Footnote Frivolity***, Going Green

Easter Island: a cautionary tale

Did anyone watch last night’s Easter Island Underworld on SBS? I did. I endured a whole hour of B-grade horror movie sound effects, recycled footage, and uninspired reenactments because a documentary was preferable to the reality TV rubbish being aired on another channel. Plus who doesn’t get excited about a history lesson that involves claustrophobic caves, cannibalism, and ecocide?

To spare everyone else of having to watch Easter Island Underworld, I will summarise its contents. The documentary follows researchers Claudio Cristino, Sergio Rapu and Terry Hunt as they explore the island’s lava-tube cave system, which was used by the island’s inhabitants as a place of refuge. ‘Refuge from what’ is Easter Island Underground’s angle and it lists diminishing resources, cannibalism and threats from outsiders as the driving factors.

When the first Polynesians settled on Easter Island, it was a tropical paradise. Large palm trees provided the shade and shelter that small plants and animals required. Unfortunately, the settlers, who would be later known as Moai, liked to erect giant stone statues of their ancestors and required large numbers of tree trunks to move the things.

During this period, rodents unintentionally introduced by the settlers became endemic on the island. They prevented regrowth by eating all of the sugary palm-tree seeds. This combination led to the island’s complete deforestation.

Without palm trees, the Moai could not build boats to fish or leave the island. The exposed land became too salty for crops; fruit and vegetables could only be grown in sink holes. The Moai gradually ate all of the land birds and most of the sea birds that nested on the island to extinction. As food became scarce, some turned to cannibalism and clans started hiding underground. After the introduction of smallpox, syphilis and other diseases, the Moai were nearly wiped out.

In hindsight, the decline of the Moai civilisation seems inevitable. Of course deforestation would prevent the Moai from escaping Easter Island, as well as endangering limited food resources. But as they cut down the trees, did the Moai realise that they were sowing the seeds of their own destruction? Were they ignorant or just in denial? As Cheap Geek would often say, it’s ‘a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B’.

It is said that history repeats. As the human population increases and consumes its resources at an unsustainable rate*, it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ resources will run out. Meanwhile, colonisation of other planets are still a sci-fi nerd’s wet dream. Easter Island is a cautionary tale that we all should take note. In other words, it’s mustbethrifty time.


* ‘As the global population grows from 7 billion to almost 9 billion by 2040…the demand for resources will rise exponentially. By 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water — all at a time when environmental boundaries are throwing up new limits to supply…We can no longer assume that our collective actions will not trigger tipping points as environmental thresholds are breached, risking irreversible damage to both ecosystems and human communities…if we fail to resolve the sustainable development dilemma, we run the risk of condemning up to 3 billion members of our human family to a life of endemic poverty’ (excerpt taken from ‘Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A future worth choosing’, the UN’s 2012 report on sustainability).

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5 thoughts on “Easter Island: a cautionary tale

  1. So I guess the moral of the story is not to build giant stone statues, especially when you live on an island that can be cycled around in less than a day?? That and “people are dumb, yo”… 😉

    1. Something like that. People are sometimes too optimistic for their own good: ‘We’re running out of trees, but that’s okay, we’ll figure out something tomorrow…Until then, let’s chop this one down.’

  2. I find this interesting because it’s a reminder that every group of humans destroys its environment – it’s only the speed of the destruction that varies according to how technologically advanced they are. Kind of like how if you’re spending more than you earn (or even as much as you earn), it doesn’t matter how high your income is, you’re still not getting ahead until you learn to live within your means. (I’ve possibly gone a little too philosophical for a Tuesday morning).

    Love the blog by the way – I love to see that there are some young, Australian personal finance bloggers out there. Some days I feel like I’m the only person my age who lives frugally 😛

    1. Hey Sophie, thanks for dropping by. For a while, I also thought I was the only young(ish) blogger out there interested in being frugal/thrifty. Everyone who writes about this kind of stuff either works in the finance profession or has a family of four to feed. It’s great to meet someone who’s blogging about similar stuff. 😀 I’ll definitely have to check your blog out.

  3. Definitely something to think about and ponder.The Easter Island is a place we should pay some attention to because I do think there is a lesson to be learned.we are happily on our way to destroying our resourses and world.Will man ever learn that greed is a danger?Yes,we were born to eventually die here on earth,but why rush.Let’s dig a little deeper and learn from the past.Nothing is new……just a little different.

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