The decline and fall of Easter Island and its alleged self-destruction has become the poster child of a new environmentalist historiography, a school of thought that goes hand-in-hand with predictions of environmental disaster. Why did this exceptional civilisation crumble? What drove its population to extinction? These are some of the key questions Jared Diamond endeavours to answer in his new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. According to Diamond, the people of Easter Island destroyed their forest, degraded the island's topsoil, wiped out their plants and drove their animals to extinction. As a result of this self inflicted environmental devastation, its complex society collapsed, descending into civil war, cannibalism and self-destruction. While his theory of ecocide has become almost paradigmatic in environmental circles, a dark and gory secret hangs over the premise of Easter Island's self-destruction: an actual genocide terminated Rapa Nui's indigenous populace and its culture. Diamond, however, ignores and fails to address the true reasons behind Rapa Nui's collapse. Why has he turned the victims of cultural and physical extermination into the perpetrators of their own demise? This paper is a first attempt to address this disquieting quandary. It describes the foundation of Diamond's environmental revisionism and explains why it does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.The whole paper is fascinating. What I hadn't realized is that there was a large indigenous population still living on Easter Island when the island was first discovered by Europeans. Then, one-hundred and fifty years after repeated contacts with Europeans, there were none left. Hmmmmm. Given the known atrocities committed by white men against native populations everywhere else in the world during that period, it's difficult for me to believe that the natives' contact with the Europeans had little or no negative consequences, yet that seems to be critical to Jared Diamond's fundamental claim that the natives killed themselves by the ecological disaster they created.
Another environmental doom and gloom prophet exposed? Maybe. It does, at least, make me wonder. I'm now interested in following this debate as it unfolds.