free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 41. THE EASTER ISLAND ANOMALY

Monday, August 22, 2005

41. THE EASTER ISLAND ANOMALY

Peak oilers often point to Easter Island as proof that our civilization is doomed to collapse due to its rapacious consumption. The classic statement was written by Jared Diamond:
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?Source

But consider this: if collapse is such a pre-ordained, mechanical process, why didn't all the islands in the pacific go the route of Easter Island?

French Polynesia, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas, the Cook Islands, the Southern Group (Aitutaki, Atiu, Mitiaro, and Mauke), Hawaii, Saipan, Western Samoa, Truk, Guam, Tonga, Vavau, Efate Island, the Solomon Islands, Micronesia...

Why aren't they all an environmental horror story of overshoot and collapse? Why, out of all those islands, can the doomers only point to Easter Island?

12 Comments:

At Monday, August 22, 2005 at 8:16:00 AM PDT, Blogger James said...

Nice counterpoint to the analogy that we are all Easter-Islander at heart, so therefore we will canabalize our resources in the same manner.

The fact is that the Easter Islanders *chose* to plunder their resources in such a wasteful fashion, whereas those on other islands lived in better balance with their environment. With the gift of hindsight, I am confident that the developed world as a whole (a much bigger place than Easter Island for sure!) will make the right choices (or at least fewer bad ones) to ensure the long-term stability of their collective societies.

 
At Monday, August 22, 2005 at 10:00:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See the Vikings. Rome had a 90% dieoff also. The Mayans as well.

 
At Monday, August 22, 2005 at 10:01:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

james,

you're not fooling anybody. you're obviously John Denver.

 
At Monday, August 22, 2005 at 1:50:00 PM PDT, Blogger James said...

nope, not JD. I'm from the East Coast of Canada, was a lurker on PO.com who never posted there.

Re: Die-offs of other civilizations

The depopulation of Rome occurred over many years from its peak, hastened by the intrusion of barbarians from Bavaria and Normandy. The Mayans, in large part, were wiped out by disease, and bad agricultural practices.

Barbarians are not a threat these days (despite what some might say about terrorists), and disease, while it has the potential to wipe out a good portion of the population, would not approach die-off levels due to modern medicine and quarantine (sp?) procedures. You have a point about agricultural processes that rape the land of its nutrients (as a result of corporate excess that I alluded to in a previous comment thread), that needs to stop!

Again, knowing the past and what's at stake, rationality should prevail, and necessary steps will be taken to ensure the long-term stability and sustainability of modern society. If we don't, we'll get what we deserve...

 
At Tuesday, August 23, 2005 at 6:17:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding Rome ... one needs to remember that the Capital of the Roman Empire was shifted to Constaninople (now known as Istanbul) when Constantine bacame emperor in the first half of the 3rd century. Many people that had jobs relevant to the Imperium MOVED from Rome to Constaninople. If the capital of the US is to move from Washington DC to Knoxville one would see a similar change in population (a reduction in the population of Washington DC and an increase in the population of Knoxville ) but that would not be a die-off. Rome did lose a lot of people as the Western part of the Roman Empire disintegrated but that is not a "die-off" in ecological terms IMHO

 
At Wednesday, August 24, 2005 at 7:29:00 AM PDT, Anonymous watersedge1 said...

The 'die-off' of Rome and the anonymous poster's comments are rather blinkered. Rome's population declined over a LONG period of time for reasons never fully understood. The Romans had not plundered their environment or resources either, given that the Medieval Europeans would develop forms of agriculture that helped in the population boom of the 11th-14th century.

Most non-specialists tend to miss the forest for the trees and tend to pick out one or two aspects of a historical event (often disregarding their contemporary bias) and then trumpet it as 'the truth'. Then they get mad or denounce more sober scholars who comment that the situation is always more complex. This is a wonderful example of it.

 
At Thursday, September 15, 2005 at 3:48:00 AM PDT, Blogger avaiki said...

Rapa Nui might better be considered a victim of religious fundamentalism than environmental insensitivity.

 
At Saturday, September 17, 2005 at 9:10:00 PM PDT, Anonymous observer said...

Polynesians in the tropics could use their resources at a rapid rate because they replenished themselves at a rapid rate in the tropics. When they applied the same practices to Rapa Nui in the temperate zone, they denuded the island of its temperate zone vegetation faster than it could replenish itself. I don't think Rapa Nui constitutes a predictive paradigm for planet earth, but even in that terrible case man survived.

 
At Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 12:02:00 AM PST, Blogger Robert Schwartz said...

Its a myth:

From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui by Benny Peiser; ENERGY &
ENVIRONMENT VOLUME 16 No. 3&4 2005

 
At Friday, April 21, 2006 at 5:28:00 PM PDT, Blogger Brent Borreson said...

Some good points here, however with all the comparisons to past civilizations, you all seem to neglect the fact that at no other time has any society had their entire economy based on cheap, unsustainable oil. I am not so confident that the developed world as a whole will make the right choices, in fact it appears that we continue to make the wrong ones and are, in fact, guarenteed the widespread long-term instability of our collective societies...

 
At Friday, March 2, 2007 at 11:18:00 AM PST, Blogger Bryce said...

If you really think that Jared Diamond was claiming that societal collapses are inevitable, then you haven't read the book. In fact, you must not have even read the subtitle: "Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed." Diamond actually came up with several counterexamples to show that societal collapse is not inevitable.

Several times throughout "Collapse," Diamond explicitly rejects the sort of ecological predestination you're claiming to be debunking. You're wrong to misuse his quote this way.

Diamond chose Easter Island not just because of the drama or the suddenness of the collapse, but also because its geographical isolation sheltered it from other competing influences that can also have effects on whether a society succeeds or fails. Their collapse can't be explained by relationships with neighbors (i.e., trading partners or enemies) because they didn't have any, and the climate didn't change significantly during the collapse.

Happy straw man slaying.

 
At Friday, January 25, 2008 at 6:37:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason the othert Pacific islands survived was because they were less isolated then Easter. So Easter is a metaphor for planet Earth alone in space. Vanuatu, Cooks, etc. could trade with either and thus had access to more resource, while Easter was completely isolated. That's why it is used as an example of societal collapse.

 

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