The Collapse of a Green Parable for Collapse

UPDATE: Some of the information and assertions in this post have been disputed by Jared Diamond here.

In 1995, Jared Diamond wrote an article for Discover magazine that began:

In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?

Diamond expanded on his thesis ten years later, with the best-selling Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Many people concerned about resource depletion and overpopulation now think of Easter Island as a symbolic case study. Something about those statues, too, that seems to haunt us.


I have noted that Easter Island as a green parable and cautionary lesson

 appears to rest on scientifically shaky ground.

Mark Lynas discusses the latest evidence that calls the tale into question.

More recent archaeological work has now challenged almost every aspect of this conventional “˜ecocide’ narrative, most completely and damningly in a new book by the archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo entitled “˜The Statues That Walked‘. Hunt and Lipo did not set out to challenge the conventional story: their initial studies were intended merely to confirm it by providing some greater archaeological detail. However, as they dug and analysed, things turned out very differently.

Moreover, Lynas suggests that we might be drawing the wrong lessons from the history of East Islanders, since the modern-day inhabitants aren’t doing so bad:

Perhaps the more recent studies of their history will help challenge the Hobbesian and pessimistic view that human nature necessarily tends towards destruction and violence. Resilience and sustainability are just as likely outcomes, even over the longer term.

74 Responses to “The Collapse of a Green Parable for Collapse”

  1. lou says:

    In either reading of the evidence, old or revised, I don’t see how this particular island is useful in drawing such sweeping conclusions about the fate of civilization on earth.  There are no and there cannot be any analogies for a global economy that temporarily masks environmental constraints on local populations while undermining resilience on a global scale.  

  2. Barry Woods says:

    you are aware of course that Mark Lynas referencs for this piece a paper by sceptic/denierBenny peiser 

  3. Barry Woods says:

    Mark quoting a paper published in the journal Energy and Environment, will no doubt upset some greens and environmentalists.. even though, as Mark says, Benny makes some good points and is better referenced.

    Maybe Mark is putting some distance between himself and the more excitable greens. 

  4. Keith Kloor says:

    Barry (2), I left that part out so you would have something to comment on.

    Since you’re keeping track of such things, let me know when you spot someone like James Delingpole or Bishop Hill similarly referencing a pro-AGW writer without making any gratuitous jabs.


  5. Blaming this all on Diamond seems weird – as Lynas himself notes, the collapse story is older. But Diamond is a Name so its a convenient peg to hang the story off, I suppose.

    Lynas seems to be relying on Peiser. Just because Peiser says something doesn’t automatically make it wrong, but it is strong grounds for mistrust. Unless someone reliable has validated Peiser’s work, I would not use it. 

  6. Keith Kloor says:


    Diamond is responsible for popularizing a simplistic case study. By no means is Lynas relying on Peiser, as should be apparent by a read of his entire post.

    Eminent Scholars have already chopped up the convenient collapse narrative in Diamond’s book (see the link in my post).

  7. Dean says:

    “Resilience and sustainability are just as likely outcomes, even over the longer term.”
    So if population collapses by something like 90% and then centuries later is rebounding a bit, everything is okay and we didn’t need to worry?
    I don’t know where the research stands on Easter Island (how certain we are of what actually happened), but Diamond’s book didn’t focus on Easter Island alone. It had many case studies. Has he offered any response to the new research?

  8. Keith Kloor says:

    Dean, this piece by George Johnson (an excellent science journalist) really gets at what bugs anthropologists and others about Jared Diamond’s case studies in Collapse.

    It would be nice if Diamond responded in full to the the gist of the many professional critiques of Collapse, but I’m not aware if he has.  

  9. Oh. When I read the title I was hoping to read a fact or two in this article, but it seems I am mistaken.
    [Thanks for the substantive comment, laying out your position.//KK]

  10. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Seems to me that there is an element of differences in disciplinary approaches as well as Johnson alludes to:

    “In an e-mail message, he said that progress in any field depends on syntheses and individual studies. “In both chemistry and physics, the need for both approaches has been recognized for a long time,” he wrote. “One no longer finds specialists on molybdenum decrying the periodic table’s sweeping superficiality, nor advocates of the periodic table scorning mere descriptive studies of individual elements.”
    For the anthropologists, the exceptions were more important than the rules. Instead of seeking overarching laws, the call was to “contextualize,” “complexify,” “relativize,” “particularize” and even “problematize,” a word that in their dialect was given an oddly positive spin. At some moments, the seminar seemed less like a scientific meeting than a session of the Modern Language Association.
    But the anthropologists had a point. As Einstein put it, explanations should be as simple as possible “” but no simpler. Is it realistic to hope, as Dr. Diamond did at the end of “Guns, Germs and Steel,” that “historical studies of human societies can be pursued as scientifically as studies of dinosaurs”?”

    thanks for the link Keith. nice article. 

  11. So, Easter Islanders didn’t deforest their island by building rollers for statues — they did it the old fashioned way, by bringing ecologically devastating foreign species with them.
    That’s so comforting.  ZING!, Jared Diamond!

  12. Barry Woods says:

    4# I never comment at Delingpole blog, it’s far too tribal…

    and have been commenting on Mark Lynas’ blog since it startedand and swap a few emails occasionally.

    It is perhaps interesting to see Mark Lynas, again, apparently distancing himself from, a number of ‘environmental truths’, ie GM, DDT, nuclear  and now ‘the various eco-cide ‘myths’ used to provide us consumerist modern day sinner, with an example form the past..

    Thought worth pointing this out, ie why now. the paper’s story, the special section of E&E that the paper appears in, is over 5 years ago..

    so another blog post? is why now..?

    Like with the recent Atlas Greenland Iceloss story, where scientists were very quick to point out the big mistakes’ in a quite frankly very alarmist press release.. which may have embarrased the media slightly for just eco-churnalising it.

    Maybe those, that just ignored the excessive annoucements are starting to distance themselves, lest they be thought of as ‘silence of the scientists’ ie tacit approval as it helped nudge policymakers/media/public along a bit..

    similarly, Hurricance (middle name global warming) Irene got short shrift from people that may have said nothing a few years ago..

    Just thoughts..

  13. Keith Kloor says:


    I wish you would do less free-associating in your comments. I didn’t ask you a question related to commenting on Delingpole’s blog. I know that you’re very impressed with Mark’s rising above the partisan waters to cite a climate skeptic in a neutral manner. 
    So my response to you was this:

    let me know when you spot someone like James Delingpole or Bishop Hill similarly referencing a pro-AGW writer without making any gratuitous jabs.”

    Since you’re on this beat, will you let me know when that happens? A simple yes or no will do.

  14. Keith Kloor says:

    Steven (11),

    Have you bothered to read the research highlights that undermines the simplistic Easter Island narrative popularized by Diamond? 

  15. Tom Fuller says:

    I cannot answer for Steven, but I personally felt that his prior work, Guns Germs and Steel, was so good and so valuable that I was willing to give him a pass on some of the defects that were apparent in Collapse.

    Some of the criticism of that work really seemed mean-spirited, to say the least. And his effort to bring the subject together was pretty much the first attempt to do so that I had seen since Toynbee, fifty years ago.

  16. Marlowe Johnson says:

    +1 @15

  17. Tom Gray says:

    It is very common in the culture war for the rationalists (including teh self-designated “brights”) to condemn those of faith by saying that their beliefs are irrational, anti-scientific and conform to comforting myths. of course in saying this the rationalists are undoubtedly correct. The beliefs of those of faith are ” irrational, anti-scientific and conform to comforting myths”. However they do not acknowledge that their own beliefs are ” irrational, anti-scientific and conform to comforting myths”. This is true for all groups in human society.


    A major problem for teh AGW movement is that it refuses to accept that its own views are “” irrational, anti-scientific and conform to comforting myths”. Rather they see their own views as teh necessary outcome of clear rigorous science. They possess the clarity of the truth against thir opponents (skeptics, denialsts …) whose views they see not as ones off scientific clarityy but ones that are ” irrational, anti-scientific and conform to comforting myths”.

  18. Keith Kloor says:

    Tom Gray,

    What does your comment have anything to do with Easter Island, Jared Diamond, or cautionary tales of over-exploitation of the environment.

    I do know it has nothing to do with the fight between rationalists (who ever they are) and religious folks, and it especially has nothing to do with global warming and climate politics.

    Stay on topic. Not every post is a vehicle for you and Barry and others so beat your favorite drum.

  19. Barry Woods says:

    13# I really do not equate Bishop Hill with James delingpole

    With respect to your question I think you will find Bishop Hill an equally interesting mirror to Collide a scape (ie the host allows allcomers and is civil and polite on the whole. though all hosts can have a bad hair day) a number of UK climate scientists feel able and are welcomed to comment by the regulars 

    as the topic is mark Lynas, I do not think to gratuitous example.

    I had thought my comments broadened out the green parable idea collaspsing

  20. Keith Kloor says:

    Bishop Hill is part of an echo chamber. He’s more interesting to read that WUWT, and not as overtly political. But he’s too slanted for my taste and, best as I can tell, rarely calls BS on his fellow skeptics–either in his own comments thread or elsewhere in climateskepticland.

    To my eyes, he has an agenda, indistinguishable to that of WUWT.

  21. Tom Gray says:

    re 18

    Keth Kloor asks


    What does your comment have anything to do with Easter Island, Jared Diamond, or cautionary tales of over-exploitation of the environment


    Diamond’s description was accepted because i conformed to the myth of ” over-exploitation of the environment “. It was a parable that put the myth into scientific and historical terms. I am not concerned with whether the description ahs scientific merit or not. I am merely commenting on why it was accepted and why. it was selected to be published for a reason. it was accepted and widely discussed for a reason. My take on that reason is that it was another statement of a defining myth of the green movement and sued unerring science to confirm it.
    Matt Ridley has recently published another view that disputes Diamond’s view. There is no over exploitation of the environment. Naturally this is being hailed by groups who have differing myths on the exploitation of the environment. Their views are confirmed as those of unerring science

  22. Tom Fuller says:

    Tom Gray,

    I find your comment really weird and off target. Almost everywhere human culture thrived (until the Renaissance), civilization is clearly associated with severe deterioration of the regional environment.

    How come all those ruins are in deserts? 

  23. Tom Gray says:

    re 22

    Tom Fuller writes:


    I find your comment really weird and off target. Almost everywhere human culture thrived (until the Renaissance), civilization is clearly associated with severe deterioration of the regional environment


    I made absolutely no statement about the effect of civilization of the environment. I was writing about why certain views are accepted. (or rejected) That is that they conform to the defining myth of human groups. Now, I suppose that others would write something quite different than you about the effect of civilization on the environment. They might even have a different view on just what constitutes “deterioration”. Bringing a civilization toi life in the desert of Mesopotamia might be considered to be an accomplishment

  24. harrywr2 says:

    @Tom Fuller
    How come all those ruins are in deserts?
    How come Seattle is no longer under 10,000 feet of ice? What happened to Lake Missoula?  Oh wait…I know…the last ice age ended and the ‘Climate Changed’.
    Personally I blame the Mayan’s and Bush 😉
    But Science Magazine says the cause of the desertification of the Sahara Desert was actually the end of the last ice age.

  25. Matt says:

    Diamond deserves credit for tackling big picture stuff. But he attempted the impossible with Collapse: finding case studies that sufficiently separate the social/cultural and environmental causes of societal disruption while keeping a clear, readable narrative and maintaining a coherent line of argument.

    Unfortunately reality is too complicated. His arguments suffer from oversimplification and selective (at best) use of the available evidence. While Collapse is coherently and engagingly written, sadly this is at the expense of accuracy. 

    While his detractors have done a good demolition job on the evidence behind his ‘Collapse’ case studies, they are much less effective at providing positive alternate ‘big picture’ hypotheses for why societies succeed or fail.

    Mark Lynas’ assertion about the equal likelihood of human nature tending towards ‘resilience and sustainability’ is itself unsubstantiated. We’re back into handwaving territory. Although the suspiciously neat case studies are rightly contested, Diamond’s basic position (that societies’ different responses to environmental challenges may ultimately determine their success or failure) still seems eminently plausible and reasonable… albeit in need of better supporting evidence.

    I guess I see his books more as presenting a line of argument than a conclusive demonstration of cause and effect. Sure- he could have been much more open in accepting the complexities and uncertainties- but I’m a little surprised at the venom of some of his detractors. 

    BTW, I’m also sort of surprised to see this controversy picked over again. It was already old news when I looked at it a few months back:

  26. Marlowe Johnson says:

    nice dodge. why have rates of desertification gone up? 

  27. PDA says:

    It’s a fair cop to fault Diamond for a simplistic analysis of Easter Island, though pointing out those flaws to overturn the whole theme of resource depletion and collapse seems to itself be simplistic.

    As Tom Fuller points out, Easter Island isn’t the only example of environmental degradation… it isn’t even the only example in Collapse.

    We are a mythopoeic species, and it’s natural to kind of seize on stories that fit into our familiar myths. But I think it’s not a really good way of coming to an understanding of the physical universe.

  28. Tom Gray says:

    Re 28

    PDA writes in regard to “ruins in teh desert”

    As Tom Fuller points out, Easter Island isn’t the only example of environmental degradation”¦   

    The ruins in the desert or at least the ruins in Egypt,  and Mesopotamia are homes are in areas which are homes to hundreds of millions of people. So what is the the evidecne of environmental degradation?     

  29. Tom Fuller says:

    I blame the goats.

  30. bigcitylib says:

    Well, Lynas quotes Peiser and E&E, so thats about 12 strikes against right there.

  31. PDA says:

    Tom, you’re talking to the other Tom. I said nothing about desertification.

  32. Stu says:

    Keith on Bishop Hill – 

    “To my eyes, he has an agenda”

    You could reasonably make that claim about 98% of the participants in the climate debate. Judith Curry has an agenda. Steve McIntyre certainly has an agenda. Trenberth and Michael Tobis and The Guardian newspaper all have agendas. There is an agenda in regards to AR4. Does Andy Revkin have an agenda when he refuses to read Andrew Montford’s book? Is that agenda made more clear when he asks readers to head over to RC for the review?

    Bishop Hill has a POV. 


  33. JohnB says:

    To a degree I have to agree with Tom Gray. Until recently climate change wasn’t really thought of as a factor in the fall of civilisations. It was always war, disease or overuse of the environment. Changes to the climate were thought to be too slow and too small to have an effect.

    Well dated archaeological evidence often showed that civilisations collapsed in a short space of time, the Harappans for example, went from their height to complete collapse in under 100 years. So whatever caused the fall must have acted quickly and the only thing really considered was over use.

    With the advent of evidence from ice cores showing climate can indeed change very quickly this idea is being replaced with the concept of climate changing too quickly for the civilisation to adapt and it therefore falls.

    Remember that these people didn’t have the ability to move large amounts of produce long distances and so could not farm other, more fertile areas and truck the food in. No matter how “ecologically sound” your farming practices are, if the rainfall goes from “enough” to “bugger all” in 50 years, the civilisation will fall.

    Tiwanaku is a perfect example of this. Even though they had developed agricultural techniques nearly 50% more productive than modern methods the climate change was so big and so rapid that they simply couldn’t keep up. Hence they fell.

    The more general point here is that resource depletion and over use of land were themes developed because of a lack alternative explanations for the fast collapse of various civilisations. These themes were of course quickly adopted by the environmental movement. (And why not? It made sense at the time.) They were accepted answers simply because of a lack of alternative explanations.

    With more research and better knowledge about past rapid climate change they are now far less likely as the cause of collapse and climate change is the accepted means.

    @Marlowe. Because the climate has changed. As the climate changes the actual amounts (in square miles) of deserts, rainforests, etc will change and therefore so will the rates of change in those areas. Or do you expect the climate to change but the amount of desert of remain the same?

  34. Keith Kloor says:

    Lots of good comments coming in on this. Just a few I want to address or build on.
    JohnB (33),
    Actually climate has waxed and waned as a big factor in explanations of societal collapse. But I’m not talking climate change as its often discussed here, but rather natural occurring drought. In fact, some anthropologists have been blamed (in previous years) for relying too much on the deterministic explanation (such as drought).
    PDA (27) and Matt (25) capture my take on all. FWIW, I’ve talked to a bunch of archaeologists about Diamond’s Collapse book and they’ve pretty much told me that while he gets the details wrong in many of the case studies, they feel he’s right about the big, take-home picture.

  35. bigcitylib says:

    Stu wrote:

    ” AR4. Does Andy Revkin have an agenda when he refuses to read Andrew Montford’s book?”

    Probably his agenda isn’t he won’t waste money on crap.

  36. Keith Kloor says:


    I think you’ve had your say. My bad for digressing in an earlier response. So you got anything to contribute to the dialogue on Easter Island?

    Stu (32)

    Fair enough on the POV distinction. I’ll pick this tangent up on a separate post/thread in the future.

  37. Steve E says:

    Well it’s comforting to know that at least “The Lord of the Flies” scenario is false; and when push come to shove, we’ll gang up on the environment before we’ll destroy ourselves. </sarc>

  38. Jack Hughes says:

    Hi Keith and thanks for an interesting post.

    How does this “big picture stuff” work ?

    Just to take a rhetorical  example – could the big picture ideas about UFOs be correct even though each example turned out to be false? 

    Wouldn’t some good and real examples be better ways to build a big picture ? 

  39. Howard says:

    “Civilization” is largely due to global warming climate change, although Atlantians might disagree.  The fact that the Holocene adoption of civil social lifestyle has had both setbacks and advances due to continued challenges from climate change and opportunities arising from resource depletion is not surprising.  
    NPR had a recent show on the brain and evolution.  One of the guys claimed that climate change caused the brain to get smarter figuring out adaptation to changing food sources.  Perhaps we are at a radical tipping point of evolutionary advancement all due to climate change… However, the recent 15-years of stagnant climate has held us back….
    Get Clinton on it!

  40. EdG says:

    Read that book when it came out. Prefer his earlier one, ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel.’ Much more insightful.

    Always thought the use of Easter Island as a doomsday poster child – even if it was as exactly as Diamond described it – was incredibly simplistic and marveled at the way it was so eagerly picked up by those who were looking for one.


  41. bigcitylib says:


    whether the original crisis in island society was caused directly by deforestation or indirectly by rats brought along with early settlers, the first two assertion Diamond’s statement above remain correct as far as I can tell.  The first inhabitants trashed the place.  Whether they managed to hang on afterwards doesn’t seem relevant to that point.

    And, again, pointing to anything in E&E as a source is equivalent to recommending a paper that appeared in Playboy or Lurid Tales.  Sorry, but there you have it.

  42. Lynas posted a response from J Diamond.

  43. Keith Kloor says:

    Thanks, Bart. I just inserted an update with a link to Diamond’s response. This may prompt me to do a second post, taking a deeper look at all this.

  44. bigcitylib says:

    So Peiser wrote about Easter Island without even visiting it? 

  45. bigcitylib says:

    Keith, after reading Diamond’s piece a couple of times, as well as whats at the end of his links, you might want to rename this post The Collapse of The Collapse of a Green Parable for Collapse.  Mark’s climbdown should be fun to watch.  Never trust E&E!

  46. keith Kloor says:

    Bigcitylib (45),

    You’re treating this debate like a ping pong match. Mark need not have bothered referencing Peiser. There are various reputable scholars who have effectively deconstructed Diamond’s Collapse book. For an excellent overview of this schoarlship, including a critique of Diamond’s Easter Island narrative, read the essay by Joseph Tainter that I linked to in this 2009 post.

  47. bigcitylib says:

    Well, no bringing in ringers.  Mark mentions specific texts to back his claims against Diamond, and THEY appear to be exceedingly iffy.

    In any case, Joseph Tainter also refs the crazy Peiser paper re Easter Island that accuses Diamond and others of being closet Marxists, so frankly that’s  a black mark against him as well. And if that’s what you guys call scholarship–if Tainter can’t distinguish the loonys–then your case is not very strong.

    What I find disturbing with Mark’s post he says 1) ignore the fact that E&E and Peiser typically produce crap, treat the paper on its own merits, and 2) that he isn’t an archealogist, so presumably can’t judge the papers on its own merits anyway.

    He seems to have gotten in over his head.


  48. JustaSquirrelTryingtoFindhisNut(s) says:

    From Meith and Bork:

    When the first Polynesian settlers arrived on Rapa Nui, about 70% of the island was covered with dense woodland in which Jubaea palms dominated. Our investigations of extended soil profiles provide evidence that more than 16 million palm trees grew on the island. Nearly all palms were removed by the 16th century. Teeth marks on nutshells of the Jubaea palms from the 13th or 14th centuries attest to the activity of Pacific rats (Rattus exulans) on Rapa Nui, which were probably imported there by the first Polynesians settlers. Did the rats perhaps prevent the germination of palm seeds and thus the regeneration of the dense palm woodland of Rapa Nui?

    The results of our investigations refute this hypothesis and support the assumption that people cut the trees. Burned relics of palm stumps and widespread burned soil layers containing charred endocarps of the palms testify to intensive slash and burn activities between 1250 AD and 1500 AD. However, in one area on Rapa Nui, evidence for regeneration of palm woodland following the first clearing was found. This finding provides evidence against a major rat impact. Furthermore, the Jubaea chilensis woodland in central Chile illustrates that small rodents and Jubaea palms can coexist. We conclude that people, not rats, were the dominant destroyers of the palm woodland on Rapa Nui. 

    And Keith, having read the Tainter piece you linked to in your 2009 post, I have to agree with BCL that he doesn’t come across as terribly objective…


  49. Keith Kloor says:


    The Tainter critique of Diamond’s Easter Island narrative cites many scholars. The citation of the Peiser paper comes at the end and appears as thus:

    “Alternatively, much of the devastation of Easter Island’s people and culture may have occurred in the latter half of the 19th century when there were Peruvian slave raids and wholesale transfer of much of the population to South America(Peiser 2005).”

    That’s it. Hmm, let me see: trust an anonymous blogger who waves away a critique of Diamond based on his dislike of one source that has been cited, or trust a highly respected scholar and author of this ground-breaking book?

    Yeah, tough choice. 

  50. NewYorkJ says:

    KK: By no means is Lynas relying on Peiser, as should be apparent by a read of his entire post.

    Lynas: I’ll give the last word to Benny Peiser, whose paper on the subject should be required reading for anyone convinced by the collapse story in Jared Diamond’s book.

    Seems to me Lynas is putting too much stock in Peiser, accepting at face value his claims and calling it “required reading”.  Lynas would have been better to leave anything from Peiser or E&E out of his discussion, instead focusing on Hunt and Lipo, although good on him to include Diamond’s response.

  51. This is shaping up to be fun. You may end up with egg on your face, though you get credit for linking to JD’s response. I see you’re touting the Tainter essay as a good academic critique.

    But it begins “Many questions have been raised about Diamond’s account of Easter Island (e.g., Rainbird 2002, … Hunt 2006; Tainter 2005, 2006)”.

    Can you see the two problems there? 

  52. Keith Kloor says:

    A comment that sums up my take.

  53. But I asked you a question. Don’t you have an answer?

  54. Keith Kloor says:

    Oh, right.  You mean the bit about Tainter citing himself? Scholars don’t reference themselves?

    So let me ask you: have you read any of the literature (other than Peiser) critiquing Diamond’s book?  

  55. Tom Fuller says:

    This entire conversation is very reminiscent of the type of back-and-forth that went on for decades about Pre-Columbian contact between cultures, with wild swings in opinion every time new data was introduced. I’m not sure that one has been settled even now, and I highly doubt if we’ve heard the definitive answer regarding Easter Island. 

    It could be conducted without criticism of the participants, although I guess that is just passe these days. Diamond can be wrong and still be a valid contributor. The same can be true for Benny Peiser.

    More broadly, using island cultures to construct a metaphor for humanity tend to fall apart on closer examination. This island Earth needs to be looked at in its entirety. 

  56. bigcitylib says:

    Actually, Keith, I have now spent a couple hours out of my life skimming the lit.

    1) On rats, this debate has been around a few years.  Lipo and Hunt respond here to Meith and Bork

    …which sounds weak.  Diamond wins.

    2) As to the first settlement dates, there does seem to be some legit dispute, and a few plausible reasons to think EA might have been settled late, but that is perhaps less relevant to the collapse theory.

    3) As for transporting the statues, Lipo and Hunt don’t sound too convincing.  They have talked with some guy that used to be an EI offical who says if you rock and tip them just right you can move them like a fridge without the whole thing falling apart.  According to his private theory

     A bit of an aside, I read Heyerdhal’s Fatu Hiva (or whatever) 30 years ago.  Doesn’t he describe witnessing the construction of a small Easter Island Statue?  Did that include its transport?

    So, in short, you and Jeff have bought into a dissident position without ever thinking to weigh the evidence for and against.  And Jeff cited a wingnut to help his case.  Do you science journo guys ever admit mistakes or exhibit shame?

  57. Tom C says:

    This entire topic is nuts.  Societies need resources to survive. Sometimes things happen that deplete the resources beyond what was expected.  The society moves to another location.

    None of this has anything remotely to do with modern day environmentalism.

  58. Keith @ #14:
    Yes, I did indeed bother to read it, before I posted.  Apparently Jared Diamond did too; here’s point 1 of his summary of the work supposedly debunking him:
    “Among Hunt’s and Lipo’s main conclusions, they say that Easter Island was deforested by rats, not by Polynesian settlers;”
    You’re mad because I didn’t address every other part of the narrative, but focused on the fundamental claim? If humans brought the rats that ate the seeds that killed the forest, it’s still humans that bear ultimate, if indirect or unwitting, responsibility for having deforested Easter Island.  You think that speaks nothing to the climate narrative?
    (Notwithstanding that Diamond has now done some debunking himself, of that main claim.  It still appears plausible that humans are even more directly responsible for denuding EA.)

  59. Eric Adler says:

    I find Jared Diamond’s rebuttal of the theory that rats killed the forest, quite convincing, based on the archeological evidence he cites.
    In addition the idea that 30 foot statutes can be walked upright many miles to their new sites like refrigerators seems far fetched. Refrigerators are mostly air in volume. The statues are solid rock and on average weigh 13 tons and are 13 feet high. The largest erected statue is 32 feet high and weighs 82 tons.
    A lot of the statues were left in the quarry, and some were left lying in transit.

  60. @KK: not quite: actually there are two problems. You got one; the other is that the other study purporting to refute JD was dated before the book was written, so that doesn’t fit. So although Trainer produces what looks like a long list of refs, when examined they don’t really stack up, if we’re looking for someone-other-than-him actually discussing the book (yes I know that leaves one; but ref-padding really isn’t a good sign).

    To answer your question: I’ve only skimmed the essay we’re now discussing. Would you expect more? This really doesn’t seem terribly important. I never bothered read “Collapse” in the first place. Am I expected to be emotionally committed to JD?


  61. Keith Kloor says:

    William, I recommend you read the whole Tainter essay. You’ll then see the section where Tainter discusses how Diamond has been pushing the Easter Island collapse narrative since the early 1990s. 

    Indeed, that’s why I began this post with a quote and link to his 1995 Discover article. It seems clear to me that Diamond went searching after this for other case studies to expand his thesis, with the culmination being the 2005 Collapse book.

    Thus, if you’re going to defend Diamond–and by extension his collapse theory for Easter Island–I would expect you to do more than skim the Tainter essay. It’s actually an excellent overview of the collapse literature. 

    As for the charge of padding with self-citation, again, look at the extensive annotation. There’s dozens of scholarly references. And  I’ll just say again that it is common for scholars to reference their own work. I don’t see that as some sort of strike again Tainter.

    And no, I don’t expect you to be emotionally connected to Jared Diamond, but if you’re going through the trouble to find fault with one of his critics, I would expect you to do more than skim the essay that I linked to as supporting evidence for the challenge it poses to the Easter Island collapse narrative. 

  62. bill says:

    Its fun to see BigCityLib and Connelly putting the boot into Peiser and, particularly EE. Why do the warmist front men so hate EE and have a go at any opportunity? Answer because it kicked a fat hole in their position by publishing the M&M paper, and since then its gone on and on publishing peer reviewed work whic makes a mockery of their essential claim that the science is settled. One of Connellys earlier achievements was to set up a Wikipedia page mocking EE. Strange use of his time, to go to all that bother for such an insignificant liitle journal. (Its taken about 6 years to get the page to some level of neutrality, Connelly has given up, no doubt now devoting himself to some other part of the ‘Struggle’.)  

  63. Tom Fuller says:

    KK, that is Connelly’s m.o., so I wouldn’t be distracted. 

    What seems a possibility to me is that Diamond was attempting to explore an hypothesis in the popular literature rather than the scientific equivalent for a reason.

    He had had a recent big success with GGS, the topic treated in Collapse was frequently in the headlines due to concerns about AGW, and perhaps most importantly, his examples had lots of existing literature for reference in a book that his publisher was probably calling for.

    The result was inferior to Guns, Germs and Steel. But so are 95% of the books by other authors that I have read since. It’s a tough act to follow. 

  64. bigcitylib says:

    Keith, Most of Tainter’s points re Easter island have been deal with in the literature since (for example the rats thing).  If you are going to find fault with Mr. Diamond, presumably you will have the latest counter arguments at your fingertips.  Please present them.

  65. Keith Kloor says:


    I should take it on faith from you that “most of Tainter’s points” have been dealt with in the literature? Go ahead and show me.

    Look, I realize that you and many others don’t like it when a powerful metaphor for eco-ccollapse gets undermined. You’re going to have to deal with it, though.

    Over at the Jared Diamond rebuttal thread on the Lynas site, here’s a good comment from Stewart Brand, which gets to the heart of why the Easter Island parable is problematic. 


  66. bill says:

    More news for BigCityLib: both Tol and Loehle have recently commented that, in their experience, EEs peer review is perfectly normal; in the Climategate email Tom Wigley comments, by teh way, EE is peer reviewed; and of course to the horror of warmists everywhere, EE is now in ISI, which only accepts peer reviewed journals, as the warmists themselves have so frequently pointed out. Accordingly, the Big CityLib argument that nothing from EE should be considered seriously is just childish troll tripe

  67. Jarmo says:

    This also makes interesting reading:

    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.”
    While evidence suggests the Rapa Nui people cut down 6,000,000 trees in 300 years, for example, they were also developing new technological and agricultural practices along the way””such as fertilization techniques to restore the health of the soil and rock gardens to protect the plants. As a result, every rock on Easter Island has probably been moved three or four times, Stevenson said.

     Other archaeological evidence indicates that the Rapanui people radically changed their societal structure from one dominated by chiefs to one that was much more egalitarian in nature, too, which effectively leveled out their consumption patterns.

    “That was the big adjustment that gets the population back to being more or less sustainable,” Stevenson says. “It was like telling today’s corporate head that the company can’t afford the million-dollar remodel of his office,” Stevenson says. “But it didn’t matter because BANG, the Europeans arrive with their dirty diseases”: the final nail in the coffin, he said.

  68. bigcitylib says:

    Keith, what I mean by that is the Meith/Bork paper seems to be the last word on the rats issue.  If there is a response to it by either Tainter or anyone else, please point it out.  Moving the statues by rocking them seems more than a bit looney.  The descent into warfare point seems to have been decided by Owsley in Diamond’s favor.  The Peiser paper–in which he suggests among other things that earlier workers’ native informants couldn’t be trusted about island history because they had been culturally demoralized by their Euro oppressors–we’ll just pass over that in silence, shall we?

    And “undermining” a metaphor is fine.  Bunging it up makes you and Mark look a bit silly.  Mr. Brand’s point is fine but big picture.  If you want to undermine anything you are supposed to do it with evidence.  All of which, thus far, seems to go in Mr. Diamond’s favour. I am inviting you to provide more.


    I follow the conversations of E&E related folk on a daily basis, and the peer review there is a joke (one author was asked if they wanted peer review or not).  The journal is  crap, and anyone decent avoids it.

  69. bill says:

    BigCityLib, I  think you’d have trouble substantiating that claim about an author being asked whether he wanted peer review or not, unless you mean was he asked if he want his paper published as a refereed paper or  as a Viewpoint (and probably you’re referring again to Manuel, who couldn’t be published as a reviewed paper because the reviewers said it was balls – but Sonja thought it was interesting balls, so why not publish it, as a Viewpoint. That seems OK to me) But there’s more to EE in 22 years than just Manuel. Anyone can see the contents and abstracts for the last 12 years at and make their own mind up, rather than listening to your spin. And yes, the Climate Science establishment does avoid it and yes, that is a shame, because the journal’s remit is to be a forum for debate. Sadly, the Climate Scientists don’t want to debate anything. In fact they’d like to see it shut down – see Mann’s remarks in the Climategate emails about suing it which might he said, have the beneficial effect of shutting it down. Funny how they’re so bothered about a journal which they consider totally trivial.

  70. bigcitylib says:


    E&E had been around awhile, yes.  I have no idea what it once was.  Indeed, who knows what it might yet become?  After Lomborg and Skea left its editorial team over the journal’s coverage of AGW issues, there does seem to have been some genuine soul searching.  It has been agreed, for example. that Peiser should distance himself from the publication. 

    If Bill = Bill Hughes, you can probably go into this at greater length than I.  But, if necessary, I can provide links verifying all of the statements above.

    And, Keith, I’m still waiting on you for some new evidence.  No pressure.

  71. Keith Kloor says:

    BCL, you’re shadowboxing. You have your assessment of the literature and I have mine. You’re welcome to your own interpretation of what the evidence says; I have a different one, suffice to say.

  72. bill says:

    BigCity, your response exemplifies why its so irritating talking to people like you. You get the wrong end of the stick – from goodness knows where – and then preach it all over the place. “it has been agreed that Peiser should distance himself from the publication” is not wholly untrue, just not quite right. Since he became head boy of Lawson’s GW outfit, he no longer had time to actively involve himself in EE , thats all there is to it. And Lomborg and Skea weren’t part of the ‘editorial team’ as you put it, they were on the editorial board, which all academic journals have and in 90% of cases 90% of  ed board members do nothing at all, so the coming and going of a couple signifies nothing much at all, certainly not, as you spin it, soul searching. EE has been singeing the Warmists beards for years now, is a standing rebuke to their infantile “the science is settled” slogan, and their attempts to slander and libel it into oblivion, while very professionally done, have thus far failed. But I’m sure you’ll keep trying 

  73. Keith Kloor says:

    Thanks. Most interesting and much fodder for debate. Am traveling today with minimal wifi connection so will have more to say tomorrow.

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