Science debunks the eco-fable of Easter Island

Easter-island

By Larry Kummer. From the Fabius Maximus website.

Summary: The Polynesian expansion across the Pacific from Samoa to South America is one of history’s greatest achievements of exploration. Conducted with primitive technology, they colonized almost every suitable island in the Pacific. Equally remarkable in a different way is how the sad story of the last and least-suitable of their settlements has been twisted into an eco-fable. Here is that story and the long effort of a few scientists to bring the truth to light.

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The Green Myth about Easter Island

 

Like most myths, the eco-fable of Easter Island evolved over time. It reached full flower in Easter Island, Earth Islandclip_image002 Paul Bahn and John Flenley (1992), and reached a mass market in Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeedclip_image002[1] (2005) — Excerpt…

“The overall picture for Easter is the most extreme example of forest destruction in the Pacific, and among the most extreme in the world: the whole forest gone, and all of its tree species extinct. Immediate consequences for the islanders were losses of raw materials, losses of wild-caught foods, and decreased crop yields.

“… I have often asked myself, “What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?” Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”? Or: “Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we’ll find a substitute for wood”? Or: “We don’t have proof that there aren’t palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering”?

“… The parallels between Easter Island and the whole modern world are chillingly obvious. Thanks to globalisation, international trade, jet planes, and the internet, all countries on Earth today share resources and affect each other, just as did Easter’s dozen clans… Those are the reasons why people see the collapse of Easter Island society as a metaphor, a worst-case scenario, for what may lie ahead of us in our own future.”

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The real history of Easter Island

 

“The new picture that emerges from these results is really one of sustainability and continuity rather than collapse, which sheds new light on what we can really learn from Rapa Nui. Based on these new findings, perhaps Rapa Nui should be the poster-child of how human ingenuity can result in success, rather than failure.”

Anthropologist Mara Mulrooney (see her bio and papers here).

One of the more complete tellings of the full story is The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Islandclip_image002[2] by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo (2011). From the publisher’s summary:

“The monumental statues of Easter Island, both so magisterial and so forlorn, gazing out in their imposing rows over the island’s barren landscape, have been the source of great mystery ever since the island was first discovered by Europeans on Easter Sunday 1722. How could the ancient people who inhabited this tiny speck of land, the most remote in the vast expanse of the Pacific islands, have built such monumental works? No such astonishing numbers of massive statues are found anywhere else in the Pacific.

‘How could the islanders possibly have moved so many multi-ton monoliths from the quarry inland, where they were carved, to their posts along the coastline? And most intriguing and vexing of all, if the island once boasted a culture developed and sophisticated enough to have produced such marvelous edifices, what happened to that culture? Why did Europeans find a sparsely populated wasteland?

“The prevailing accounts of the island’s history tell a story of self-inflicted devastation: a glaring case of eco-suicide. The island was dominated by a powerful chiefdom that promulgated a cult of statue making, exercising a ruthless hold on the island’s people and rapaciously destroying the environment, cutting down a lush palm forest that once blanketed the island in order to construct contraptions for moving more and more statues, which grew larger and larger. As the population swelled in order to sustain the statue cult, growing well beyond the island’s agricultural capacity, a vicious cycle of warfare broke out between opposing groups, and the culture ultimately suffered a dramatic collapse.

“… Far from irresponsible environmental destroyers, they show, the Easter Islanders were remarkably inventive environmental stewards, devising ingenious methods to enhance the island’s agricultural capacity. They did not devastate the palm forest, and the culture did not descend into brutal violence.

“Perhaps most surprising of all, the making and moving of their enormous statutes did not require a bloated population or tax their precious resources; their statue building was actually integral to their ability to achieve a delicate balance of sustainability. The Easter Islanders, it turns out, offer us an impressive record of masterful environmental management rich with lessons for confronting the daunting environmental challenges of our own time.”

I recommend reading the opening pages of chapter one, one of the strongest openings I’ve ever seen in a book about science. The Statues that Walked describes islands history from the initial and only colonization of Easter Island at roughly 1200 AD — less than a hundred people traveling 14 thousand miles (tacking in their canoes across the Pacific against the trade winds — until the present. Things quickly went wrong for them.

“In the first few decades of their lives on Easter Island, the colonists lost some of the staples they would have brought with them, because the climate on Easter Island wasn’t conducive to their growth. The rats they brought with them (whether as a food source or as freeloading rodents) began decimating the large palm trees that forested the island. Those palms protected the soil, reduced the wind and provided shade; and all too quickly, the sheltering palms were gone, not as a result of human over-use, but rather because the rats dined wholesale on the palm nuts.”

It is one of the smallest and most isolated inhabited islands, with relatively infertile soil and a narrow biota (an important factor Diamond discusses in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societiesclip_image002[3]. In Collapse Diamond describes these and other factors that made Easter Island a fragile ecology, far more so than most Pacific Islands — especially so for its people and forests.

Polynesian islands were often subject to population crashes (e.g., salt contamination of gardens from storms), and Easter Island’s limitations made its people unusually vulnerable (other small islands were abandoned or had die-offs).

As for the trees, deforestation began soon after colonization and proceed quickly, resulting from over-exploitation by the inhabitants and rats (an ecological disaster for many Pacific islands). But the inhabitants adapted and built a sophisticated society (e.g., the giant statues) and a high population — especially impressive considering their meager resources.

The people of Easter Island, like so many others, were wrecked by the West: we gave them pandemic diseases, then depopulating slave raids and ecological devastation (conversion of the island to a sheep range, for which it was poorly suited). This eco-fable is an outrageous example of blaming the victim.

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The real mystery of Easter Island

Benny Peiser (Wikipedia bio) asks a question of  importance in “From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui” (Energy and Environment, July 2005 — a special issued debunking Collapse).

“The real mystery of Easter Island, however, is not its collapse. It is why distinguished scientists feel compelled to concoct a story of ecological suicide when the actual perpetrators of the civilisation’s deliberate destruction are well known and were identified long ago.

“… As a final point, I would argue that Easter Island is a poor example for a morality tale about environmental degradation. Easter Island’s tragic experience is not a metaphor for the entire Earth. The extreme isolation of Rapa Nui is an exception even among islands, and does not constitute the ordinary problems of the human environment interface. Yet in spite of exceptionally challenging conditions, the indigenous population chose to survive – and they did.

“… What they could not endure, however, and what most of them did not survive, was something altogether different: the systematic destruction of their society, their people and their culture.”

Distorting science for political purposes is a large and growing problem. The only solution is for scientists themselves to resist the temptation — and call out their peers when they do so.

Summaries of the clashing histories about Easter Island

See these posts at the website of journalist and environmental activist Mark Lynas (see his Wikipedia entry) …

Selected Bibliography about the Easter Island mystery

The literature about the history of Easter Island is vast. This selection focuses on the papers disputing Diamond’s eco-fable. See excerpts from many of these here.

  1. A message for our future? The Rapa Nui (Easter Island) ecodisaster and Pacific island environments“, Paul Rainbird, World Archaeology, 1 February 2002.
  2. Recommended: “From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui“, Benny Peiser (Wikipedia bio), Energy and Environment, volume 16 No. 3&4, 2005.
  3. Cannibalism and Easter Island: Evaluation, discussion of probabilities, and survey of the literature on the subject“, Shawn McLaughlin, Rapa Nui Journal, May 2005 — Reviews the inconclusive evidence and puts it in the context of the often-bogus claims of cannibalism by foreign people.
  4. Late Colonization of Easter Island“, Terry L. Hunt and Carl P. Lipo, Science, 9 March 2006
  5. Easter Island mystery deepens“, New Scientist, 18 March 2006.
  6. Easter Island: A monumental collapse?“, New Scientist, 31 July 2006.
  7. Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island“, Terry Hunt (Prof of Anthropology, U of Hawaii-Manoa), American Scientist, May 2006.
  8. Rethinking Easter Island’s ecological catastrophe“, Terry L. Hunt, Journal of Archaeological Science, March 2007.
  9. Chronology, deforestation, and “collapse:” Evidence vs. faith in Rapa Nui prehistory“,  Terry L. Hunt and Carl P. Lipo, Rapa Nui Journal, October 2007
  10. Revisiting Rapa Nui (Easter Island) ‘’Ecocide’“, Terry L. Hunt and Carl P. Lipo, Pacific Science, October 2007
  11. An island-wide assessment of the chronology of settlement and land use on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) based on radiocarbon data“, Mara A. Mulrooney, Journal of Archaeological Science, December 2013 — Gated. Summary here.
  12. The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Islandclip_image002[4] by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo (2012)
  13. Recommended:  “Challenging Easter Island’s collapse: the need for interdisciplinary synergies“, Valentí Rull et al, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 17 December 2013 — Survey of the recent literature, with many citations. Supports the Hunt-Lipo theory.
  14. Weapons of war? Rapa Nui mata’a morphometric analyses“, Carl P. Lipo, Terry L. Hunt, Rene Horneman and Vincent Bonhomme, Antiquity, February 2016. Gated. See the good summary at ars technica.

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172 thoughts on “Science debunks the eco-fable of Easter Island

  1. I was on Easter Island back in 2010. They all play up the “eco disaster” angle as if they really know the answers……It’s all mans fault. Give us money to make up for it.

    • Yep, they get plenty of Eco/Green/guilt money from the Chilean govt. The islanders pay for nothing. Even $85000 flights to the mainland hospitals. Chileans all buy the AGW stuff too. They are some of the most gullible people I have ever worked with.

    • Watched a Smithsonian program on Rapa Nui just last night. They took mud samples from a lake bottom, and proved that climate change and severe drought caused all those tree die offs.

      Then they came up with a new theory about a bird man king, where all the young men climbed down an unclimbable cliff, and dived into the sea for s1.5 km long swim out to an island in shark infested waters, bleeding from all the scrapes of falling down the cliffs.
      Then they climbed ashore on this island, that even today, is impossible to land on from a boat, let alone climb out of the water onto.

      And then they go and find the first Tern egg to be laid, and they tuck it into a sack cloth bag, and swim back to the mainland, and climb the unclimbable cliff without breaking the tern egg.

      They then are crowned King for the next 12 months, and then they all do it again next year

      So this was a Smithsonian program, so you can be sure that they filmed this during the season, when that remote rock is teeming with nesting terns laying eggs for the bird man king.

      Well no not exactly. They don’t show a single bird of any kind ever on that remote rock.

      And the bird man king statue that used to stand at the top of that unclimbable cliff, got dragged down to the coast, and is now in the British museum.

      Why don’t they take the bird man king statue back to Rapa Nui, and give it back to the people.

      Seems like there are plenty of coconut palms growing there today.

      G

      • Oh the mud diggers said the climate change was it got too hot and too cold for the trees to survive. Easter Island is surrounded by the whole Pacific Ocean. ??

        G

      • If any other south sea island is typical, those nesting terns would have bred rapidly (because they were isolated on the rocks with no land predators), and in that isolation over even a few hundred years, would have left many terns of bird poop.

      • There seems to be a pattern that the level of complexity (sophistication) of isolated societies seems to be proportional to the amount of territory they have to occupy.

        For example, the Maori society is more complex than that of the Hawaiian, and that of the Society Islands of Tahiti. Same pattern seems to have existed in Meso- America, with the Olmecs, and Toltecs and the like.

        Given that, it seems remarkable that as small a piece of land as Rapa Nui, and as isolated, could have evolved such a culture.

        After WW-II and the founding of the United Nothing, the do gooders went on a rampage (including the USA) to eject European Colonials out of many small regions of the world, which resulted in a lot of small communities being left without some basic institutions of modern life.

        NZ got an ear full of this stuff with respect to its ” protectorate ” territories Like Raratonga, and the Cook Islands, for which NZ provided school teachers, and medical services, and NZ makes NO claims to any of those lands. They are just fellow neighbors in the south seas, with too small a land area to provide for all of their needs.

        Robert F Kennedy as Attorney General, was a particular mischief maker as the USA, went after former European colonial territories for its own exploitation.

        G

  2. The only solution is for scientists themselves to resist the temptation —

    temptation??…..they are doing it on purpose

    • The environmental Marxism is about using nature to promote Marxism and its political agendas. And Marxism does not accept the Western legal, economic values and culture that has been handed down to us trough history. Simply said its about destroying western culture. The sad thing is that they only know what they are against, not what they are for.

      • They do know what they are for. They believe that the masses are too stupid to govern themselves, and that total control over humanity can be achieved if the elites control merely the economic engines of society. Thus they believe that internal armies and vast Gulags will not be needed. That is short sighted and clueless of human nature, but not entirely without thought. They know exactly what they are for.

      • The environmental Marxism is about using nature to promote Marxism and its political agendas.

        Marxism is an economic/political theory, thoroughly debunked, about the progression from feudalism. to capitalism, socialism, and finally communism. Karl Marx was not what we would call an environmentalist.

        And Marxism does not accept the Western legal, economic values and culture that has been handed down to us trough history

        Sure it does, it simply does not like them. Where the theories of Karl Marx failed was in not anticipating the development of a politically enabled and collectively wealthy middle class.

        The rent seekers who promote CAGW do so for personal gain, both monetary and egotistic. Some are dishonest and some are dupes. It does not make them Marxist. It makes them untrustworthy and/or ignorant.

        Punitive labeling will not advance an argument, IMO we should stick to the science.

      • GTL commented: “…Marxism is an economic/political theory….Punitive labeling will not advance an argument, IMO we should stick to the science….”

        Unfortunately “the science” has been hijacked, financed, and propagandized by political ideologists. People need to know why authority has taken on this role in the face of no credible evidence and manipulated data. Often people respond to skeptics’ by asking “what reason would the scientists and government have to lie”? The usual retort by warmists when confronted by facts is ‘conspiracy theory’ and I give them this quote by Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change…

        “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the industrial revolution. That will not happen overnight and it will not happen at a single conference on climate change, be it COP 15, 21, 40 – you choose the number. It just does not occur like that. It is a process, because of the depth of the transformation.”

        And then I ask them why a head bureaucrat in the IPCC is even talking about overturning an economic model (Capitalism) in the same breath with Climate Change?

  3. Quite the place. You leave with many more questions than when you got there. All I know is that they survived long after the last tree was cut down. They even built a landing strip that could support the emergency landing of the space shuttle. That was a while after ,though. Seriously though, we went last year and we want to go back. It’s an amazing place!

      • They have many coconut palms now, but they have to plant germinated palms. The coconut palms won’t germinate by themselves. The native palm they think was there was a Chilean Palm, but I’m not sure why they didn’t try to introduce it. In the middle of the island are many different Australian trees brought by the sheep ranchers. Any of you Aussies know why they thought Easter Island was a good place for a gigantic sheep farm? That’s as good a mystery to me as the statues. 😀

      • Back when I was there with the Australian Museum Society in 1986, the Chilean governor of the island, a trained anthropologist as I remember, told us that the British established the sheep station with Australian sheep, who brought with them in their fleece many of the Australian native shrubs and other grasses seen on the island at that time. He wasn’t a believe in Thor Heyerdahl’s theories either.

        Ciao

        John

  4. The only problem with your thesis attempting to to discredit Jarrod Diamond’s magnificent books is the archeological fact that the collapse of Rapa Nui society happened more than 100 years before its discovery by Europeans in 1772. There is no doubt that slave raids and smallpox finished the devastation that the inhabitants of Rapa Nui earlier brought upon themselves.
    Archeology proved that most fish bones disappeared from middens by 1600, evidence that large trees for seagoing canoes were gone. All tree pollen disappeared from RC dated soils by 1650. The topplings of the great Ahu statues can be dated to that same period via soil RC dating from under them. As can, with less certainty, the sessation of carving them in the volcanic quarries (less RC datable evidence, but not none).
    So your thesis fails on the facts. Had some paragraphs on this in chapter 1 of Gaia’s Limits. Now, what this has to do with CAGW is very unclear. What it has to do with future fossil fuel availability, however, is reasonably clear. Rapa Nui trees resemble petroleum as an underpinning to the respective societies.

    • ristvan,

      (1) “The only problem with your thesis ”

      Quite the reading FAIL. I am describing the work of relevant specialists studying this topic. It’s not “my thesis.” If I write about relativity, do I get to describe it as “my theory”?

      (2) Your objections.

      It’s astonishing that you believe that these scientists have not taken those things into consideration.
      I suggest you read some of the many links I provide, which provide decisive rebuttals to your points.

      (3) Now, what this has to do with CAGW is very unclear.”

      Read the summary. I suspect most folks here say the point.

      • I suggest you read some of the many links I provide, which provide decisive rebuttals to your points.

        Some years ago I believed in CAGW. Someone, I forget who, wrote a piece on BoingBoing.org debunking Mann’s hockey stick. The editors at BoingBoing wrote a quick ‘rebuttal’ saying “Look over there, he says the hockey stick is still valid”. That wasn’t very convincing and here I am, a fully fledged skeptic.

      • Fabius, did before writing my three paragraphs on this. You take one side of a very controversial subject, without citing all the other evidence. Not proper.

      • Larry, I did. Several years ago. Plus many more links than just fhose you have provided.
        Sorry to rain on your paraide. Just is. Not an argument from authority, since I am not one in that specific subject. An argument that says look at more of the total on topic research. Challenging Desmond Morris requires much more than you have provided. Especially since the archeological time line simply does not support your thesis.

    • ristvan: how about you go back and read this excerpt from Diamond:

      “… I have often asked myself, “What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?” Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”? Or: “Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we’ll find a substitute for wood”? Or: “We don’t have proof that there aren’t palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering”?

      That’s a far cry from the first Easter Island inhabitants having unknowingly and **inadvertently** sealed their own fate by bringing along rats whot wound up destroying trees essential to their livelihood (and, in the end, their survival), to Diamond’s facile claim that those islanders blithely and knowingly rationalized themselves to their own extinction.

      “What this has to do with CAGW” is very clear: Olympic-class conclusion-jumping has led many to blame humans for a phenomenon that increasingly appears to be driven by Nature, not by thoughtless and cavalier people brutishly and heedlessly destroying the Planet.

      (oh and btw: what say you about satellites revealing that the Earth has eight times as many trees as the Green Weenies have been bleating about?. Destroying the “lungs of the Earth” and all that?)

      • Anna, I am not sure what you are complaining about. Polynesian rats, maybe. Polynesians cutting down all Rapa Nui mature trees to transport AHI by ~1600, pretty clear archeology. Rapa Nui fell apart a century before European discovery 1722, crystal clear. End of fact based discussion for purposes of this thread.

      • Ristvan, define ‘collapse’. I think you are talking rubbish and I do not say that lightly or frequently. Even after first contact, their society was doing well. The collapse came when slave raiders stole half the working male population. Like the Andeans who worked for centuries on potatoes for each micro-climate, they were skilled agriculturalists. The outlandish stories about how things ‘probably’ went are just-so stories.

        Interview the people about their own history, the names and places of old. They are not idiots., They remember. They have a culture. They were destroyed by active invaders who pillaged whatever they could from the Island, even its people for crying out loud, invaders who now seek object lessons to suit green apocalypse fantasies. Typical.

      • Evidence that they cut down the trees is not neccessarily evidence that they destroyed the forrest. When a tree is dead there is not a lot of incentive to leave it standing.

    • Rapa Nui trees resemble petroleum as an underpinning to the respective societies.

      There is one huge difference. We have alternatives to petrolium. Right now petrolium is cheap and plentiful. If it were to become unavailable, we could switch to coal-derived synthetic gasoline. “By early 1944, German synthetic fuel production had reached more than 124,000 barrels per day…” Back in the 1970s farmers were experimenting with alcohol to power their tractors. Turkey guts make pretty good oil.

      The problem is economics. A few years ago I investigated DIY electric cars. Then I found out about fracking natural gas. I forgot electric and investigated converting a vehicle to natural gas. T. Boone Pickens started thinking the same thing. Gasoline would have had to double in price to make that worthwhile. Then we got fracked oil. :-)

      It’s just a problem of economics.

      • CommieBob,

        “There is one huge difference. We have alternatives to petrolium. Right now petrolium is cheap and plentiful. ”

        I agree, but will take that a step further. The point of the research described in this post is that there were alternatives to trees for the people on Rapa Nui. That ristvan doesn’t see this is a tribute to the appeal of the eco-myth of Easter Island, the hold it has on the minds of so many.

      • Uh, editor, and what might those alternatives have been? You do know that the AHI were most likely transported from quarry to Ahu (final stone platform) using the same methods that most likely built the Egyptian pyramids?

      • @ristvan February 24, 2016 at 9:33 pm —

        “You do know that the AHI were most likely transported from quarry to Ahu (final stone platform) using the same methods that most likely built the Egyptian pyramids?”

        Late into this discussion but have to jump on this nonsense.

        “…most likely transported by” is a waffel sentence indicating you have no certainty about it.

        “…using the same methods that most likely built the Egyptian pyramids?” This is such utter tripe, because no one knows how the Egyptian pyramids were built, There are only theories, and several of them, so which one? My bet is you only know one, that you LIKE so you think it is THE explanation.

        But let’s not end it there…

        “…same methods that most likely…” Again, total uncertainty waffle statement.

        You’re faking it, dude. You are trying to sound certain but know you’re are getting busted, so you pontificate and while doing so you put in waffle phrases to cover your butt. You are either certain or your not. Your facts are either facts or they are not. Clearly differentiate between what you THINK/parrot and what is actual fact.

        This isn’t English Composition 101. You can’t fake your facts or parrot stuff you’ve read without showing how little YOU know.

        You are in over your head and trying to do a rear guard action. It’s not working.

      • Risrvan

        Being born on a farm and having at a young age to clean pastures of scrub and young trees, I would think it would be an impossibility to get rid of all the trees, for some reason they keep growing, ( I wish when I was young we had trillions and trillions of rats to kill instead of young trees to destroy then I might of got an air gun fort my birthday.)

    • There is a very good documentary on the real story of Easter Island, its agriculture, water shed management and depopulation on Netflix. The taking of 1500 able-bodied male slaves all at once brought the civilisation crashing down. It was never able to recover from the loss of manpower needed for agriculture. The trees had been gone for centuries and the civilisation thrived. It is nonsense to claim that when the trees were gone the civilisation collapsed. It did no such thing. In particular their creation and management of micro-climates for food production is amazing. The lesson is that whatever the dead hand of European colonialism touched, died.

      • The civilization did NOT ‘thrive’ when it crashed. Trees were not ‘gone for centuries’ before the fall of the statues there (they were almost all toppled during the collapse riots). Trees ceased existing there roughly the same time the culture collapsed, it led to the collapse due to no wood for ships or fires to cook or anything.

    • Ristvan is correct. The island was totally decimated by 1600. A KEY POINT HERE is this is the LITTLE ICE AGE and this same decimation hit Arizona, for example, very hard with a 100 year drought, for example. This terrible time led to the collapse of the native cultures there so when Europeans came over, it was easy taking over the place.

      The Little Ice Age featured a number of epidemics sweeping the earth. This global cooling period was a terrible time for many, many humans.

      And yes, the population of Easter Island collapsed due to lack of food. The toppling of the statues was the beginning of the self-destruction of the culture there. They did this thing, they dropped their ability to make statures and set them up, abandoning the half-done statues and leaving a number of finished ones on the roads to stare at us today. The story of all this is quite frightening, it is a warning to all of us about destructive cultures and limitations. This planet is a limited entity, it is not eternal or infinite.

    • “…..Now, what this has to do with CAGW is very unclear. What it has to do with future fossil fuel availability, however, is reasonably clear. Rapa Nui trees resemble petroleum as an underpinning to the respective societies…..”

      No, not really.
      I would suggest that the Rapa Nui trees more resemble the sperm whale as opposed to petroleum.
      Sperm whales were hunted for their oil and most certainly they would have gone entirely extinct if not for the discovery of oil (and gas) which allowed obtaining oil much cheaper and in greater abundance from terrestrial sources.
      Yes, conservation efforts in saving whales has certainly helped, but note that these efforts did not commence until about the 1970s or so. Sperm whales would have been extinct well before that time if not for the discovery of oil and gas.
      Further, as had been demonstrated repeatedly, as technology advances (as it does it almost all forms of human endeavor) the extraction of oil and gas will most likely get cheaper and more efficient. And when the advances in technology run its course, other forms of stable, RELIABLE, energy will be found (fusion?).

      I am still trying to figure out who determined that using fossil fuels is “bad,” and why anyone bothers paying attention to these left wing Luddites. OTOH, they are probably the same lefties that believe in the AGW scam.

      • … left wing Luddites …

        The Luddites were trying to preserve their dignified, skilled jobs. They didn’t mind technology that made the workers’ jobs easier.

        The greenies hate humanity itself, anything they do that helps the workers is strictly coincidental.

    • You missed the fact that evidence now shows that rats were the primary reason that no new palm trees grew to replace the used ones. They ate all nuts (seeds) that fell to the ground. Between the rats and the people’s need for trees, they lost the forest. And yes, it happened BEFORE Europeans discovered the island. The article agrees.

      Lack of trees…lack of way to move huge statues to the coastline.

      It has also recently been discovered that many of the statues have full bodies, rich with carvings, buried below ground by the elements.

      There are still people living on Easter Island. The once thriving population wasn’t just devastated by the loss of the forest. There were also tribal wars, hostile conditions related to the island itself (poor soil, lack of protection from storms, salted crops from storms etc), and then plagues and slave raiders etc. It was impossible to “sustain” a thriving population there due to all of those convening factors.

      The comparison between the sustainability of life on that island and the sustainability of other places that don’t remotely compare with it geographically is terribly weak. I think THAT was the point.

    • “The topplings of the great Ahu statues can be dated to that same period via soil RC dating from under them.”

      ristvan, do you have a reference for that? I was under the impression that the statues still stood in 1722 and were only toppled afterward (some by Europeans, in fact).

  5. I can believe that the rats ate the palm nuts and possibly nibbled away at the young palm growths till these could not survive, and the palm forests were wiped out, and then the islanders built some sort of society, but so often someone comes along to blame the present state of society on “The West”. Do we really have time to check on all the stories that have been promulgated by so-called “scientists” who blame the west, specifically Anglo influences – but in the case of Easter Island Spanish influences – for a poor local culture?

    • I’m very new to the Easter Island debate and I too was very sceptical of the ‘rats did it’ thesis at first, but after reading Diamond’s account, and the counter arguments citing the ongoing example of Lord Howe Island, I became a bit more sympathetic to the idea that rats could have a substantial effect.

      What I don’t buy about the deforestation thing is that it alone, or even substantially, caused the depopulation. Seems to be very unlikely that the palm trees were the overwhelming resource underpinning that civilisation, and even if they were, that the inhabitants, well used to gardening, would not have protected and ‘farmed’ the palms successfully, even in the presence of rats. My guess is that the deforestation is marginal, or even incidental, to the main story. Lord Howe Island does have a problem with rats, but that place has never had a native population (I think it was not settled till the mid-19th century) so the comparison is not very valid.

      • All the other island colonizers of the deep past had dogs with them. The Inuit of the far north had dogs and still have dogs. Australian natives had dogs, too, when the Europeans invaded. But there were no dogs on Easter Island. Why is that? Who was the rat killer on the other places colonized by humans?

        DOGS. Speculation is, either the dogs died for some reason or…humans ate them, too, in desperation and then the rats ate the trees. We can’t know for absolutely certain. Then the question is also, why did humans in Australia remain firmly in the Stone Age and unlike North and Central and South American natives, not build any cities, etc.

      • End,

        The indigenous Americans were also technically still in the Stone Age (albeit Neolithic rather than Paleolithic), despite their cities. The Aztecs and Incas were just starting to make ceremonial bronze objects when the Spanish arrived. The New World was thus more than 4000 years behind the Old. But you’re right that it was ahead of Australia.

  6. Hmm, and they couldnt control the rats? The island must have been a carpet of them at some point. You would think they would figure out a way to exterminate them. Instead they focused on the statues? Was that their plan to get rid of the rats? This provides more questions than answers.

    • The plan was that the rats would chip their teeth on the monoliths thereby rendering them powerless to destroy the palms. Lol. I think they a rudimentary federal government in charge of the rat debacle.

    • I agree. If rats were so effective at destroying palm trees, there are any number of Pacific islands which would have suffered the same fate. Seems like a Yamal-type of of theory to me.

    • People with enough drive and initiative to get to easter Island would surely have eaten the carpet of rats, until an equilibrium was reached allowing co-existence?

      • Do you know how fast rats breed?

        “The brown rat can breed throughout the year if conditions are suitable, with a female producing up to five litters a year. The gestation period is only 21 days, and litters can number up to 14, although seven is common. They reach sexual maturity in about five weeks.”

        I imagine it’s really hard to trap, spear, or cook rats to eat when you run out of wood too…

        I also imagine that they most likely didn’t anticipate a problem, and by the time they realized they had one, the dominoes had already toppled too far.

    • For what it’s worth, my comment on a USAToday article in November 2009:

      It seems problematic even calling them a society if they cared so little about their forests; it makes them out to be little more than a band of thoughtless animals, and that makes no sense: All the ancient peoples had religious traditions covering every aspect of society; they were often morally wrong, by our lights, but they were not thoughtless of their environments, they were all instead worshipful of the land and how to make proper use of its “sacred” resources. And if they brought the rats with them when they colonized c. 1200 AD, that doesn’t sound like a minimal band of hopeful immigrants, but like a real colonization by a large Pacific power, with large sea-going vessels on which numerous rats could hide among the plentiful stores, without being noticed. And they apparently then cared as little about killing off the rats as they did about maintaining their forests for the long term. None of it adds up to anything, in my opinion, and it also leaves not only the overriding mystery of the statues, but the lesser mystery of just when the widespread fires occurred–shortly after the Pacifickers’ colonization, or shortly before the arrival of Europeans in the 1700’s, or just somewhere in the 600 or so intervening years. Surely it is more likely the result of a religious war between two island peoples (but why two such, meeting on one remote island?), or most likely a religious splitting of the original immigrants into rival peoples, that led to a local “World War” that devastated the island. Yes, it was probably a violent revolution in religious ideas, with the revolutionaries determined to change their society away from worship of the “old gods” (which no doubt kept one class of the society in virtual hock, or slavery, to the priestly class and its allies). Ignoring the religious aspect of ancient societies, and the changes so many underwent in order to stop far more ancient tyrannies and injustices, is fatal to a proper understanding of their actions. It all goes back to the earliest religious beliefs, worldwide, in the “gods” whose power was the central sacred fact, or religious tenet, for thousands of years–before the dawning of the idea of moral right and justice for all, rather than just capricious “divine” power that man could only placate by blood sacrifices. (See my blog about the Great Design of the “gods” that started all of human history.)

      • As someone who had to kill rats in NYC and upstate NY, I assure you, even using steel bars to hammer on these critters, they are HARD TO KILL. I once made the news in NYC when I killed one with a baseball bat as it attacked me.

        Generally, my dogs did the rat killing, it was much easier using them and they were good rat catchers. Most rats killed on farms during the last umpteen years have been via dogs doing this, terriers in particular.

  7. The myth (to the extent of any new converts being made) was destroyed by the hubris of the myth’s salespeople. Hooray for striped-trousered, plaid-jacketed, sales reps like Jared Diamond!

    When the “masses” read statements like this:

    Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”?

    Jared

    They just shake their head. Or laugh.

    The ignorance of what is (in the U.S., anyway, where a lot of those book-buying “masses” are) common knowledge about modern logging and forest management on such a bellower’s part makes it almost impossible to keep on reading him, much less take seriously what he has to say.

    Oh, sure, the Envirocult members, many of whom live in large cities, would keep that book front-and-center on their shelves, right next to Rachel What’s-her-name’s proven-false Silent Spring, but they already believed…

    Up with data-based conservation!

    D
    o
    w
    n

    with Enviromentalism.

      • And as to how in the world such nonsense survives? Follow –> the –> money. One money trail leads to groups like The Sierra Clud (yes, I see that typo I just made) whose existence depends on perpetrating such myths.

      • Marcus. ??

        1. You posted that here because….. it’s hard to “connect” on WUWT and you hoped I’d come back and see it here? — (smile) Saw it! :)

        2. You shared that with me (and others?) because……. you wanted to make me smile? — Thanks!

        Not my kind of humor, but, your kindness warmed my heart.

        3. What — in — the — world did they go to all that effort for, for such a corny practical joke? Inquiring U.S. taxpayer minds would like to know… . If it had been seriously FUNNY, then, okay, but, …. hey, it’s all about getting school children to think that cuddly, silly, funny, NASA is ALWAYS (even at data processing) good and honest.

        Got it.

        Thank you for the laugh, Marcus. You are a kind man.

        Janice

  8. Deep Sea Canoe
    The more we learn of them, the more amazing the abilities of the South Sea Islanders and their incredible skills in navigation by waves, winds, signs and stars. It takes a lot of courage and skill to launch out in Deep Sea Canoes not knowing your destination.
    Few know of the more recent migrations FROM the farthest ends of the earth, northwest across the South Pacific. These are detailed in books on the Deep Sea Canoe and that modern movement. See Allan Tippett The Deep Sea Canoe, and the Deep Sea Canoe Movement.

  9. “I can believe that the rats ate the palm nuts and possibly nibbled away at the young palm growths till these could not survive”

    I worked as a relief engineer Cateel, Philippines, Typhoon ‘Pablo’ 2012 for 3 months. I return there March 2015. Throughout a swath of around 15 km wide, 90% of coconut palms were flattened. Within 12 months there was a rapid upsurge of the rat population. Their favored food, the coconut, lay on the ground. They always did climb the palms to eat the coconut but the impact was minimum ( static population). Now that their population is elevated the standing palms are getting a hammering as are many other ground crops.

    • Michael, I cannot discount your first hand knowledge about the upsurge in the rat population but how much of it was contributed by the refuse, garbage, decomposing bodies, etc that would have given rats the perfect habitat to have a population explosion. With the population (cat and people) in disarray, rat control was probably on the short list. Point being, with more rats to eat the remaining coconuts (laying on the ground) this was/may not have been the root cause of the increase – the Typhoon was. Under normal conditions, the “impact was minimum” as you stated and could not account for the full deforestation.

      • Duncan,

        Is it not just as possible that a typhoon or storm could have felled trees on Easter island creating the same conditions at some point? Rotting plants, palm nuts etc? And NO cats or other rat predators of any kind?

        The root cause of the increase was increased, easy food sources for rats. Breeding rats with easy access to food means more viable babies born, more surviving to adulthood (in 5 weeks) more breeding rats. If the palms on Easter island had poor soil, and fierce growing conditions BEFORE rats arrived, then the forest then standing had taken a really long time to reach that point. It’s very likely that very few palm nuts, out of thousands that dropped to the ground and remained undisturbed actually germinated and survived to maturity.

        Now enter rats and people that consume palm nuts, and rats that eat tender seedlings. Lots of rotting nuts already on the ground= exploding rat population. Villagers collecting nuts without metal storage bins to keep rats away…or rat proof homes…

        It is really easy to imagine how a rat population can devastate an island. On Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean, someone introduced rabbits as a food source for the seal oil workers before the island became protected from sealers. Those rabbits wreaked havoc on the ground cover on the island, which now affects erosion and other animal species. Today there are STILL a dozen rabbits on the island and the biologists there are striving to erradicate them completely.

        http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-19/macquarie-island-wildlife-recovering-after-rabbit-eradication/6400834

      • Cats do not eat rats most of the time because rats can be very violent, I killed rats by hand in the past and they are hard to bludgeon to death. On the other hand, my dogs always dispatched these critters easily. I would suggest the loss of the dog population led to the out of control rat population. Most island immigrants in the Pacific took dogs along with them as well as the stowaway rats.

  10. I think those stone monuments kind of hint at some sort of inflated human ego at play in the island’s past.

  11. Those wind generators worked really well until the turbine parts blew away and left them looking like statues (or something).

    Still, you’ve got to work with what’s available. Now that they don’t work so good any more, let’s set up a religion and pretend that’s what we really wanted all along.

  12. I first heard this fable while attending a small renewable energy conference. The power company had an ethic of being part of the community and a supported environmental projects. Protecting and understanding the environment is an integral part of working at a nuke plant. I was asked to be part of the panel because I was the only one they knew with nuclear experience.

    Most of the people I worked with were reasonable environmentalist just as people who work for utilities care about the environment where they live and work. However, the folks who organized this conference were watermelons. After a vegetarian dinner we watched a soviet propaganda film. These watermelons did not seem to know that the USSR had collapsed or the environmental damage that was caused. My wife suggested that I should not explain it.

    Anyhow, the economist on the panel presented the Easter Island fable. The best I could tell, none of these watermelons had sufficient interest in the environment to take the hard science classes to understand the environment.

    • TH, was just retiring for the night when saw your comment. There is much wisdom in it. Paleoclimate, paleoecology, and paleoantheopology (Rapa Nuians, Mayans- to quote two from Desmond Morris) are partly scientific interpretation and partly a reflection of our ‘unshakable’ beliefs, as evidenced on this thread. My guess will always be so, thanks to the uncertainty monster and the arts of truth (the preface to that ebook suffices to prove the general proposition).
      So, agree interesting. Food for thought. Not conclusive.

    • Tom…to the extent that ecology as a field has largely been taken over by sociological methodology it has made itself into a poor representation of “science”

  13. “As the population swelled in order to sustain the statue [Carbon] cult, growing well beyond the island’s [society’s] agricultural [economic] capacity”

  14. 16 million Jubaea palms destroyed by rats (+ slash & burn ?) is the number Hunt & Lipo estimate. Which they conclude fortuitously made sweet potato farming (& eye witness banana stands) extensive enough to support island population.

    • http://imaginaisladepascua.com/en/easter-island-food/

      This web page has pictures of FISHES which is what the Easter Islanders did not have by 1700. Fish is the mainstay of their diet today, they also have bananas now but during the Little Ice Age, I am betting, like Arizona, they had this long, long, LONG drought.

      The Pacific Ocean storms and climate meant bad droughts in various places and this led to the collapse of various lifestyles. All ice events are harsh, very harsh, in 100 ways which is why we should all fear Ice Ages which seem to be this ticking time bomb lurking in the future since no Interglacial lasted much longer than the present one.

      • The Eemian lasted 5000 years longer than the Holocene so far, and the interglacials 400,000 and 800,000 years ago much longer than that. We’re probably in another super-interglacial, based upon the eccentricity cycle, but that doesn’t mean that the next LIA won’t be worse than the last one.

  15. Apparently Easter Island serves as an object lesson for ‘sustainability’ (the statues being evidence of ‘inflated human ego’) or a terrible indictment of Western interlopers destroying native populations and cultures; whichever way you look at it we should all be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves.
    On the other hand there are around another 500 inhabited islands in the South Pacific where the locals seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves.

  16. I believe Jared Diamond is right, and the study referenced in this post is wrong, it seems to be one of those “blame Europeans for everything” urban legends. Furthermore, ecological collapse on a small isolated island is easy to model and visualize. And it can be extended to a medium sized planet. Eventually we had better discover an almost infinite energy toast and/or cut population way back, or we are toast.

    • Fernando Leanme:

      You assert

      Eventually we had better discover an almost infinite energy toast and/or cut population way back, or we are toast.

      Sorry, but your assertion is an obviously wrong conclusion. The correct conclusion is clear; viz.

      We had better continue developing our technologies and expanding our population to expand where we inhabit and the energy sources we use or eventually we will be toast when the Sun becomes a Red Giant that consumes the Earth.

      Richard

      • The world population has undergone many collapses which is how humans evolved in the first place with the main hammer being ‘Ice Age drought conditions’ and the anvil being, ‘humans like to kill each other’.

      • emsnews:

        If you were right then that would be a reason to maximise human population.
        But there is no reason to suppose you are right.

        Many collapses? One, yes. Many, no.
        And wars are not a driver of evolution.

        Richard

      • What? Wars are a HUGE driver of evolution. Dead victims killed during wars usually have a problem with creating future children.

      • emsnews:

        Wars are horrific and are best avoided. But wars are a trivial driver of evolution when compared to, for example, disease and available food supplies.

        For illustration, the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 killed an estimated 50 million people (i.e. a fifth of the human population) but the Great War (1914-18) only killed an estimated 16 million people. Diseases are always present and are constantly changing everywhere: war is not.

        Richard

    • “…’blame Europeans for everything’ urban legends.”

      Everyone, including Diamond, agrees that Europeans enslaved Easter Islanders and brought them deadly new diseases. The issue is whether or not the population of the island was at one time much larger than it was when Europeans discovered the island.

      • The slave raiders came from the independent nation of Peru in 1862, so weren’t Europeans, although surely at least some had European ancestry.

  17. @ristvan February 24, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    collapse of Rapa Nui society happened more than 100 years before its discovery by Europeans in 1772

    Well. There was considerable indigenous traffic between Pacific islands and some islands were discovered by Europeans some two centuries before Easter Island. That means plagues had plenty of time to propagate there and devastate the population well before first direct contact. People of the island were descendants of a small group of settlers, so they had no sufficient genetic diversity to resist diseases.

    It is a sad story, but happened all over the New World.

    • Plague did not topple the statues. The riots that caused that event is when the ‘society’ collapsed, it didn’t die quietly, there was a convulsion of violence and not from any European invaders or outsiders.

      • Many statues were toppled by, in particular French, adventurers who, for reasons best left to be explained by psychologists, thought that there was gold buried underneath. The social strife which you allude to happened centuries earlier. When Europeans arrived the population was stable at about 2000-2500. A few decades after the initial contact disease had decimated the inhabitants.

      • Fernando Leanme:

        You say

        There’s no proof of such plagues arriving before “first contact”. Polynesians were not as poorly equipped as Anerinds to fight off disease.

        There’s no proof the Sun will rise tomorrow but I have little doubt that it will.

        The Polynesians conducted constant navigation and trade between their islands and this would have spread diseases between their islands.

        It cannot be known that Polynesians were better “equipped to fight off disease” than others, but if they were, then their better resistance too disease would be direct evidence that diseases were spread between their islands; i.e. a variety of diseases generates a variety of resistances.

        Richard

  18. Larry Kummer:

    Thankyou for providing your quotation from Benny Peiser in his paper “From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui” (Energy and Environment, July 2005 — a special issued debunking Collapse).

    As you say, as long ago as 2005 posed the pertinent “question of importance”, viz.

    The real mystery of Easter Island, however, is not its collapse. It is why distinguished scientists feel compelled to concoct a story of ecological suicide when the actual perpetrators of the civilisation’s deliberate destruction are well known and were identified long ago.

    There is an obvious similarity of the “real mystery of Easter Island” and the real mystery of the global warming scare.

    Why did research funding from politicians (notably Margaret Thatcher) induce other “distinguished scientists” to “feel compelled to concoct” the global warming scare that had – and still has – no supporting scientific evidence?

    Richard

    • Peiser is on it. “Benny Peiser is director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) and has described the climate change debate as being “near hysteria”.” Wikipedia.

  19. hello,
    Is there a concise, compelling argument against the assertion that ” most scientists believe man made co2 is responsible for climate change” ?
    thanks

    • Hard to argue against beliefs. Science, on the other hand, makes argueing much easier. Let us assume your statement is true and demonstrate those opinions to be incorrect (even though duran, cook, etc. are the opposite of convincing).

      Humans have been around for a few hundred thousand years and producing co2 all the while. On the other hand, climate has been changing for a few billion years, long before humans could have contributed. Therefore, assuming your statement is true, we can conclude that most scientist’s beliefs on the subject are wrong.

      I don’t think I helped you with where you thought you wanted to go. But, hopefully I helped you to look for a better question. Good science works well with good questions.

    • zemlik February 25, 2016 at 1:38 am

      Is there a concise, compelling argument against the assertion that ” most scientists believe man made co2 is responsible for climate change” ?

      Consensus has nothing to do with the principles of real science, which is why the advocates of Catastrophic CO2-Climate Change use it: their hypotheses have been scientifically falsified by the complete prediction failure of their own predictions.

      Likewise, the two studies allegedly showing 97% agreement with some version of your assertion both simply eliminated thousands of direct and abstract responses that they didn’t like because it contradicted their “hypothesis”, thus manufacturing their version of a “consensus”. The Scientific Associations allegedly agreeing with your assertion almost universally don’t poll their members. Why not?

      My version of a consensus happens when scientists actually sign their names to specific statements on the question. The Oregon Petition Project has ~30,000 signatures disagreeing with your question. Where are the signatures of scientists agreeing with your question?

    • Zemlik: My answer is, Einstein’s answer. He said it does not take “most scientists” or even many, only takes one to prove him wrong. The proposition has been proven wrong by their own models compared to measurements, any measurements. Seen graphs on this site showing IPCC models run hotter than even the adjusted surface data, and most models were AFAIK designed to show temp increase due to man-made CO2. Concise enough? I find it compelling, robustly so.

    • Yes and it has been covered ad nausium here and elsewhere. 97 percent of three percent, and all that.

  20. Interesting thread. Seems to me that it strikingly illustrates a tendency in Archeology, Geology, History, Economics and many other fields to build impressive structures of hypotheses (informed guesses) on rather limited foundations of fact. FWIW, I’ve always been skeptical of Diamond, but I don’t find this new hypothesis overwhelmingly persuasive either.

    BTW. Rats aren’t goats. I can well believe that they eat palm nuts — maybe even 100% of the crop, but do they eat palm sprouts, seedlings, and young trees?

    • They will nibble, like raccoons in a corn field – bite here, bite there. Most mammal species are not obligate feeders – they will graze and browse at will, and let the digestive system sort it out. Rats would not likely eat a whole shoot, seedling or young tree, but they will nibble out pieces of it. If the population density is high enough, more nibbling will occur, even if it’s not preferential, reducing the chance the plant will survive the vandalism. On trees that make it to a bit of height, climbing rats will go to the top where the new shoots are, and cut them out, killing the tree.

      • You obviously have never been around rats. Remember, rats were NOT normal to this island or any island,t they were brought by humans and were accustomed to humans and yes, rodents can eat EVERYTHING very easily. I have seen rodent population explosions in the past, for example, a wet year in Arizona leads to rodent explosion right away, the predators eat as many as they can stuff into themselves and then the rodents go mad trying to eat everything and eventually the population collapses rapidly and less than 20% survive to have ‘balanced life cycles’ until the next wet series of winters bring on another population explosion.

        These can be a disaster for native farmers in the past, very much so. This is part of the human/dog alliance forged during the last Ice Age that helped humans start ‘farming’ ditto the cat business about eating mice (not rats) in Africa leading to cats also cleaving to humans and humans wanting cats. The Easter Island farmers were at the mercy of the rats.

    • “…but do they eat palm sprouts, seedlings, and young trees?”

      R. exulans [Pacific rat] is also known to browse native flora (including trees, shrubs, fungi, sedges, grasses, orchids and other herbaceous plants and lianes), although the magnitude of such effects has been difficult to determine (Atkinson and Atkinson, 2000).
      R. exulans is a major agricultural pest throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. Crops damaged by this species include rice, maize, sugarcane, coconut, cacao, pineapple, and root crops.”

      http://www.issg.org/database/species/ecology.asp?si=170

  21. “colonization of Easter Island at roughly 1200 AD”

    There are people like Dr Robert Schoch that think it has been occupied much longer. Even 10,000 or more years ago.

  22. What impresses me most about the work of Hunt and Lipo is that they went to Easter Island expecting to confirm and extend the “consensus” view, but ended up debunking it, based on the evidence they discovered. Evidence-based science: what a concept! :-)

  23. I don’t buy this at all.

    Rat eating trees? How? Rats are endemic to most of the world, and I don’t see them decimating forests anywhere else. How did they do it? Burrowing? Eating nuts? (That is how trees propagate, btw – check out the beneficial effects of squirrels eating nuts.)

    Besides, as I understand the problem, it was not the palm-tree decimation that was the problem, it was the hardwood decimation that finished off the Easter Islanders. These were a Polynesian people, and they lived more by fishing than farming. No hardwood trees equals no fishing. No fishing means much of your protein sources are gone. Which means mass starvation. Which quite possibly means civil wars. And all long before European ships started arriving.

    And significantly, the Bird Man cult that was created after the great population crash, involved swimming to a small island to find (and eat) birds eggs. Note the complete abandonment of standard Polynesian culture, which would normally involve sailing across the seas to catch fish. The new Bird-Man cult is almost an admission of the abandonment of fishing as a protein source.

    In short, how can you have an article on Easter Island population statistics, that never mentions fishing? Besides, this is not an analysis of the problem, it is merely a disjointed selection of cut-and-paste quotes, which are largely meaningless. The author does not make a logical case, nor does he provide the evidence. In fact, it is a non-article.

    Ralph

    • Ralf-Would have to be pretty big rat to eat a tree, even I couldn’t eat a whole one. Therefore…rats don’t eat trees, they eat the seeds. The Easter Islanders cut down the trees, apparently.

      • Therefore…rats don’t eat trees, they eat the seeds. The Easter Islanders cut down the trees, apparently.
        ___________________________________

        You have obviously not kept rats. Yes, they eat seeds, but they also take them back to their burrows, where some are inevitably mislaid and are therefore in the perfect position to grow. See my comment about squirrel propagation of trees. This is why many trees make their seeds and pericarps edible, so the seeds are spread by various animal types.

        And again, the massive rat infestations witnessed in the rest of the world do not end up with deforestation. The elimination of nesting birds and various reptiles perhaps, but not deforestation. Never been a case, that I know of.

        Yes, we know that the Easter Islanders cut down the trees (and nothing to do with rats). And they did so, especially with the hardwoods, to use as a building material. But if you chop all the hardwood trees down to make houses, you can no longer make boats. No boats = no fishing = no food = starvation = social disorder. So any article about Easter Island population fluctuations that does not mention fishing, is not really woth the paper it is printed on (or the electrons in the circuit).

        Ralph

      • >>>coconuts are not carried by rats nor birds.

        Ho, ho, ho. Do you really think the only palm seed is a coconut?? Oh, dear. Just for your info, the majority of palm species have very small seeds or nuts, that are easily transported by both bird and rat.

        R

    • The rats had no predators hunting them. No cats. No eagles. No martens. And unique to all the other Polynesian island colonizations, no DOGS.

      • Including eating people as they slept. So where are all the rat bones? If there were that many rats infesting the island, and they do breed prolifically, ask any farmer, there would be rat nests and rat bones, and rat shit, everywhere.

      • Hunt did find rat bones. The Polynesian rat has been extirpated on Easter Island, outcompeted by more recently introduced rat species.

      • >>Hunt did find rat bones.

        Ah, well, case proven. Rat bones means the rats did it. And rats were responsible for the destruction of Jericho. And the fall of Rome. And the demise of the Aztecs and Mayans. Geez, they were probably even responsible for the extermination of all the American megafauna some 12 k years ago.

        /sarc

      • He also, as noted, found rat bites on the nuts of palm seedlings.

        Sarcasm in lieu of fact and argument gets you precisely nowhere. The facts are that rats ate the seeds and probably the shoots of palms as well, and their population multiplied rapidly, then crashed.

      • Among the references listed in the main article, number 8, “Rethinking Easter Island’s ecological catastrophe”, cites several documented cases of rat-mediated deforestation in Polynesia, including ones in which the palm numbers begin to recover after the rats are eradicated or controlled.

        I don’t have the Hunt & LIpo book (yet), but it may contain more such references.

    • I’m not an archaeologist, but I did see an episode of Survivorman where they put him on an uninhabited, rat-infested island that also happened to be covered with palm trees. So I share your skepticism.

      • Um, the HUMANS cut down ALL the trees, not the rats. The rats simply messed with the coconuts. People here complain about warmists unable to understand simple stuff. It is a two way street.

    • This breach has occurred in an area of the ship that poses no risk to the stability of the vessel or of fuel leaking into the environment,” it said.

      “Attempts to refloat the vessel will occur when the weather conditions ease. It will take a minimum of three days for the ship’s crew to complete a full assessment of the ship once the vessel is afloat again.”

  24. I had the privilege to visit the place in the early 1973. There was a guy who was researching the history of one of the families on the island. He told me then that there was evidence for social strife many centuries ago after which the population had been relatively stable. Until the island was “discovered” by Europeans who brought infectuous diseases to which the Rapa Nui had no defence. After that came the adventurers who believed that there was gold to be found under the statues (how could it be otherwise?) and dug them up. The population dropped from a few thousand to less than a hundred in a matter of a few years.

    On a lighter note: future visitors from afar to the now British isles but then sparsely populated wild outcrops in the Atlantic, wil notice the strange metal statues with moving arms which litter the place and wonder what on Earth they were all about.

  25. An alternative metaphor: The island “died” because its people were led to believe that they would only survive by building statues (known today as windmills) to placate a non-existent God, i.e. an early example of the Green Blob in action.

  26. Anthropologists astray: Misled or Misleading?
    The Easter Island eco-cide fable parallels Martha Mead’s wishful anthropology. See how she was misled in the biggest prankster hoax of modern history.
    The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research

    While knowing the great importance accorded to pre-marital virginity in Samoan society, but unaware that she was breaching Samoan etiquette, she resorted to suggestive interrogation of the two women about what sexual adventures they and other Samoan girls might really get up to at night. Surprised and embarrassed, they fell back on the Samoan custom of playful hoaxing, of which Mead was also unaware. After pinching each other, they told her the opposite of the truth, and jokingly agreed with whatever she suggested, adding suitable embellishments. She never asked whether this was seriously true, and they had no idea that she would tell the world.

  27. Either that or the self imposed carbon tax did them in. Proceeds from the carbon tax were funneled to favored voting blocks and public stone works like high speed rail for the stone heads project.

  28. “jobs not trees”

    Yet another example of how the eco-nuts have absolutely no idea how the other side thinks.

    No logger would say such a thing. In fact logging companies are at the fore front of research in how to maintain the forests so that logging can continue into the future.

    There’s an old saying. Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.

  29. Read the response by Jared Diamond, to the criticism here of his book.

    Note especially his assertion that rats are present on nearly all the Polynesian islands, but none of them have been deforested – only Easter Island. Which makes sense to me, as the claim that rats cause deforestation is ‘out there’ alongside alien abductions. Which is fine, if you want to make the argument. But if you want to make such an extrordinary claim you need some extrordinary evidence to back it up, not just the bald assertion made here.

    Response by Jared Diamond:
    http://www.marklynas.org/2011/09/the-myths-of-easter-island-jared-diamond-responds

    Ralph

      • And what a load of trash that was. Which kindergarten did these guys go to? Please tell me they are not scientists, please.

        The first thing they do is drop the raccist white man bomb on Jared Diamond. Sorry, but if that is your opening gambit, then this report and article are political, not scientific.

        They then say, quote:

        Setting aside the fact that even if only a fraction of palm nuts were destroyed by rats, the cumulative effect would have been significant.

        And then they cite a palm tree that does not fruit until it is 70, so obviously lives for centuries. All of which displays a complete misunderstanding of the breeding strategies of fruiting trees. A tree does not really care if 99.999% of its seeds are destroyed by rats, because it only takes two successful seeds in three centuries, to reproduce the species. There is no ‘cumulative effect’ when it comes to seeds.

        They then say, quote:

        anyone who has seen a palm tree cross-section with its thin, brittle bark and soft fibrous interior would quickly recognize these would not be suitable. Nor frankly would they have been capable of supporting the weight of multi-ton statues as rollers.

        But note what the professionals say about palm wood:

        “Its exceptional strength … makes it the perfect substitute for tropical hardwoods.”
        http://www.palmwood.net/#what-is-palmwood

        “The wood is extremely hard once cured, or dried. Harder than oak by far.”
        http://www.palmtreepassion.com/palm-tree-uses.html

        The secret is in the drying, and I am sure a location like Easter Island would be ideal for drying. Frankly, I see no merit whatsoever in any of the claims being made in this article or the original ‘research’ (I use the term loosely). It does not even pass the common sense test.

        Ralph

      • “The first thing they do is drop the raccist white man bomb on Jared Diamond.”

        Read it again. They explicitly absolve Diamond of racism:

        “Diamond simply continues the tradition by reworking the tale to remove the racist elements, relying instead upon an environmental twist put forth by popular writer Bahn and palynologist Flenley.” (my emphasis) They accuse Diamond of victim-blaming, not racism.

        “And then they cite a palm tree that does not fruit until it is 70, so obviously lives for centuries.”

        It took as long as 500 years for it to go extinct, with the pollen disappearing not long before first European contact. Land clearing and rats could do that. Considering that the islanders transported an average of only two statues per year, it hardly seems they’d need 16 million palms for the work, even if they did use the palms for rollers, as Diamond claims.

        “But note what the professionals say about palm wood:”

        Um, you’re taking a modern processed product that took “25 years research and development”, is kiln “cooked”, and impregnated with preservatives, and you’re comparing it to the use of an extinct palm tree (with perhaps one living relative) by stone age people?

        But hey, let’s say the extinct palm really was that durable. So why do you need 16 million new rollers when the old ones are just as good?

        “I see no merit whatsoever in any of the claims being made in this article or the original ‘research’ (I use the term loosely).”

        Unlike Diamond, they did actual field work, careful radiocarbon dating, the whole shebang. They went to the island expecting to confirm and extend the same work that Diamond built on. It was evidence, not prejudice, that changed their minds.

        Incidentally, if you haven’t already, check out the video of the “walking statues”. Whether it’s historically accurate or not, it’s pretty interesting:

      • You don’t think an Easter Islander can drop a palm log onto fire embers, to ‘kiln dry’ it? Perhaps it is you who are invoking the ‘R’ bomb.

        And you still fail to grasp the fact that out of the (say) one million seeds a palm will generate in its life, only two need to grow to maturity. So it matters not how many seeds are eaten by rats. The whole concept of rat deforestation is nonsensical, and it does not happen anywhere else.

        And you also fail to grasp that palm wood has many uses, apart from in construction. Fuel being a major one. What proportion of fuel to construction materials do we use? Think about it. The only thing you cannot use palm wood for, as far as I understand it, is boats, because it does not like getting wet.

        But I note you give no apology for not knowing that palm wood is a very strong construction material, as strong as oak. So with my having blasted this entire argument out of the water, you just ignore the facts and carry on regardless. This is not a theory, it is a faith.

        Ralph

      • Late to the party …

        The rats and palms are really a side show here. In whatever proportions man and rat account for the palm trees’ demise, the archaeological evidence seems pretty clear that

        1. the trees were gone very soon,
        2. the population was stable or grew for centuries after that,
        3. the demise of the population occurred not before contact with Westerners.

        So the felling of the last tree that Diamond turned into his ridiculously ham-fisted piece of propaganda was pretty much a non-event in terms of societal survival (although we don’t know how much better they would have fared with continuous presence of trees).

        Visiting from (comparatively speaking) lush, forested Germany, I always found treeless Belgium and Holland to be quite desolate – green, yes, but with every square inch of soil under the plough, nothing in the way of nature to rest your eyes on. Strangely, however, the natives of those places don’t seem to mind, and they look quite well-fed, too.

  30. The PBS tagline “to explore new ideas” does not include revisiting the “new” ideas when they are proved wrong. The selection bias of the “new” claim is more important than the truth or revision process in finding the truth or the status of the former “new” idea.

  31. People are overlooking a very obvious thing.

    These people set sail on very long and dangerous journeys in their primitive boats.

    People who are prosperous do not do such things.

    Harsh conditions, incompatible with further survival, must have prompted them to take these journeys. Which, suggests, that overpopulation and ecosystem stress were very common in these island societies. And, considering the difficulty in travel and communication, such societies would be often isolated and unstable. The loss of just one important link in the technological chain might mean disaster. For example, I read years ago of an island society which died out because they lost the ability to make trading ships (cut all the tries down ?), and they could no longer import soft shells from another far off island, soft shells which were crucial to making fish hooks.

    And don’t forget genetic decay. Our betters like to show their contempt for poor people in Appalachia by talking about their low IQ’s from marrying their cousins. What do you think happens on an island?

  32. Interesting article. Living in Hawaii and having a large Polynesian library, I am familiar with the true cause of the ecological collapse. It most definitely was the Polynesian rat, and the realization of its preditation by the settlers too late. It is also likely the settlers were also eating the palm fruit. It is also unclear the state of the voyaging canoe when it came upon the island. And it may have traveled so far as to have lost all its seed etc. Clearly it did not have provisions to go back and acquire better fauna and flora. Something the Hawaiians, Tongans, Tahitians, Marquesans, Samoans, and most others did in fact . By Polynesian standards, this was a miserable place. Such islands in Hawaii were barely occupied at the time of Western discovery even though in easy and regular travel routes, and some only for transient fishermen, worshipers, and meditation. And these islands had far more resources.
    It is also well established that the “discovery” quickly resulted in a population collapse. No doubt by some disease.

  33. Within the past two weeks our local paper (the Telegraph-Journal) had an article about a local man who released a dozen “bunnies” on an island. In the following few decades (IIRC) the rabbits had stripped the vegetation from the island, eating any of the few shoots that tried to establish themselves. It is not difficult to believe that rats could do the same on Easter Island. (The rabbits have been hunted close to extinction and soon will be eliminated entirely from the island; the flora of the island are quickly returning to normal.)
    If anyone wants more details on this story I will track down the newspaper. Contact me at imcqueen(at)nbnet.nb.ca

    Ian M

  34. According to the Remain EU campaign, that’s what’s going to happen to the UK if we leave. We’re all doomed.

  35. For all we know Easter Island could have been a Polynesian prison island and stone carving was a skilled trade education program.

    • It has been suggested that people set out from the Marquesas or elsewhere in Polynesia to find new islands surrounded by waters not afflicted with a dread fish plague.

  36. White Europeans often underestimated intelligence of natives, in this case assuming the islanders actions were product of their total stupidity.
    In the last few years most of the mature, some more than a century old, palm trees along French and Italian Mediterranean coastline are devastated by some bug or a fungus.
    If the Easter Islands’ palm trees were succumbing to a similar fate, realising consequence of an eventual catastrophe, the islanders had no alternative but to turn to their goods for salvation. They carved huge monoliths into image of goods they worshiped, hauling them to the shore on the remnants of dead palm trees.
    The story of the islanders could be a misinterpreted story of a totally natural and not a man initiated disaster that befell the islanders, eventually leading to warfare over depleting natural resources.

  37. You will notice that he line of reasoning used by the proponents of the ‘the islanders cut down ever tree’ theory is that anyone proposing an alternate theory has an extreme burden of proof because they got there first. You see this a lot in science where speculation becomes dogma and the burden of proof on any competing theory is based not in the strength of evidence of the prevailing theory but only that the prevailing theory got there first.

  38. I must admit I found this book and website very useful in looking at why nations fail. The authors discuss Jared Diamonds theories in good objective terms.
    It’s also worth looking at what happened to the flora and fauna of New Zealand after Maori people settled there. They by all accounts did not return to their home islands once they landed in New Zealand and brought no pigs. I suspect that on long voyages carrying provisions for both dogs and pigs is a major challenge. Once Maori landed on New Zealand there was no motivation to return to the home islands for Pigs due to the abundance of Moa, like giant chickens with no fear of humans. ( I wonder what happened to them!) However they brought rats which did just fine and were an important source of food. There were almost no mammals in New Zealand prior to it’s discovery and the habit of birds flying down to the ground when danger threatened made them easy prey for human and canine.

  39. Ralfellis didn’t read the reply to Jared Diamond nor watch the video showing that the heads could be moved with ropes and dismisses opposing views in a rather snarky offhand manner using the words:
    “This is not a theory, it is a faith”
    He should take the time to read all 3 articles (the original, Diamond’s reply, and the reply to Diamond). He might actually learn something.

    • From his replies to me above, it looks like he did read all three, but didn’t learn anything. It makes his preaching about “faith” doubly ironic. :-)

  40. National Geographic had an article about this subject that implied the Easter Islanders simply threw down their tools and took to war. That never made sense to me for a couple of reasons.
    Carving heavy stone monuments and moving them, regardless of how they were moved, requires organization and plenty of expenditure in food energy.
    This was not a culture under stress while the heads were being placed.

  41. [chilemike
    February 24, 2016 at 5:44 pm
    They have many coconut palms now, but they have to plant germinated palms. The coconut palms won’t germinate by themselves. ]

    The trees never grew there to begin with. When people arrived, the people planted the trees. “Gardener-Man” always improves the environment. After they planted the trees they may have given up on tending them as they may have felt it was not a worthwhile effort compared to other crops. Watering is hard work. My family is from the Virgin Islands and my uncle plants, grows, and sells palm trees and other farm produce. The palm trees he plants, especially inland, need to be watered until they are well established.

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