Easter Island

In A Green History of the World, Clive Ponting gives a sobering account of one society’s demise as a direct result of development. He relates in detail how the southern Pacific ocean’s Easter Islanders, remote from any other civilized society, slowly succumbed to the results of their ingenuity.

For a thousand years after their arrival on the island the inhabitants, who were of Polynesian origin, carved out for themselves not only an existence but an advanced culture from an inhospitable, volcanic island.

By the sixteenth century, the once densely wooded island of 150 square miles in area boasted 600 of those extraordinary stone monuments for which Easter Island is known today. The price of this enterprise was devastation.

In the nineteenth century explorers found the meagre population reduced to abject squalor and cannibalism. The island was no longer able to support much life at all.

What happened? The transportation of the monuments from quarry to destination was accomplished with the help of tree trunks as rollers: such was the passion for this enterprise that in time all the island’s trees were cut down, except those in an extinct volcano.

The Easter Islanders could not avoid starvation on their barren, treeless island, and because there was no wood even for building boats, they were trapped there. Victims of their own ingenuity, the
society succumbed to misery.


Diamond, Jared. Collapse, Viking Pengin, New York, 2005,

Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World; the environment and the collapse of great civilizations, Penguin, London 1993

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"The Progress Trap - and how to avoid it" Copyright Daniel O'Leary, registered at
the Copyright Office, Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Canada on April 5, 1991 (ref 405917)