Easter Island (Rapa Nui), is the Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, most famous for its 887 giant carved stone statues (Maoi). What many don’t know is that the now desolate island was once a verdant paradise with a thriving culture.
Understanding what happened there, and why, should sound a loud alarm to all the other cultures now on a similar cataclysmic path.
The rise and fall of Easter Island can be seen as a microcosm, demonstrating the potential disastrous result that overpopulation, deforestation, and depletion of natural resources could have on a global scale. Cultural and environmental exploitation led to the demise of a vibrant society, which was technically sophisticated enough to carve, move, and erect the giant stone monuments, using a method that remains a mystery to this day.
In his best-selling book, Collapse, Jared Diamond cites Easter Island as the “clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by over-exploiting its own resources.” Diamond called this self-destructive behavior ecocide, a fate that could befall the entire planet if changes are not made.
For the sake of full disclosure, it should be mentioned that an alternative explanation for the island’s demise has been offered – one that blames the deforestation on rats. It purports that rats were introduced as stowaways on canoes, and proceeded to devour all the trees. Once the island was depleted of its vegetation and the birds that lived off the plants, the population adapted and survived with a new food source – the rats.
Believe it or not, those who support this theory actually hold it up as an exemplary demonstration of “successful” human adaptability.