Easter Island is famously one of the remotest places in the world. It is also famous for its huge statues. They are both relics of and key components of one of the most haunting of tales of environmental destruction. The inhabitants of Easter Island arrived by boat and created a unique culture, of which the erection of their statues was a key part. But this culture was not sustainable. It required the use of large quantities of wood, and over a few centuries all the wood was used up.
Without wood, Easter Island society collapsed. The inhabitants could not get off the island. They were trapped in a cycle of continued environmental degradation, hunger, war and ultimately cannibalism.
It is a stark story and the details make grim reading. It is the most moving, but not the most interesting of the stories that Diamond tells us in this well researched and fascinating book. The one that really intrigues is the Viking colony in Greenland. This one is better documented than most but even so still raises some fascinating questions. Why did the Vikings of Greenland not eat fish for example?
This really is a book that it is hard to fault, though the same caveat applies that I gave for Guns, Germs and Steel, it does help if you have a reasonable grasp of biology. Are we ourselves heading for a disaster ourselves? I don’t think we are, but this book makes it only too clear that it is far from impossible.