Easter Island – Parallels with Today’s Environmental Issues

Have you heard of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean?  It is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands.  Easter Island’s is famous for the massive Ahu statues erected predominately along the island coast.

Easter Island serves as a great example of a society that collapsed as a result of over exploiting its own resources.  Ultimately is was the competition between competing chiefs and their clans that led to their destruction.  Chiefs were compelled to erect bigger and bigger statues which required more food, rope, wood, etc. in order to accomplish this feat.  Deforestation led to erosion which decreased food crops.  With no place to flee because of its isolation, Easter Island people went into a vicious spiral.

There are other past civilizations that have collapsed as well.  For example the Maya and Anasazi.  There is a great book which looks at how societies choose to succeed or fail.  The book’s author Jared Diamond has created a 5 point framework that attributes a society’s collapse.

  1. environmental damage
  2. climate change
  3. hostile neighbors
  4. friendly trade partners
  5. society’s response to its environmental problems

What I find interesting is that the above 5 point framework can and should be applied to modern societies as well.  There is much debate today on global warming and the environment.  Clearly we cannot sustain abusing our global environment.  However what is more interesting to me are the ultimate effects that hostile neighbors and friendly trade partners will have on a modern society’s success or failure.


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