement is clearly marked by the “destruction of the primeval forest and soil cover starting AD 1200” (Hunt, 2006). Agriculture paved way to an abundance of food, and between AD 1200 and 1650, an agrarian society began practicing a form of ancestor worship by erecting statues known as the moai. It is assumed that the population of the island grew a plethora, possibly more than 10 000, evidently too much for the tiny island (Diamond, 2007), and by around AD 1650, a societal collapse occurred that was accompanied by warfare, a crash in population size, and striking cultural changes (Reuveny, 2000). In AD 1774, James Cook visited Rapa Nui, and found perhaps a thousand people “eking out a living” amidst megalithic ruins on an island devoid of trees (Mann et al, 2007). The statues, weighing up to 200 pounds, are now one of the only remnants of a society once flourishing (Wright, 2004).

Ronald Wright’s regards the tragedy of Easter Island as a direct warning to our modern civilization (Wright, 2004). His interpretation of the Easter Island devastation is that the islander’s brought doom upon themselves through their unrestrained consumption of the...
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