"The story of Easter Island is the story of one potential future of the planet writ small," said the senior Green outside Parliament. [You can read my analysis of Norman's speech here, and Liberty Scott's here]
Problem is, New Scientist magazine says that the story of Easter Island told by Russel and others is bunk.
Not just wrong in the sense as I'd said before in trying to equate societies with property rights to a society that didn't, but wrong in the sense that, as New Scientist says, "At the very least, there is painfully little archaeological evidence for the fundamental claims that underpin the self-destruction theory." That's scientist-talk for: this hypothesis is bunk.
"Much of what has been written about Easter Island is little more than speculation," says Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii. "When you start to search for the actual evidence for some of these claims, often it just isn't there."Alas, poor Russel. Alas too for his thesis, and for the myth on which he and author Jared Diamond relied.
There are ... problems with almost all aspects of [the much-cited 'Collapse'] story, say Hunt and his colleague Carl Lipo of California State University in Long Beach. Take the idea that the population was once much larger than the low estimates made by early visitors. "People say, 'Look at all these statues, there must have been armies of people to do this,'" says Lipo. Many conclude that by Roggeveen's time the society had already collapsed. "But that is just absolute speculation," Lipo says.The soil itself was never any good either, which is perhaps why the palm forest was removed.
"Thegn Ladefoged of the University of Auckland in New Zealand is analysing samples of soil from locations across the island. In general, the soils are poor, he reported at the meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in May. Nevertheless, he adds, there is no clear evidence of extreme soil degradation across the island. "I think people have extrapolated from one area which does show extreme degradation, Poike, to the whole island. I just don't see it," says Ladefoged."So the story that Russel and Jared spun just falls apart, doesn't it.
"Lipo and Hunt suggest that, given Easter Island's poor soils and relatively low rainfall - which struggles to top 1500 millimetres a year - it actually made sense to get rid of the forest to make way for [rock] gardens [with a 'lithic mulch], and to extend agriculture across a greater range of soils and levels of rainfall."
"In 2002, Paul Rainbird of the University of Wales, Lampeter, investigated the idea of eco-disaster on Rapa Nui and concluded that there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of the key claims of societal dissolution and breakdown before the 18th century."Russel thinks we should find in Easter Island a lesson for ourselves "writ small." On that I do agree with him. There is something to be learned, and it is this: scaremongering claims for eco-collapse and eco-destruction produced without evidence should be ignored.
Are you listening, Russel?
LINKS: Easter Island - A monumental collapse - New Scientist [with podcast]
Learning from Easter Island: Something for Russel Norman and his Greens to think about - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Collapsed: Jared Diamond's arguments - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
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