Thursday, February 19, 2009

Because, despite all the hoo-rah, Jared Diamond never impressed me all that much....

... I'm fascinated by new scientific evidence that the people on Easter Island did not simply commit suicide by abusing the environment, as Diamond argued in his pretentious, cautionary, and overtly statist book Collapse.

I particularly like this segment of today's story:

ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2009) — Easter Island (Rapa Nui) has gained recognition in recent years due in part to a book that used it as a model for societal collapse from bad environmental practices—ringing alarm bells for those concerned about the health of the planet today. But that’s not the whole story, says Dr. Chris Stevenson, an archaeologist who has studied the island—famous for its massive stone statues—with a Rapa Nui scientist, Sonia Haoa, and Earthwatch volunteers for nearly 20 years.

The ancient Rapanui people did abuse their environment, but they were also developing sustainable practices—innovating, experimenting, trying to adapt to a risky environment—and they would still be here in traditional form if it weren’t for the diseases introduced by European settlers in the 1800s.

“Societies don’t just go into a tailspin and self-destruct,” says Stevenson, an archaeologist at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “They can and do adapt, and they emerge in new ways. The key is to put more back into the system than is taken out.”

That now-discredited book is worth a read, because the chapter on Easter Island is not the only one that makes ridiculous claims. See the sections on Greenland that suggest the colonists might have survived if they hadn't been Christians, or the sections on small Pacific Islands that read as a loving tribute to State-forced abortion.

For what it's worth, Guns, Germs, and Steel also stunk, that Pulitzer Prize notwithstanding.

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