The Myth(?) of Easter Island’s Ecocide

by Judith Curry

Update:  response from Jared Diamond.

Several years ago, I read with great interest Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The starkest example in the book was the ecological collapse of Easter Island.

Mark Lynas has written a provocative essay that argues that “recent archaeological work suggests that the eco-collapse hypothesis is almost certainly wrong – and that the truth is far more shocking.

The collapse of Easter Island

Jared Diamond’s book Collapse popularized a theory of the collapse of Easter Island that was put forth previously in a 1992 book entitled ‘Easter Island, Earth Island’, by paleoecologists Paul Bahn and John Flenley:

“…the person who felled the last tree could see that it was the last tree. But he (or she) still felled it. This is what is so worrying. Humankind’s covetousness is boundless. Its selfishness appears to be genetically inborn. Selfishness leads to survival. Altruism leads to death. The selfish gene wins. But in a limited ecosystem, selfishness leads to increasing population imbalance, population crash, and ultimately extinction.”

From Lynas’ essay:

Diamond’s thesis is that the island’s original lush tree-cover was destroyed by the Polynesian colonists, whose cult of making massive statues (for which the island is now famous) required prodigious amounts of wood to transport these huge rock idols. He suggests that as the ecological crisis brought on by deforestation worsened, the islanders tried to appease their apparently angry gods by making and transporting yet more statues, creating a vicious circle of human stupidity.

And just to show how nasty things can get in a collapsing society, Diamond makes sure to include tantalisingly unpleasant allegations that the islanders actually ate each other on a large scale:

“In place of their former sources of wild meat, islanders turned to the largest hitherto unused source available to them: humans, whose bones became common not only in proper burials but also (cracked to extract the marrow) in late Easter Island garbage heaps.”

Diamond rounds off the chapter with the kind of call to arms that will be familiar to any environmentalist:

“The parallels between Easter Island and the whole modern world are chillingly obvious. Thanks to globalisation, international trade, jet planes, and the internet, all countries on Earth today share resources and affect each other, just as did Easter’s dozen clans… Those are the reasons why people see the collapse of Easter Island society as a metaphor, a worst-case scenario, for what may lie ahead of us in our own future.”


Lynas asks the following question:

But what if almost none of this is actually true, in straightforward historical terms? 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.

Take the deforestation issue. Hunt and Lipo discovered that initial estimates of the date of first colonisation by migrating Polynesians were out by several hundred years. So whilst human arrival on the island did indeed lead to near-total deforestation, it was nothing to do with statue-building, which came later. Certainly people would have cut and used some of the trees, but the more likely explanation for the extinction of the island’s native palms was the proliferation of rats – brought by the human immigrants – which ate the seeds of the trees and prevented them regenerating. (The same thing happened on many other Pacific islands, including those in Hawaii.)

And instead of the statue-building cult being evidence of stupidity and ecocide, Hunt and Lipo suggest that it was actually an important contributor to the success of Easter Island society – which (again in contradiction to the assertions of Diamond) maintained a relatively peaceful nature over many centuries. Moreover, the statues were never transported by being dragged using wood rails – they were instead ‘walked’ along specially-constructed roads in a similar way to how you or I would walk a heavy refrigerator across the kitchen.

So deforestation happened at the beginning of Polynesian colonisation, and Easter Island’s new inhabitants then developed ingenious methods for eking out a sustainable existence in their infertile and climatically hostile new home. These included lithic mulching (using stones as mulch), erecting multiple wind-breaks (again out of stone) and making very effective string and rope out of plant fibres.

Benny Peiser’s paper

Lynas refers to a paper by Benny Peiser:

As Benny Peiser points out in this 2005 paper, fish supplies were abundant, and reports from early European explorers that the islanders were thin and miserable-looking are highly contradictory (others report that they lived in comparative luxury). Certainly Diamond’s reading of this seems highly partisan. As Peiser puts it:

“Together with abundant and virtually unlimited sources of seafood, the cultivation of the island’s fertile soil could easily sustain many thousands of inhabitants interminably. In view of the profusion of broadly unlimited food supplies (which also included abundant chickens, their eggs and the islands innumerable rats, a culinary ‘delicacy’ that were always available in abundance), Diamond’s notion that the natives resorted to cannibalism as a result of catastrophic mass starvation is palpably absurd. In fact, there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever for either starvation or cannibalism.”

Peiser further states:

“The real mystery of Easter Island, however, is not its collapse. It is why distinguished scientists feel compelled to concoct a story of ecological suicide when the actual perpetrators of the civilisation’s deliberate destruction are well known and were identified long ago…

As a final point, I would argue that Easter Island is a poor example for a morality tale about environmental degradation. Easter Island’s tragic experience is not a metaphor for the entire Earth. The extreme isolation of Rapa Nui is an exception even among islands, and does not constitute the ordinary problems of the human environment interface. Yet in spite of exceptionally challenging conditions, the indigenous population chose to survive – and they did…

What they could not endure, however, and what most of them did not survive, was something altogether different: the systematic destruction of their society, their people and their culture.”

The comments at Lynas’ thread and the Collide-a-Scape thread are discussing the Benny Peiser angle, which is interesting.  IMO, further evidence of Lynas’ opening mind

What happened to the Easter Islanders?

Whilst the conventional narrative blames the islanders for committing a kind of collective ecological and social suicide (hence the term ‘ecocide’) this reading of history is almost certainly perpetuating a monumental injustice. For the Easter Islanders were indeed subject to a genocide – but it did not come from within. Instead, visiting ships brought epidemics of new diseases which wiped out the majority of the population – with most of the remnants later carted off in slave raids.

Nor was this the final insult. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the island was converted into a massive sheep ranch, with its surviving human population held in virtual captivity. The sheep converted it into a true ecological wasteland, eliminating the remaining smaller trees and causing large-scale soil erosion – for which the early Easter Islanders would once again later be blamed by latter-day environmentalists.

JC comments:  The power of Jared Diamond’s book is in its simple narratives and effective writing.  Occam’s razor suggests that we should tend towards simplest theories.  However, in complex coupled social-ecological-environmental systems, simple theories are almost certain to be too simple.  The complexity of such coupled systems precludes simple cause-effect analyses.   If we are arguing about such a system on the scale of Easter Island, what hope do we have of understanding and managing such interactions on  continental or even global scales?  Ecosystems eventually adapt to climate change and insults from humans. Lynas makes the following statement on the true lesson of Easter Island:

Like all of us, modern Easter Islanders are inter-dependent with the rest of the world. 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. This, I think, is the true lesson of Easter Island. 

247 responses to “The Myth(?) of Easter Island’s Ecocide

  1. The power of Jared Diamond’s book is in its simple narratives and effective writing

    …and in the readers’ inability to comprehend that simple narratives and effective writing in a non-fiction book are more often than not obfuscators of truths…

    The bedazzled shall not inherit the Earth.

    • Peter asked, “Is the Sun a pulsar?”
      Nature 270 (10 Nov 1977) 159-160
      And disappeared with the Easter Islanders.

      • Here is the link,
        To truth I think.

        And a key to the demise,
        Of consensus science lies.

        I wish you well,
        But first the hell,
        Of facing our demise,
        And victory over lies.

        Thank you Benny Peiser, Judith Curry, Terry Hunt, Carl Lipo, and Mark Lynas et al for having the insight and courage to see that:

        In games that are rigged.
        We are the Guinea pig !

        Oliver K. Manuel
        Video Summary of Research (1961-2011)

      • The danger now is that world leaders and leaders of science have aligned themselves with two scientific falsehoods for four decades:

        a.) Anthropogenic climate change, and
        b.) The Bilderberg model of the Sun.

        Having failed at repeated efforts to “whitewash” Climategate, their only avenues of escape are:

        c.) Admit past deceit and risk retaliation, or
        d.) Impose more restrictions on communications.

        The world is in desperate need of statesmanship to resolve the situation in a way that will restore:

        e.) Integrity to science, and
        f.) People’s control over government.

        With kind regards,
        Oliver K. Manuel

      • Oliver, this reads well thank you, though I am afraid I have no idea on the Bilderberg model.
        Since CAGW/AGW is economic and social policy rather than science I tentatively suggest
        g) Dredge up material (published or not) to establish and communicate an ex-post facto argument or foundation. This tactic is generally time intensive and time dependent amongst interested parties.

  2. Thank you for this post. I had a flash back to Kon-Tiki.

  3. This is known for a good while now.

  4. “Resilience and sustainability are just as likely outcomes, even over the longer term.”

    This might be the very first sentence Dr, Curry and I both might like at the same time. ;)


  5. If visiting ships were the cause of the problem they would have had to arrive in the 14th century. Not the 18th or 19th centuries.

    This article is worth reading.

    This quote from Peisner shows he has completely missed the point (or two points):

    , ” The extreme isolation of Rapa Nui is an exception even among islands, and does not constitute the ordinary problems of the human environment interface. Yet in spite of exceptionally challenging conditions, the indigenous population chose to survive – and they did…”

    Firstly the Earth is even more isolated than Rapa Nui. There ain’t just nowhere else to go!

    Secondly, the indigenous population of Earth will probably survive an AGW calamity too. But under what circumstances? Is aiming for mere survival the best we can do?

    • If population peaked around 1300 … and fell dramatically afterwards it was the AD 1300 event.

      The MWP ended pretty abruptly in the Pacfic around 1300.

      “In the Pacific Basin, comprising the Pacific (continental) Rim, the Pacific Islands, and the Pacific Ocean, evidence shows that the transition between the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age lasted at least 100 years, causing rapid environmental changes and enduring societal disruption throughout this vast region.”

    • colonization started in 1200AD as part of a rapid colonization that started in the Society Islands.

    • Firstly the Earth is even more isolated than Rapa Nui. There ain’t just nowhere else to go!

      In terms of human population there is no reason to go beyond Earth- but for the Rapa Nui people they weren’t going anywhere, until European aliens showed up. We currently live in a time in which we could go into space. With our current technology we could go to the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and other places in this solar system- we don’t need to wait for space aliens with higher technology. So we are less isolated than the Rapa Nui.
      Getting to different star is beyond our current technology and perhaps there will not be technology to enable star travel in terms human travel times and commerce. But the Moon is a few days away, and Mars or Mercury is a couple months. Venus closer than either could be inhabited in it’s sky.
      And if using space resources when discussing human population in the low trillions there is not problem in terms of scarcity.

      Going beyond Earth in terms trying to transport large earth population to “solve” the nonexistent problem of earth overpopulation isn’t a practical solution [even if earth was overpopulated]. But going beyond earth would allow human and other lifeforms to have growing populations to exist beyond earth. And in a distant future there could higher human population in space than on Earth.
      An early advantage to earthlings of other human settlement is space could be that cheap energy could made in space. For example if the total population in space was say 1000 people- 100 people living on the Moon, say 200 on Mars, with others in LEO and elsewhere at this stage of development it’s likely solar panels made on the Moon or in cislunar space could used to harvest power which shipped to earth. And ultimately leading to most energy used on Earth being generated in space.
      Doing the above doesn’t require anymore tax dollars than we are currently spending on NASA. And far more tax dollars per year are thrown away making methane. Costs isn’t the issue, it’s merely a matter of choosing to to this.

  6. I always thought that Collapse was a disappointing followup to Guns, Germs and Steel.

    • I loved GGS too and thought it quite elegant. After Collapse I’ve had to reassess Diamond as part-doomster. I’d be curious how GGS has held up.

      • I read Guns, Germs and Steel and found its history outrageously wrong and purely conjecture. The demonization of Western Culture; to what end? Has there been a moral imperative to “do good?” through out human history. It is only in our leisure, well fed and housed against the elements, that moral issues take a broader popular stance, temporarily. Reading speculative history leaves me? cold.

      • RiHo08: Say more. I thought the point of GGS was to explain how Europeans got so much of a jump on other peoples through flukes of geography, botany, and technology.

        I have since read a good critique from Victor Davis Hanson [ ] which notes that Diamond does not address the role cultural values play. Then Hanson launches into a more thorough attack on Collapse as a politically correct polemic.

      • The far flung & fleeting Aztec MesoAmerican empire succumbed to its limited foot power reach along with a nudge from Cortez. The imported horse expanded the reach of the Spaniards into the SouthWest America, Central America and South America. The current equivalent to a jet plane global economy. The fervor of the Spanish Crown’s military greed was at least matched by the Catholic friars ardent endeavors to convert the great untouched to Catholicism. Who else would have set up a Mission in Sante Fe? Monterey? etc.? No economic value. The energy to convert others in the “righteousness of one’s ways” drove ships to the far flung reaches of the world. Mohammed drove some West but mostly East. The papacy drove West. And the Reformation populated Northern Europe, North America and the distant continent Australia and its subsidiaries. China turned inward and was reclusive. The “Dark Continent” remained impenetrable save for the Arabic Slavers. And here we stand with snippets of history written by monks and priests and imams of the times piecing together a coherent picture of what transpired hundreds of years ago, with some effort. The energy for such worldly social changes was to “get the message out.” The current ardent priests of global disruption struggle to energize the masses for worldly changes. Their papacy is founded not on the Rock of Peter, rather, on the thinest of program code. And therein lies its fallacies and downfall. The Reformation of Skepticism moves science to a higher energy state. We will be able to predict weather more than two weeks out. We will be able to know more of the current unknowns.

      • It has been a while since I read G, G & S, but I don’t remember much in the way of West-bashing (and that’s one of the first things I generally notice). When dealing with history on the level of granularity he chose, one must deal in generalities. I’m not big fan of deterministic theories of history, but Diamond didn’t seem to insist that his theory explained everything, but rather that it explained some basic aspects of the West’s advantages. I didn’t get the impression that he over-reached, unlike others who have attempted the same.

        I give Hanson partial credit in that Diamond spends little time on culture, etc. as a determinant, but one part I do remember is his discussion of Europe’s fractious political situation vs the more settled nature of the Chinese empire. This led to Europe’s continued growth in military technologies, drive for empire, etc. I’m disappointed by his snide dig re: San Diego and Tiajuana. That example validates Diamond’s theory given the much more Western nature of San Diego.

    • I too loved GGS. It made sense at all levels and the logic flowed easily from the evidence. And likewise I was very disappointed with Collapse. Unlike GGS it intuitively made little sense and felt like the interpretations were more forced.

  7. JC

    Thanks for the excellent post.

    So the “consensus” ecocide in the Eastern Island history may not be true!

  8. –> “…the islanders tried to appease their apparently angry gods by making and transporting yet more statues, creating a vicious circle of human stupidity.”

    And, we thought it was human ingenuity. Sheesh!

  9. Diamond joins Ehrlich as some of the great misleaders and fear mongers using science to promote their ideological radicalism and fear.
    Hansen joins that exclusive list as well, with his crazy talk of Earth becoming Venus-like.
    Is it not long past time for many academics to join in with these authors and Dr. Curry in pointing out these untruths and the damage they are causing?

    • Hunter, Dr. Curry still refuses to identify which political party and culture is at the heart of AGW alarmism and the consensus.

      Why is that?

      • cwon14,
        Step by step.

      • It’s a sort of pandering that leads to so many circular board conversations about symptoms instead of discussing the disease. It’s even worse that the disease is taboo to mention with many skeptics.

        It all leads to many more years of agw funding and torture under the false banner of “science”.

      • “. . . which political party and culture is at the heart of AGW alarmism and the consensus”?

        My belated conclusion is that both political parties have been used in a social experiment that seriously compromised many branches of science since 1971 for a noble cause:

        To save the world from the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation, global climate change was adopted as the “common enemy” to unite nations and promote world peace.

        “Political Roadblocks to Progress” (July 22, 2011)

        As omnologos noted above, “The power of Jared Diamond’s book is in its simple narratives and effective writing…

        …and in the readers’ inability to comprehend that simple narratives and effective writing in a non-fiction book are more often than not obfuscators of truths”

        Perhaps that is why
        We cannot see a lie.

        Do neutrons attract or repel?
        In social experiments we cannot tell.
        Are we living in heaven or hell?

      • Realism says an insider coughing it up will never happen publically. We’re in Baghdad Bob territory for sure. But I would keep asking her about it. The longer the awkward silence, the clearer the answer.


      • BA,

        “Realism says an insider coughing it up will never happen publically.”

        Then you really are condemning yourself to another 30 years arguing liberal talking points and future junk science if you’re willing to accept that. While the mission and goal of agw alarmism was not reached it was hugely successful as a propaganda and marketing tool for collective advocates. Dr. Curry is still squirming around looking for bailout room with “no regret” social and economic policies which still affirm (regardless of degree) the corrupted science as political tool process that simply has to be crushed. No, she can’t have it both ways and expect to be respected for dissenting or communication talking points.

        Admitting there is an eco-left, statist supporting science and political culture and what general political party that group (in the U.S. context) represents is pretty basic when having such an important discussion. Everyone on the board knows the political player reality but she protects the taboo of avoiding political ID of the core players and in fact herself. So the argument is obfuscated through spagetti charts or proxies about Easter Island eco-fear-mythology.

        Crushing political corruption wrapped in junk-science manipulation is important. You can’t just attack the instruments of fraud like poor papers and logic, you have to link the unifying political culture that drives the entire process of the agw advocacy and Dr. Curry is still offering a safe harbor and validating what she claims to be reforming.

      • There’s a hard….there’s a hard….there’s a hard….there’s a hard…
        There’s a hard rain gonna fall.

      • “Then you really are condemning yourself to another 30 years arguing liberal talking points and future junk science if you’re willing to accept that.”


        I don’t think I’m condemning myself to anything. I’m just saying that AGW Insiders are not going to cooperate with Outsiders or honestly respond to their requests. We just need to move forward with this understanding, that’s all.


      • ba,

        Then call her out when the omission is presented and obvious. That moves the debate forward.

      • That might be because Dr. Curry is an intelligent person, and not a hair-on-fire nutter.

      • MB,

        You’re an example of what she is subsidizing on these boards though he omission of very basic facts about the debate and topic..

  10. It gets close to a mark but it isn’t defined why one political culture is so fixated on general social negativity and needs the reassurance and validation thru central planning and management. It’s far more obvious and important than anything about Eastern Island and another doom eco-fantasy;

    “Soviet Politburo September 8, 1927

    “Trotsky: Let us present our platform to the party congress. What are you afraid of?

    Stalin: Comrade Trotsky demands equality between the Central Committee and his opposition group. In whose name do you speak so insolently?

    Trotsky ally: Why are you trying to hide our platform? What does this say about your courage?

    Stalin: We are not prepared to turn the party into a discussion club.”

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all if central management (IPCC), demanding more authority and state controls (through invented consensus) were at the root of failure of Easter Island.

  11.  “What they could not endure, however, and what most of them did not survive, was something altogether different: the systematic destruction of their society, their people and their culture.”

    There is a lesson to be learned about the consequences of…Hot World Syndrome:

    Hot World Syndrome is a phenomenon where the global warming apocalyptic content of mass media imbues viewers with the notion that the world is a hotter and more intimidating place to live than it actually is, and prompts a desire for more protection than is warranted by any actual threat. Hot World Syndrome is one of the main conclusions of the anti-humanism movement of the United Nations. Additionally, murderous examples of failed socialism — as witnessed by large segments of Leftist-lib society from the safety and comfort of Western civilization — has created a global psychosis, causing people to turn on the morals, principals and ethics that otherwise would sustain their spirits and prevent them from succumbing to moral decline and mental helplessness. Individuals who do not rely on the mainstream media and who understand the floccinaucinihilipilification of the cabinets and cabinets full of worthless global warming research, have a far more accurate view of the real world than those who do not, are able to more accurately assess their vulnerability to present and future weather conditions, and all the myriad vagaries of life over which they have no control. The global warming realists do not fear the hand of man and tend to be nicer people with a life and have a wider and healthier variety of beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and lifestyles. Towing a boat to the river with the family in the back of a SUV is not evil, no matter what the liberal fascists may wish to believe today.

  12. There is much about Polynesian Mariner history that is known, yet not incorporated into a holistic view or lessons to be learned from migrant influences. The South Island of New Zealand was colonized by mariner tribes whose canoes landed populations which led to the extinction of many vulnerable species including flightless birds. The Maori survive today on both North and South Islands of New Zealand. No recent cannibalism of which I am aware. The Maori names begin with the canoe in which their ancestors arrived. Lesson’s learned include navigation via stars and ocean currents; using islands not connected with the main tribe to provision prior to a mariner voyage; confrontation of intruders with fierce appearing dances and postures. Nothing about the Maori, Hawaiians or other Polynesian oceanic travelers to suggest an inward directed, obsequies self loathing as characterized by Diamond et al. The story of migration is there. One only needs to listen to the oral history. Too bad conjecture is more revered as it fits a cultural niche, rather than a feeling of empowerment: the puny human tackling the vastness of the oceans, and surviving.

    • I recently saw a TV program in N.Z. on the Chatham islands (off the coast of N.Z.), which was invaded by Maori in the 19th Centuary (they used European shipping).
      The indigenous (and Pacifist) Moriori were enslaved, killed, and in some cases eaten by the Maori, almost being wiped out completely in the process.
      The program actually filmed the historical document which showed the names of the Moriori and whether they were killed or killed and eaten.

      So, it really depends what your definition of recent is. Certainly it occurred within the last 300 years. Possibly within 200 but unlikely within the last 170 (since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi).

      • Cannibalism for food? or to incorporate the spirit of your enemies? What I took away from Diamond was that the population of Easter Island became overcrowded and fratricide was the order of the day.

  13. The actual problem was always lack of contraception, which led to population balloons. The human population would rise in the islands and the choice was to pack everything into a canoe, animals, family, tools and pets; then try to find a new island where no one lived or stay and fight in the inevitable civil war.
    There are two ways one can pass on farm lands to ones children; fairly or unfairly.
    You can split it up amongst you sons (the fair system) or just hand it all over in one piece to first born son (unfair).
    The former, fair, system always leads to disaster, where a growing population is tied to a smaller and smaller patch of land. To abandon ones tiny piece of land and try your luck in the city or army is insane, as you have been trained to be a peasant farmer. In the unfair system, first born son can attract as (rich) well connected wife and younger sons KNOW they they will have to free boot.
    Long term, the unfair system brings social stability, a dynamic upwardly mobile entrepreneur class, a military and a wealthy landed class who can borrow and lend.
    The fair systems leads to poverty and stagnation and the unfair system to urbanization and craft specialization.
    Funny old world

    • It is only logical: fruiting trees are valuable therefore monkeys are territorial. Sure. Must be true. It is so logical…

    • randomengineer

      The actual problem was always lack of contraception,

      I don’t think so. The problem has always been technology. Human populations grow only when there’s plenty of food; e.g. in the middle ages they could only grow so much per hectare using the agricultural practices of the day. When the climate was warm and there were lots of crops the population grew. A few cold years or bad luck with pre-harvest storms or even pestilence and people starved and the population decreased. Add diseases etc as other limiting factors, and the overall problem isn’t contraception, but technological capability.

      There’s no reason to assume rapa nui is a bubble; the same governor that applies to contemporary humans of the era also applies to them.

      As per the subject at hand —

      Overall I find Diamond’s work absurd and consider him to be equivalent to other obvious cranks and charlatans like Von Daniken. He’s popular only because modern day eco-silliness and cultural revisionism is popular, and it is popular for the same reason the Victorians had such asinine views of societies that preceded theirs — projection in the form of disbelief that previous societies could be quite clever. (e.g. until very recently the prevailing view of Tudor England was informed by a number of victorian works, all of which were breathtakingly wrong, and only recently has been overturned by real scholars like David Starkey.) Diamond isn’t even qualified to serve lunch to real scholars, much less waste their time with his ridiculously slanted and partisan opinions.

      • Overall I find Diamond’s work absurd and consider him to be equivalent to other obvious cranks and charlatans like Von Daniken.

        A couple questions that arise from this:

        1. What expertise do you have in the area of archeology?
        2. If Diamond is “absurd” in recounting the standard account of Easter Island, do you think the bulk of scientists studying the matter are “absurd” as well, or do you think Diamond misrepresents their views in some way?

    • randomengineer

      I should add that victorian style projection is very much alive and well; witness the sheer volume of books and airwave nonsense invoking alien visitors etc as the real prime movers of the ancient world because e.g. the egyptians were too dumb to have made pyramids and so on. Even Hitler was the beneficiary of alien design according to some. Alien stuff is very very popular and a number of polls show that most folks think they’re real enough.

      The victorians considered themselves as well informed and oh so modern.

      Add political correctness to the tendency for projection and even the most absurd eco-oriented or multicultural rubbish sounds passably scholarly to a great many people.

      • Random

        You have not posted here recently. Good post

      • Hi Rob, thanks.

        Generally I lack the patience. Most threads are repeats whereupon the true believers point to a paper that ultimately constitutes mere opinion and perceive this as revealed wisdom. Pointing out that this is opinion results in “denier” catcalls being tossed about by a group of rabid thread hijackers. Not productive.

        This thread is no different. An anti-western (typical postmodern revisionism purporting to reject colonialism therefore “cool” and oh so intellectual) eco-warrior like Diamond highlights a suspect eco-warrior opinion paper so as to wield this as a club to make a blunt and wrong point, and the usual suspects chime in with the “hey it was published therefore must be TRVTH” meme.

        I’ve seen the easter island eco-rubbish before and have considered it a real hoot. I had no idea anyone took Diamond et al seriously. The notion that islanders who know they’re living on a remote rock would blow the only resources necessary to leave said rock so as to roll giant heads about is absurdity on stilts.

        The usual suspects read Diamond and collectively say “Oooh, Aaah, an eco story with modern parallels, let’s all worship the emasculated version of Pascal’s Wager called the precautionay principle” and I see only a lack of imagination and/or engineering know-how on the part of Diamond et al. Never do the eco-warriors consult engineers to ask what sort of alternate ways of doing a given thing could occur; they simply make ridiculously ignorant assumptions and roll with it. Even bad B movies don’t have plot holes this large.

        I could enjoy the easter island silliness (as I enjoy the “hitler had alien help” shows on TV) if it made even the slightest bit of sense or was entertaining or thought provoking, but this is so stupid that it’s actually offensive.

      • “An anti-western (typical postmodern revisionism purporting to reject colonialism therefore “cool” and oh so intellectual) eco-warrior like Diamond highlights a suspect eco-warrior opinion paper so as to wield this as a club to make a blunt and wrong point, and the usual suspects chime in with the “hey it was published therefore must be TRVTH” meme. . .”

        Fiction like this is how people come to (correctly) label you a denier.

        What evidence do you have that Diamond is “anti-western”?

        What evidence do you have that he is an “eco-warrior”?

        Have you actually read any of his books?

        Is is your ill-informed yet hysterical fantasy stories about simple, well-supported science that lead others to regard you as a denier. And the fact that you move seamlessly from ignorant assertions about climate to ignorant assertions about archeology does not help either. ;)

  14. Let’s face it guys…who would have ever bought a Diamond book titled “Everyone lived happily ever after”? In an affluent society, apocalyptic stories sell. Another reason to be skeptical of doom-mongering.

  15. Another reference on the topic is an article published in 2006 on American Scientist by Terry Hunt (one of the archaeologists whose book has been referred to by Lynas): “Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island – New evidence points to an alternative explanation for a civilization’s collapse“:

    An ecological catastrophe did occur on Rapa Nui, but it was the result of a number of factors, not just human short-sightedness.

    I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island’s prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today’s problems.

    That’s becoming a truism…

    • The MWP ended around 1300 in the Pacific.

      Glorious warmth turned to cold. We are lucky to live in warm times.

      • Bruce – you’ll end up trying to demonstrate that the MWP was ended by the Feng Shui action of the Easter Island’s moai.

        I think there is a point where climate stops being the prime mover of all things.

      • A 1.5C drop in temperature in 100 years would eliminate (for example) Canada’s wheat crop.

        Do you think the Pacific Region would be impervious to dramatic drops in temperature?

    • omnologos: Good catch! That quote stood out to me as well.

      Jared Diamond may be right about Easter Island but his speculation that, “Some of us may be eager to embrace claims that those native Easter Islanders really were innocent wise stewards of their environment, and that evil Europeans destroyed their paradise,” does not apply to Hunt himself.

      By his own account, Hunt is every bit as motivated as Diamond to use Easter Island as ecological morality tale, but when he found evidence to the contrary he felt obliged to blow the whistle lest the Easter Island story blow back on the environmental movement like Paul Ehrlich’s apocalyptic predictions.

  16. The account described above by Lynas has been challenged by Paul Bahn in Nature (August 11, 2011) in favor of the deforestation theory popularized by Jared Diamond. Bahn writes (in part): “Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is a perennial favourite of scholars and the media because of its numerous giant stone figures and supposed mysteries. Most of these enigmas — including the origins of the statues and the denuded landscape — have been solved in recent decades through painstaking work by archaeologists, anthropologists, environmentalists, linguists and geneticists… A consensus view has emerged, summarized in Easter Island, Earth Island (Thames and Hudson; 1992) by botanist John Flenley and myself, that the island was deforested by its inhabitants. They cleared the land for crops and used timber for the transport and erection of ever more statues, with war the end result. In ‘The Statues That Walked’, archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo present a different picture, portraying the islanders as environmentally sensitive and peace-loving until Europeans arrived in the eighteenth century. But some recent publications don’t support their hypothesis… Since the first known visit to the island by European vessels in 1722, people have wondered how so many huge stone statues could be transported and raised, given the lack of available timber. Discoveries of root moulds, pollen grains and stumps showed that the island was originally covered in millions of large palms and other tree species. Analyses of pollen and plant macrofossils revealed drastic deforestation between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, long before the Europeans arrived.”

    Well, the truth is that one can be environmentally conscious without subscribing to the Diamond/Bahn version of Easter Island, but I have a small personal investment in their version, because I was persuaded by it to compose a song and make a music video using their history as the basis. The link is Easter Island, and even if the story is a myth, I’m still fond of the song.

    • Maybe they burned the trees to keep warm when the MWP ended.

    • Fred, I greatly enjoyed your link and your song! From reading all your previous posts, I know you and I differ greatly in our views of AGW, and probably politics, but I appreciate your music. I love folk music, including Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, and even Joan Baez, whie not sharing their political views. Maybe that’s why I switched to barbershop music, which has folk roots, but is non-political.

      Music seems to have a language and a philosophy of its own. The story your song tells seems real, even it it isn’t true!

    • Brandon Shollenberger

      I don’t think it is a good idea to say Paul Bahn’s challenges the account described by Lynas. It implies he disagrees with the entire account, which he doesn’t. For example, that account includes things which happened in the late 1800s, and I doubt anyone disagrees about them. Also, that account discusses a method by which the statues were moved, a major point which Paul Bahn concedes.

      Saying he challenges the account just seems overly simplistic. It would be far better to give some idea of which points he disputes.

      • Brandon – Paul Bahn does challenge the account described by Lynas. For details, you can read the entire Nature article to see where he agrees and where he disagrees.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Fred Moolten, your response here is is completely unhelpful. You claim I “can read the entire Nature article” to get the information I suggested you should provide. I have no access to the article, so this is simply untrue. The same is true for plenty of other readers, so it’s hard to imagine why you would say this.

        In addition, you didn’t actually address anything I said. I explained why I thought your wording was bad, and your response simply ignores my explanation. You have, in effect, done nothing more than dismiss me out-of-hand.

        If you’re not going to address anything I say, I’d ask you not to bother responding to me. Or, if you must respond, you could just say, “You’re wrong” next time. Either way, it would at least stop the annoyance of having you pretend you’re actually responding to what I’ve said.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Thanks for that link Rattus Norvegicus. The file was corrupted the first time I tried downloading it, but on the second try, I was able to read it. It doesn’t address the concerns I raised about Fred Moolten’s wording, but it certainly gives some insight as to which issues are in dispute, and that’s useful.

      • Hmm, since Bahn’s piece in Nature is a review of the book, and the piece I linked to is a review (in essence) of the same book by the same author, I think you should be able to get an idea of what is in the Nature book review.

        For another look at the rats vs. human influences, you might want to read this (also cited in the Diamond response):

        It directly calls into question many of the points raised in the book on the issue of the causes of deforestation and makes a convincing case for the human origins of the deforestation.

  17. I made a derogatory remark about Pete Seeger a few weeks ago, I’ll merely say, “not my preferred genre.” And you can always do a re-write; “When the facts change, …”

  18. Judith

    Occam’s razor suggests that we should tend towards simplest theories. However, in complex coupled social-ecological-environmental systems, simple theories are almost certain to be too simple. The complexity of such coupled systems precludes simple cause-effect analyses.

    An excellent example of Einstein’s Razor:

    “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” or “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

  19. So, as things stand, the Easter Island Ecocide is disputed. Perhaps it will be settled some day.

    However, even if the Collapse narrative wins out, I’d still argue against blithely scaling, as Diamond does, the Easter Island collapse to Earth Island.

    The possibilities of a few thousand humans on a 64 sq. mile island lacking modern technology don’t compare to those possessed by several billion humans on 58 million sq. miles of land with the technologies to harness water falls, split the atom, go to the moon, store knowledge and experiences on a vast scale, genetically modify organisms, connect the entire planet with electronic communication, etc. etc.

    If we lacked modern technology, an Easter Island Collapse would be a deeply cautionary tale. But we have amazing technology that is advancing every day, which does not preclude collapse, but does make collapse predictions a case of wicked complexity.

    Through technology, hard work and determination, humanity has been beating the odds of collapse for centuries. My bet is that we will continue to do so.

    • And we have something else that the islanders did not – knowledge, awareness and understanding. Oh, and nagging eco warriors!

      • You are both trying to attack Diamond’s argument by repeating it as if it were your own ideas.

        * Diamond repeats over and over in Collapse that we have the tremendous advantage of shared, long-term awareness and understanding, and that gives us opportunities for adaptation that were not present in prehistorical societies confronting environmental crises.

        * “Through technology, hard work and determination, humanity has been beating the odds of collapse for centuries.” This “Diamond as uber-fatalist” meme is completely wrong and you don’t have to read the book to know that; just read the friggn title:

        Collapse: How societies chose to fail or succeed.

        There are multiple examples in the book of societies modern and historical using “hard work and determination” (as well as creativity, caution, and good judgement) to succeed. Nowhere does Diamond say societies are doomed to fail or have an inherent tendency to fail.

        I suggest you read the book, rather than have it quoted to you by its critics. Diamond is not a leftist eco-warrior (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if he were). He’s not anti-technology. He’s not anti-Western. In multiple places in Collapse he defends from unfair vilification resource-users from oil and gas companies drilling in the Third World to Montana ranchers.

        The basic thesis of Collapse is this: By studying and learning from other societies, both those that adapted to stresses, and those that didn’t, and suffered in consequence, we can glean important insights into how our society can successfully navigate the stresses it faces today.

        Is there anything objectionable about that?

      • Yes, the objection is that neither Diamond nor our present society are correctly interpreting the effect of climate change on human society. Their failure is missing the forest for the trees.

      • Nothing objectionable at all, Robert, except your tone. I was not attacking the author in any way as you claim. I was just pointing out the things you mention in your rant. I await your apology, but I’m not holding my breath. You are an objectionable idiot most of the time.

  20. The problem with generalizing simple lessons from selective history should have been obvious long ago, but I think there will always be an appeal for these sorts of arguments.
    However, I don’t think this necessarily means Diamond is totally wrong – in terms of some basic ecological values, carrying capacities and whatnot. Ecosystems do “collapse” sometimes, and I’m willing to bet that a number of human societies have been wiped out in such events. There is a lesson to learn in terms of presumptions of long-term stability or the possibility of our counter-productive influence on the environment.
    Seeing a simple logic manifest in history tends to be vulnerable to counter-argument, but it sells, particularly when it reinforces existing ideology. Diamond’s logic is compatible with environmentalism (Huntington’s with the war on terror/Islam). As an argument based on historical/archeological evidence, I think Collapse deserves serious skepticism. As some basic ecological common-sense, I think it deserves to be treated as such.

    • I’m all for ecological common sense. The interesting thing is that it makes for good stories that often turn out to be untrue. Example …

      Oh she’s having a baby!
      There is nothing quite as inflationary as ‘fecundity’ (pun intended)

      Which direction are the optics on this? Ecological wisdom has it wrong.

      [Deliberately leave the question (assertion) unanswered (incomplete)]

    • Want to know a city that suffered an eco-collapse?
      Aram, Iram, Irum, Irem, Erum, Wabar, Ubar or the City of a Thousand Pillars was where the inhabitants had been taking water out of the underground aquifer for a 1,000 years. One day the limestone caverns beneath the city collapsed and the whole city fell into the hole; with the loss of the city was the loss of Frankincense, as Ubar was the center of the Frankincense trade.

  21. Looking at my notes, it appears that sometimes between GGS and Collapse Jared Diamond “discovered” Paul Ehrlich. A diffuse lowering of quality of arguments ensued.

    Also of course, “Collapse” is part of the discourse on tipping points. One of Diamond’s admirers, lake expert Marten Scheffer published another book on the topic in 2009: “Critical Transitions in Nature and Society“. It was featured by American Scientist and I blogged about it here: Tipping Points Revisited – The Impossibility Of Action Between Rare Examples And Complex Behavior. An interesting quote from the book’s reviewer John R McNeill:

    Scheffer begins with lakes, one of his areas of expertise. Lakes, especially small and shallow ones, can tip from one fairly stable state to another easily enough. But the more closely one looks, the less the behavior of lakes matches theory, because the theory is too simple. There are more than two possible states; indeed, there are infinite gradations. Moreover, as Scheffer notes, the notion of stability is fraught.

    The situation is even less clear for climate, of course. Critical transitions, according to Scheffer, are rare. And the state the system transitions too, even rarer to be predictable. So even if everybody became an AGW Believer overnight, still we would be unable to understand what to do.

  22. The dialog to this point has been amazing…really makes me wish there were more hours to the day. Each contribution triggers a thought that merits further development. I’ve had a reaction to the post and the discussion that seemed overlong so I posted it on my blog, You can find it at
    Basically I see parallels with the world of disasters and the emerging scholarship on so-called community resilience. Best wishes, Bill

  23. I think the story here is something else entirely, and perhaps so does Judith.

    Not the topic itself per se.

    But why Mark Lynas is writing it now!
    Ie not a new story, and Benny peiser ppaper in Energy and Environment is 6 years old..

    Perhaps an indicator that the ‘green parable’ is collapsing, and the more rational people are distancing themselves.. ie Mark himself, DDT,GM nuclear and now another article of faith amongst some environmentalists… More at C a S

    Perhaps CAGW will fade away like this with just a hardcore speaking (shouting) the end is nigh. Repent. Trenberth ;-) ?

  24. Barry Woods – Lynas’s been sent a new book about Easter Island. That’s why he’s talking about it.

    • He does seem keen at the moment to slay a few green myths…. I’m wondering why? distance?

      • maybe it’s the final final final nail in the coffin of CABCGW!

        Or maybe you’ll still be fantasizing about that next year…

  25. In looking at the Easter Island situation I was immediately reminded of this poem by Shelley;

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear —
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

    (explanation; nothing is permanent)

    Or as George Harrison wrote’ all things must pass, all things must pass away

    I wrote an article once on civilisations that faded away as the climate changed. It was striking how many were laid low as deserts encroached in the middle east or as a warm epoch turned into a colder world.

    Interestingly Shelley’s poem was written in 1817
    a year in which the severe climate abormalities of the ‘year without a summer’ were so great that many people thought the world was ending.

    Whatever the truth of Easter island, what is certain is that civilisations must adapt to changing circumstances or perish. We are perhaps unique in world civilisations in believing we can adapt nature to our means rather than adapting to nature-or appeasing it- and we see this manifested in our belief –fuelled by the IPCC –that we are changing the climate but that we are capable of doing something about it.

    I think Hubert Lamb summed this up neatly in one of the last things he ever wrote, in a preface to a revised version of his book ‘Climate, History and the Modern World.’

    “The idea of climate change has at last taken on with the public after generations which assumed that climate could be taken as constant. But it is easy to notice the common assumption that mans science and modern industry and technology are now so powerful that any change of climate or the environnment must be due to us. It is good for us to be more alert and responsible in our treatment of the environment, but not to have a distorted view of our own importance. Above all, we need more knowledge, education and understanding in these matters.”
    Hubert Lamb Dec 1994

    With 6 billion going on to 9 billion people there is no doubt man can affect his micro climate as those from Easter island may have done. The macro climate is another thing and history surely teaches us that we adapt or die and our current obsession with a plan ‘A’ to combat global warming means that IF it is global cooling that will eventually prove to be our biggest concerns we have absolutely no plans with which to combat it.


  26. Sorry, meant to write that Shelleys poem was written in 1817 the year AFTER the ‘year without a summer.’


  27. Judith wrote: “IMO, further evidence of Lynas’ opening mind.”

    An odd thing to say.

    Why do you assume his mind is closed — because he reaches conclusions you simply don’t like?

    • Read the link associated with that statement, it refers to a previous post on this topic.

    • One wonders about a person’s mind when they physically assault someone they disagree with. Especially Bjorn Lomborg who can be considered a really decent bloke. Lynas’ conduct in that one matter does not reflect well.

  28. Judith,

    You just called this a “myth”.
    Are you absolutely certain?
    Mark states he is “almost certainly wrong”.
    Does not portray as absolute certainty.

  29. For several years, I’ve been using the Easter Island example as an “Ecological Controversy” in a methods course that I teach. I did not know about the refrigerator-like statue-walking technique – those guys must have had patience!

    On the other hand, deforestation of Rapa Nui DID occur, and human settlement was the agancy of deforestation, except that the direct course were (likely) the rats that humans carried everywhere with them. the fact that the original narrative was wrong in many of its details does not change the overall outcome – once forested island becomes a rocky heath, and at least one pam species becomes totally extinct.

    • Yes, and he makes fair points too IMHO.

      • So did the petroliths walk or crawl? I don’t think Jared’s rationale holds. We move refrigerators by walking them because it is easier. Had the wheel, or rollers been invented in this outpost?

        I like Petrolith. I can see one of Kevin. He walks, still.

      • We move refrigerators by walking them because it is easier.


        You have to move a refrigerator (let alone a 90-ton refigerator) a couple of hundred yards, up hill, over rough terrain, and you have wheels available). And you’re going to walk it?

        Something tells me you’ve never owned a moving company.

        Am I right?

      • I knew a fella once ran a moving company. His spine was rigid with Ankylosing Spondylitis. He moved square grands.

        Note the query as to the presence of wheels or rollers on this spatio-temporal outpost.

      • Note the query as to the presence of wheels or rollers on this spatio-temporal outpost.

        Ah. Now I got it. Trees there grew in the shape of cubes.

        I feel so foolish.

      • So were they dragged unsustainably or walked? Or first one then the other?

      • Don’t feel bad about being foolish, Joshua; I’m obviously massively ignorant from Aku-Aku onward and not feeling the least bit foolish.

        Ockham says both.

      • I recently I had to move a 600 lb. antique stove.

        First thing I looked for were some rollers. Second thing I looked for were some planks I could use to fashion an inclined plane.

        Never even considered walking it.

        If only I had consulted you and randomengineer first!!

      • Both. How many times to I have to say it twice. Rolling this rock up the hill never ends.

      • No wheels available on Easter. Best guess (experimentally tested) is that moai were moved on “canoe ramps”, a system of log skids laid out on the (still visible) roads. Testing with a smaller moai showed that about 50 people would be needed to move one, perhaps 500 for one of the largest.

      • How many times to I have to say it twice?

        I heard you twice the first time, kim.

        Maybe you should stop walking and start reading.

      • No wheels available on Easter.

        No cylinder-shaped trees?

      • Some of these statues are three stories high — 33 feet, with a narrow base. You’re going to “walk” that up a hill? C’mon.

        As Diamond describes at length in Collapse, the roller hypothesis was tested by Jo Anne Van Tilburg, who has studied these statues for decades. Using a team of several dozen islanders, she demonstrated the method successfully with a nine-ton statue (pg 129).

        It never ceases to amaze, the contrast between the casual self-confidence of blog science (oh, sure, of course they did it this way) and the insanely labor-intensive and patient work of actual scientists in developing and testing a hypothesis.

      • Robert, a rat chewed through the rear axle on the wagon of your argument.

      • You’re going to “walk” that up a hill?

        But Robert – many of them are engineers!!!!

        And these engineers have excellent waking skills. You have to admit, you’ve rarely seen anyone walk backwards quite as well as they.

      • Sorry – that should have read:

        One theory was a “walking like a refrigerator” method without using logs as rollers – but it would have damaged the base.

      • i thought the roller idea was the proposed method for both shifting the blocks that made up the pyramids and the stones that made up stonehenge.

        Never heard before the proposal that these large stones and blocks were “walked”.

      • Walk. Takes fewer people, less resources, and is faster. People were clever even back then. Imagine that. Dragging was invented by those who have a romantic notion of the cleverness of the modern era and a presumption that the ancients were stupid. Diamond et al conjure up the image of imbecile natives deforesting the island to drag statuary assuming they were too dumb to figure out how to move statues any other way. “Scholarship” depending on the notion of stupidity of the people of the past is worthless.

      • It’s easier, and takes fewer people, to walk a 90-ton statue, hundreds of yards, up and down over rough terrain – requiring you to balance it on a relatively small base, than it is to roll it on logs?

        It’s a joke, right?

        I mean you’re an engineer, right?

      • Calculate that base.

      • Calculate that base.

        How low do you suppose is that center of gravity?

        Kim – you’re “walking” that, up and down over rough terrain?

        Oh. My sides.

      • Use both sides of your brain and calculate the base. Calculate the friction after rollers were exhausted. The demands of religion press.

      • We’re talking blood, sweat and tears, here, can you hear? Note Norway’s contribution above that they may have been slid. Until they ran out sluds, of course.

      • Don’t look now, Joshua, but a wheel has fallen off the wagon of your argument.

      • randomengineer

        …requiring you to balance it on a relatively small base…

        Wrong conclusions are arrived at by wrong starting assumptions. I don’t think I recall having assumed a small base or that walking is limited to the present upright orientation and/or configuration. If upright a larger base for walk/transport that is “adjusted” in situ after placement would simplify that notion. The ancients used all sorts of interesting mechanisms, many of these derived from ship rigging. The point is that they weren’t stupid, and dragging REQUIRES them to be stupid.

        Your inability to solve the problem doesn’t imply that it isn’t solvable, it just says YOU can’t solve it. The egyptians managed to build pyramids and I doubt that you could solve that one either.

      • I take it not many people here have moved gas cylinders before? Anything with a round base can be “walked”, which doesn’t mean you pick it up (it never stops touching the ground!). It means you tilt it slightly, so it’s still balanced (you are NOT holding it up, just keeping it balanced, no strength involved), and then start rolling it along its edge. It’s very effective, very easy. Where you stand while you roll it determines the direction it goes, you do not require any sort of force other angular.

        For statues, just use ropes to to keep it balanced and allow it to be spun; no trees necessary, and yes, this’ll work just fine uphill and over rough terrain (they made roads, so the terrain wasn’t that rough).

      • Apparently the people of Rapa Nui may not have listened to Joshua.

      • Roll.

      • Then there was this eccentric little guy (5 ft, 100 lbs) in Florida who over the course of three decades moved over 1000 tons of coral rock to construct his Coral Castle. He worked only at night, presumably alone, and his secrets for moving the huge stones died with him.

        New Age types believe that he mastered magnetism or some such, but most likely he managed by using basic tools of leverage ingeniously.

      • The ancients used all sorts of interesting mechanisms, many of these derived from ship rigging. The point is that they weren’t stupid, and dragging REQUIRES them to be stupid.

        When I moved my 600 lb. stove, I rummaged around in my shop for some planks (so I could drag it up/down grades), and rollers (so I could roll it easily on flat ground). Of course, if I didn’t have those materials readily available, and the stove was of deep religious significance to me, I might have cut down a few trees on my property to serve the purpose. What pain that would have caused, since I’ve been told that I’m an eco-zealot, tree-hugger.

        But see, the only reason why I dragged and rolled my stove, instead of walking it, is because like all pissant leftists, I was tested before being allowed into the cabal to make sure I was sufficiently stupid. Because dragging and rolling heavy, hard to move objects, REQUIRES me to be stupid.

      • “I take it not many people here have moved gas cylinders before? Anything with a round base can be “walked””

        The statues don’t have round bases:

        Your total indifference to being totally and embarrassingly wrong on the facts is blog science at its finest. You don’t care one whit about the truth of what you’re saying; you’ll continue to argue nonsense as long as the “Post Comment” button works.

        Have a little bit more pride. Or at least some capacity for shame.

      • Once more, into the beach.

      • Because dragging and rolling heavy, hard to move objects, REQUIRES me to be stupid.

        With the repeated attack on the idea of using circular objects under the base to move heavy objects as “stupid,” we may be witnessing the birth of a new subspecies of denier — wheel deniers (hey, it wouldn’t be the first time deniers decided to tangle with physics).

        These could prove to be the most amusing deniers ever discovered. However the field may develop only slowly, as gathering them for meetings and conventions is apt to be difficult.

      • Wow, I don’t even know what to say to you, Robert. Did you look at your own link? Take a gander at this picture

        Yes, those bases are round without sharp corners (you cannot use the “walk” method I described if there is a -sharp- corner, at least not easily, and not at all if the edges are straight). More accurately, these bases are oblong. But, am I right to assume you have never moved gas cylinders or other round/oblong objects by hand, by yourself?

        Before you disparage someone, you should check your own facts, especially the ones you present. Also realize, I did not say that is how it was actually done, just describe a method that could work and would be applicable to this situation, an alternative hypothesis; but made no claims that this is what occurred.

      • Apparently the people of Rapa Nui may not have listened to Joshua.

        Thanks for the link, hunter:

        Several experiments were carried out and although it was proven that the statues could have been moved by rocking and rolling their bases similar to the way we would move a refrigerator or large piece of furniture, the method would have caused so much damage to the base of the statue that it would seem an unlikely method except when the statue was at the end of its journey and ready for final positioning.


        In the Dutch illustration, the statue is clearly on a base of some sort and workers are in the process of doing something underneath the base while others pull. American Geologist Charles Love, in a series of experiments, successfully moved a replica moai by placing it on two logs cut to fit into the bottom of the statue. When raised onto a track of wooden rollers he found that his 10 ton moai could be moved 145 feet in just a few minutes using 25 men and two ropes. Of course it would not be as easy over rough terrain and hills but the idea was plausible and fit with the “walking moai” stories.


        One archeologist has a different idea. Jo Anne Van Tilburg of UCLA has become one of the premier scientists studying the Easter Island mystery. Her work has led to a complete cataloging of all know moai on Easter with measurements of every element the statue.

        Using computer models that took into account manpower, available materials, type of rock, and the most efficient route for transport of the statues across the island to the various locations which they had been erected in the past, and even how much food the workers would need to eat, Van Tilburg has created a convincing scenario for the most probable mode of statue transport. In her view the statues were move in a prone position.

        The statue was lain prone on two long logs positioned vertically. Under these were placed smaller logs upon which the carrying logs were rolled.

        So then, what do the two theories judged plausible have in common?

        The use of rollers – in the form of trees that were cut down.

      • But, am I right to assume you have never moved gas cylinders or other round/oblong objects by hand, by yourself?

        I can’t speak for Robert – but I have, many times. But see, the gas cylinders I moved didn’t weigh 90 tons, and they weren’t 30 feet tall. The way I’ve moved gas cylinders is by tipping them over slightly, and then rolling them. My guess is that if the cylinders weighed 90 tons, and were 30 feet tall, such a method would be impossible – unless I had 50 feet tall and people with superhuman strength working with me. In which case I’d probably just ask them to carry the cylinders for me.

      • “can’t speak for Robert – but I have, many times. But see, the gas cylinders I moved didn’t weigh 90 tons, and they weren’t 30 feet tall. The way I’ve moved gas cylinders is by tipping them over slightly, and then rolling them. My guess is that if the cylinders weighed 90 tons, and were 30 feet tall, such a method would be impossible – unless I had 50 feet tall and people with superhuman strength working with me. In which case I’d probably just ask them to carry the cylinders for me.”

        Exactly how it’s done. And as we can see from the above link showing the bases, it could be preformed on these statues exactly the same. You don’t need 50 ft people, just ropes and guide blocks/stones along the outer edge. Nor would you need to put anything under the base (and thus eliminate the need to move the statue on top of something and the extra energy costs associated with such).

        This is a testable hypothesis, and can easily be disproven with testing–the statues may not be moveable this way, or it may actually be more energetically unfavorable to do so. But, there is supporting theory and empirical observation for this being possible, and potentially even favorable due to simplicity and increases speed of movement.

      • “I can’t speak for Robert – but I have, many times.”

        So have I, in point of fact. And although the cylinders, unlike the maoi, had a perfectly circular base, and the cylinders, unlike the maoi, were not several stories high and did not weigh scores of tons, nevertheless you would roll them at most a few feet and onto a hand truck.

        The lack of common sense coupled with a total lack of shame at spouting nonsense; must be Blog Science Thursday.

      • “nevertheless you would roll them at most a few feet and onto a hand truck.”

        Or through several rooms (dozens of feet) from a storage location to machines requiring the gas, without any hand trucks involved, as I have done routinely; even over carpet and sharp transitions in texture and “roughness” of terrain. There is no limit to how long or how far you can move an object that way since you are balancing it and using circular motion, nor does size factor in necessarily as a limiter to the actual physics, since it’s self leverage using gravity.

        I kinda worry about you, Robert. Your attitude is not sensible, nor showing emotional or rational balance, as I know you are capable of. I hope your day has not been something terrible to put you in such a emotion filled state.

      • Ged –

        And as we can see from the above link showing the bases, it could be preformed on these statues exactly the same.

        If you look at Hunter’s link, it seems that no one mentioned – including those who have developed expertise and spent a lot of time and energy examining this issue – has suggested the methodology you are suggesting.

        I don’t see how you could possibly use block/stones to support at 90-ton, 30′ object at an angle while you roll it. You’d have to move extremely heavy rocks and pile them one-atop another constantly as you moved along. You’d need a “sky hook” (a tool I always wished I had in my toolbox when I worked in construction).

        One theory was a “walking like a refrigerator” method with logs as rollers – but it would have damaged the base. Another “walking” methodology has been proposed, but it used logs as rollers and required lifting the statues onto a platform.

        I have moved some pretty heavy and fairly tall gas cylinders with great difficulty by rolling them. It takes a lot of effort to support a tipped cylinder. I can imagine why anyone would use that technique with such huge and heavy objects when they had, what seems to me to be, infinitely more efficient techniques available – primarily among them rolling the statues on cylindrical logs.

      • “If you look at Hunter’s link, it seems that no one mentioned – including those who have developed expertise and spent a lot of time and energy examining this issue – has suggested the methodology you are suggesting.”

        Actually, I did look and read that link. I’m not saying it’s wrong or I’m right in any way. Nor does the lack of people presenting such a possibility make it wrong. Why do people only think of inventions when they do?

        “I don’t see how you could possibly use block/stones to support at 90-ton, 30′ object at an angle while you roll it. You’d have to move extremely heavy rocks and pile them one-atop another constantly as you moved along. You’d need a “sky hook” (a tool I always wished I had in my toolbox when I worked in construction).”

        That would be incredibly convenient! But no, you would not need that. All you’d need are force and counter force to keep things perched and balanced. Ropes pulling one way, and ropes pulling the direct opposite. Then by simply varying the amount people are tugging on the ropes, you balance the object. Nor does it necessarily take much strength, except for the initial tipping towards the edge. You would have other manned ropes at other angles to pull and apply circular motion.

        “One theory was a “walking like a refrigerator” method with logs as rollers – but it would have damaged the base. Another “walking” methodology has been proposed, but it used logs as rollers and required lifting the statues onto a platform.”

        Agreed, that does not seem very sensible.

        “I have moved some pretty heavy and fairly tall gas cylinders with great difficulty by rolling them. It takes a lot of effort to support a tipped cylinder. I can imagine why anyone would use that technique with such huge and heavy objects when they had, what seems to me to be, infinitely more efficient techniques available – primarily among them rolling the statues on cylindrical logs.”

        With great difficulty? This actually confuses me. I am not some super hulk, but I have never encountered difficulty, after the initial learning attempts, at moving large cylinders of much greater weight than I could ever hope to pick up. It takes me no strength at all to support a tipped cylinder if it is balanced correctly; one needs only gently keep it at the proper tip point. So no, I will fully dispute this idea that it is difficult to keep a cylinder tipped, or that it takes much effort other than the initial tipping.

        Rolling on logs may not be easier, due to friction and the shape of such palm logs. That’s what interests me, and that’s what’s testable. It could be it is easier to use logs that way, which is complex, or it could be easier and less energy intensive to simply keep it tipped with ropes and counterforce and guide the circular forward momentum using stones or blocks. I cannot say, and I will not claim one is easier than the other off hand without actual tests or better analogies.

        All I can say, is when done on objects many times my ability to actually lift or walk using “rocking” motion, this tipping-balancing-circular motion is incredibly easy and takes very little effort to do. In fact, I’ve been able to roll at nearly the pace of a brisk walk! The only problem is momentum gets out of hand at that point and the cylinder threatens to outrun me.

      • Ged –

        I guess this is just another of those agree to disagree situations, but….

        When rolling heavy, cylindrical objects, I have found that it takes a fair of effort to keep them balanced as I roll them along particularly as the angle shifts because the balance point is hard to maintain constantly, and also as I need to change direction. It’s hard to track a perfectly straight line, and as you get to an edge of your intended track, you need to adjust in ways that require re-balancing. The amount of energy needed to maintain the balance grows proportionally with the height and the weight of the cylinder. And that is with perfectly smooth and round bases moving along relatively flat and level ground.

        Based on that experience, I can’t imagine moving an object of a massively disproportionate weight and a considerably greater height and with a base that is far more irregular on a far less regular consistent and uneven ground.

        I can’t imagine attempting that method absent a “sky hook,” particularly if I could simply lay it down and roll it over logs.

      • And another point, Ged –

        Consider that the entire weight of the object would be focused on one, relatively small point – the edge of the circular base as you rolled it along. It would seem that it would be difficult to find a surface that wouldn’t crumble or sink as you moved it along, and it seems likely to me that the edge itself would crack and split if it were rolled along a surface dense and hard enough to sustain the entire weight so concentrated. This is not an element that comes into play when you move a metal gas cylinder along a hard (poured concrete?) surface.

        Far more likely, it seems to me, that you’d find a way to move the statues that would distribute the weight over a much greater surface areas.

      • @Joshua,

        All absolutely and completely true points! The vastly increased PSI of using the edge could get one stuck in a self made rut, and managing the direction of motion is what I would say is the greatest difficulty of that sort of moving. Also, even if it is possible, that doesn’t mean that’s what was done.

        There is another good point to make about the rolling on logs, since you can remove the rear one and put it back at the front, one would not need many logs (only enough for the base’s area) and could reuse them for a long time, thus wouldn’t be any less economical a method in that sense. On the other hand, going uphill could be tricky (since gravity will just roll down the logs) and require greatly increased man-power compared edge rolling which could tilt at a greater angle towards the incline to maintain the same balance and theoretical consistency of motion.

      • Now lolwot, surely you know, as the wheel skeptics have proven definitively, that the science of rolling resistance is not settled.

        Just think of the billions of dollars the government has sunk into those “stupid” wheeled vehicles. They’ll never allow the truth to come out.

      • Oops, Skyblazer beat me to Petrolith. I’ll castle next.

      • Walked like a “fridge across your kitchen.” Exactly the same process. They even put down linoleum first.

    • Maybe the Easter Island authoritarians declared the science was settled.

  30. Yeah, Hunt’s pet theory. Completely ignores the fact that there has been previous archeological work which tells a story closer to Diamond’s. See Steadman “Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds” p.248-252.

    The main problem is that there has been almost no excavation of early settlement sites and in particular middens except Ahu Nanau, so it’s easy for anyone to twist the evidence to their agenda. And Hunt’s unscientific focus on non-anthropogenic sites to refute anthropogenic impacts is just as bad as Diamond’s yarns.

    Basically, we had the same rats on almost every settled Polynesian island, and Hunt neerds to explain why something happened to Easter that didn’t happen elsewhere. He doesn’t. Basically what he does is special pleading.

    • Basically, we had the same rats on almost every settled Polynesian island, and Hunt neerds to explain why something happened to Easter that didn’t happen elsewhere.

      Isolation. Easter Island isn’t a common trade route. The rest of polynesia is along the path of the various tradewinds. That archaic humans could purposefully reach islands in open ocean hundreds of miles away from the point of origin was regarded as dubious and accidental until tradewinds were accounted for. Some of this thinking is driving the more modern notion of human habitation of the west coast of the Americas prior to the Bering land bridge; the question was “how?” and seasonal tradewinds are part of the answer. Humans are clever.

    • Eike, two things. First, even on islands larger and with more complex ecosystems than Easter Island, rats have devastated native trees and ecosystems. Here is an excerpt from Terry Hunt’s article in American Scientist (2006), “Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island,” which discusses what rats did on Oahu, among other islands:


      “Archaeologist J. Stephen Athens of the International Archaeological Research Institute conducted excavations on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu and found that deforestation of the Ewa Plain took place largely between 900 and 1100 A.D. but that the first evidence of human presence on this part of the island was not until about 1250 A.D. There were no climatic explanations for the disappearance of palm trees, but there was evidence that the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans), introduced by the first human colonists, was present in the area by about 900 A.D. Athens showed that it was likely rats that deforested large areas of Oahu.

      Paleobotanists have demonstrated the destructive effect of rats on native vegetation on a number of other islands as well, even those as ecologically diverse as New Zealand. In areas where rats are removed, vegetation often recovers quickly. And on Nihoa Island, in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, where there is no evidence that rats ever became established, the island’s native vegetation still survives despite prehistoric human settlement.”


      Secondly, Hunt and his students have in fact focussed, scientifically, on anthropogenic sites. Again from the article:


      “In 2004, we began new excavations at a locale called Anakena. This white sand beach would have been the most inviting spot for the first colonists to land their boats (the shore in other places is for the most part made up of cliffs or rocky crags). Hence most anthropologists suspect the areas around Anakena to be the site of the earliest settlements. We intended to study subsistence and environmental change, not basic chronology, which we assumed was already settled.

      We dug through sand whose beautifully undisturbed stratification proved to be an archaeologist’s dream. The integrity of the layers would be helpful in determining when things happened, both in an absolute sense and relative to other events. But the excavations were not easy. The sand at Anakena is soft and unconsolidated. As we dug down a few meters, the pits became increasingly dangerous. Horses trotting by on the beach would cause nerve-wracking vibrations in the layers of sand; we worried someone would be buried alive in the pit.

      Finally, we reached the bottom of the sand. In the top 3 to 5 centimeters of the underlying clay we unearthed abundant charcoal fragments (indicating the use of fire), bones (including those of the Polynesian rat, a species that arrived with the colonists) and flaked obsidian shards (a clear sign of human handiwork). Below, we found nothing suggesting human activity. Instead, the ancient clay was riddled with irregular voids—places where the soil had once molded itself around the roots of the long-gone Jubaea palm tree.

      We had clearly found the layer with the earliest human-related materials at Anakena, and assuming that Anakena was likely the location of the first settlements on the island, we were in an excellent position to ascertain the timing of the initial colonization. So I was disappointed when I received an e-mail from the lab that did the radiocarbon dating on these samples. There seemed to be a mistake. The oldest dates were only about 800 years old, implying that occupation began around 1200 A.D. The dates from layers closer to the surface were progressively younger, which is inconsistent with the possibility that somehow our samples were contaminated with modern carbon. There was really no way to explain these numbers, at least not within the conventional model of Rapa Nui’s development. I put aside the discouraging message for the moment and decided to try to figure out later what had gone wrong.

      When the hardcopy of the report arrived a couple of weeks later, I examined the data again. The closer I looked, the more it seemed that our results were not the problem. I spoke with my friend and colleague Atholl Anderson of the Australian National University. He had done a careful screening of radiocarbon dates from New Zealand and concluded that the first settlers arrived there around 1200 A.D., several hundred years later than archaeologists had previously believed. The reaction to his ideas was initially quite cool, but time and additional evidence have proved him correct. Having had this experience, Anderson advised me to keep an open mind and to trust my data more than any preconceptions.

      In 2005, Lipo and I returned with our students to Anakena and located another part of the dune where the deepest layers containing vestiges of occupation would be easier to expose. We uncovered a large area of the clay beneath the sand and took samples for more radiocarbon dating. The two additional dates from the basal layer were completely consistent with our earlier results….

      I hope I have convinced you, without cutting and pasting the entire article, that Hunt is a careful scientist who indeed examined anthropogenic sites on Easter Island. I was after a while able to find the link to the original article; here it is:

      • No you haven’t, but this is not your fault – Hunt and Lipo need to address the point of Mann (2008), which the have had 3 yeas to do now but haven’t done.

        Hence, their argument is presently not something you would call “science”. Mann’s refutation of Hunt and Lipo *may* be wrong, but at present it is the end of the road (see also below), and until Hunt/Lipo care to answer Mann, their theory must be considered *rejected*.

        As to their focus, they study everything that verifies their pet theory and disregard anything that doesn’t (i.e. the endemic terrestrial fauna of Easter Island, of which they have supposedly found unprecendented quantities remains). This, too, is not science. Compare e.g. Hunt & Lipo (2006) “Late Colonization of Easter Island” to – the difference in thoroughness should be obvious.

        As to their habit of citing Peiser, nothing much needs to be said. No other Easter Island researchers take Peiser seriously (see also quote below).
        However, E&E *is* peer-reviewed. Peiser’s paper isn’t, apparently, because he sits on the editorial board and seems to have used this to publish something labelled “peer-reviewed scientific study” that should really be labelled “unreviewed op-ed”.

        The latest review of the Easter Island problem I have found is
        Two quotes:

        “An ‘ecocide’ […] has also been suggested (Rainbird, 2002; Peiser, 2005), but no evidence has been provided.” – “no evidence” in a scientific context is the most severe condemnation one can make wiile still remaining polite.

        “The tone that the Easter Island debate has acquired recently (e.g., Flenley et al., 2007; Hunt and Lipo, 2007) suggests that the explanatory capacity of the available evidence has been exhausted […]”

        So Hunt/Lipo may have credit among anthropologists and the popular media, but among ecologists, island biogeographers and other researchers *focusing* on the issue at hand and working according to strictly *empirical* paradigms (something anthropology has not exactly the best track record of compared to archaeology and palaeontology), their credibility is not particularly high and many are disgusted at their politicizing science.

        Rull et al. (2010) consider the matter very much unsettled, but tentatively favor Mann over Hunt/Lipo (particularly as regards erosion messing up the stratigraphy), and that’s where we are at. Anyone is free to disregard it, but if you disregard it don’t claim you’re doing “science” because you’re not.

        My impression is that Hunt/Lipo fear to be at the losing end of a scientififc debate and call the popular media as white knights. (The lack of sufficient palmtree charcoal kind of shoots down their “walking moai” argument. Matter cannot disappear without a trace in this universe, and the trees apparently disappeared without getting burned. Rats cut them down? I don’t think so…)

        One last remark though on the rat angle: it is true that _R. exulans_ is the scourge of pristine ecosystems in the Pacific. BUT: its capabilities for destruction are not infinite. They also don’t leave cut-and-burn marks on the remains of their food.
        Hunt/Lipo claim that _R. exulans_ affected one particular island worse than a combination of _:R. exulans_ AND domestic pigs AND domestic dogs AND humans affected literally hundreds of other islands. They don’t provide a satisfying explanation as to how.
        Hence, their theory must at present be rejected as a case of special pleading based perhaps on fudged data.


        In other news, a genetic contribution of Native Americans to the pre-contact population of Easter Island is almost proven now. It was minor, at least in terms of population biology. Culturally, it may have been more significant. The timeframe seems to coincide with the period around 1500 AD, where Hunt/Lipo would very much like to see a stable or increasing human population on Easter Island, but have to manipulate their graphs lest they prove otherwise (see Hunt & Lipo, 2009, p. 609).

      • Eike, thank you for calling these added publications to my attention.

        The notion, in the Mann 2008 article, that palm trees made a bit of a comeback after about 300 years of steady decline (which was presumably due to deforestation for agriculture) was a surprise to me. Perhaps naively, that seems to argue against the notion that rats did the palms in, if the rats came with the original settlers. If palms are destroyed until there were only a small percentage of their original numbers, then there will be far fewer seeds for the rats to find and eat, which means that is should be easier for rats to finish off the palms: less likelihood of some seeds surviving uneaten. This scenario doesn’t seem compatible with a big rat population.

        But it might not be the end of the story, either. If the inhabitants ate rats, then the regrowth of palms after about 300 years might be due to ever hungrier islanders finding so many rats that the enough seeds could finally regenerate.

        But, then, after about a 250 year comeback, the palms declined steadily to zero. Why? If diseases had come to decimate the remaining islanders, then perhaps there was less hunting pressure for the rats, who then exploded in population and did in the trees. Of course, it is equally likely that, as Diamond and others claim, that the people needed the trees too much for canoes, and couldn’t help themselves from taking the last trees.

        I was unaware of this recent scholarship, and of the Rull article as well. I agree that we still don’t know the actual story nearly well enough to make the kinds of claims we have been discussing — either a certainty that the Easter Islanders caused their own near demise by deforestation, or that it was all the fault of rats. Although rats do impact seeds of island trees, and thus can change island ecosystems, that isn’t enough to demonstrate that this is what happened on Easter Island. The scholarship you brought to my attention is good, and it leaves me less certain than when I first started reading this debate.

  31. I found both GGT and Collapse interesting. Perhaps too much anecdote in the latter. Diamond makes much of the Norse people’s failure to make any use at all for 400 years of the most abundant and accessible food resource in West Greenland – fish and seafood. Has that conclusion been refuted?

  32. The comments at Lynas’ thread and the Collide-a-Scape thread are discussing the Benny Peiser angle, which is interesting.

    “[T]he Benny Peiser angle” refers to the fact that the guy is a passionate climate denier, not an archeologist, and the non-peer-reviewed paper quoted by Lynas and re-quoted by Dr. Curry was published in — where else? — Energy and Environment.

    More details on Peiser, and Lynas’ other mistakes (besides citing an unqualified partisan hack)here

  33. I’ve always marveled at the apparent contradiction that the Hobbesian pessimistic view of human nature when compared with the empirical evidence before us along with the anecdotal evidence of the past. If human nature is so destructive then how did we become so successful. Isn’t the mere fact that we are the highest level of social creatures the primary reason for our success. It is through our moral, ethical and communicative features that we cooperate and work together making us the strongest, the most intelligent. And are therefore able to enact to most positive change in the brutal harsh world around us. When one looks at the history of the developed nations and sees how those places have improved, it is too easy to forget that those geographical areas were also just as undeveloped, brutal and harsh as any other place on this earth. Did an evil and destructive humanity create these wondrous places? Or was it industry, cooperation, collective intelligence coupled with kindness, care and good will?

    • “I’ve always marveled at the apparent contradiction that the Hobbesian pessimistic view of human nature when compared with the empirical evidence before us along with the anecdotal evidence of the past.”

      Apparent being the key word there. Actually read Hobbes. He has an optimistic view of human nature — he essentially seeks to explain human behavior as the outcome of a rational choice strategy, which is why we end up in societies with rules — because they benefit the individual.

      Hobbes was one of the first philosophers in the modern era to talk about government in terms of how well it served the needs of the people, rather than in terms of the people’s obligations to a divinely ordained government.

      He was a much more significant influence on American democracy than generally realized. My own personal assessment is that the (non-binding, symbolic) Declaration of Independence is Lockean, while the Constitution is pure John Hobbes. Just MHO. But give “The Leviathan” a read. It’s free as an ebook.

      • Jefferson used Locke almost verbatim with “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which of course is the central theme. Obviously it was Lockean.

      • The part of the account that some would question is not that the Declaration was Lockean in its rhetoric, as everybody acknowledges. It’s that the nitty-gritty substance of the Constitution is Hobbsian. The Declaration flatters us as noble children of God pursuing our divine rights according to the spirit of reason. The Constitution treats us as dangerous selfish agents that require a strong order, but one administered by people who must be distracted from the temptation to set themselves up as absolute rulers by means of a constant internal struggle for power.

        Hobbes’ account of human nature informs the Constitution; Locke is effectively his PR agent. Again, IMHO.

      • randomengineer

        If I’m understanding you then you reckon Philosopher role Locke contends we have natural rights and Administrator role Hobbes spells out how to implement them. Admixture of focused complimentary philosophies.

  34. New myths in the making–e.g., Times’ AtlasGate:

    “The NSIDC said it was investigating the claims made by the Times Atlas [publishing maps suggesting 15%, of Greenland’s ice cover had been lost due to global warming]. The row echoes a 2010 flare-up, when the UN’s climate science body admitted that a claim made in its 2007 report – that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035 – was unfounded. The claim was not based on peer-reviewed scientific literature but a media interview with a scientist.”

    ~ John Vidal, “Times Atlas is ‘wrong on Greenland climate change’ – Glaciologists say the ice cover is melting – but at nowhere near the ‘misleading’ 15% rate represented by cartographers,” the Guardian, 19-SEP-2011

  35. A few recent UN global warming myths (gaffs?):

     HimalayaGate — Himalayan glaciers to melt by 2035

     PoleGate – an ice free North Pole by 2014

     NetherlandsGate – most of Netherlands below sea level

     AmazonGate – global warming may claim 40% of the Amazon

  36. Wow, check out Diamond’s response. He really tattooed up one side and down the other.

  37. too bad they didn’t have a diesel powered crane.

  38. Dr Judith
    I see very little of importance in this debate. Whether Diamond or Lynas is correct about the demise of Easter Island is neither here nor there beyond vague scientific curiosity. Both the opposing hypotheses offer us very few environmental lessons that we don’t know already, like, er, don’t chop down all the trees. It seems that the argument is stimulated by a notion that Diamond offers us some kind of deep meaning eco parable when in fact the lessons he offers are really quite straightforward. As a stimulus for the tribal wars, it is amusing, however.

    • The lesson to be learned is that reasearchers who are biased towards their preconceived notions are not really scientists at all. Climatologists with ideologically-motivated preconceptions who wrap up their superstitions and opinions about AGW in the trappings of science may be frauds, hoaxters and flimflammers but they are not scientists.

    • RobB: I’m with you. I’ve been fascinated by Easter Island since I read Aku Aku as a child, but as far as I’m concerned, Diamond is just pushing the usual doom and gloom agenda no matter what.

      Humanity is nowhere near using up the last tree or last gallon of gas or last whatever. The earth and its resources are not limitless, but they are huge, and each day a vast amount of energy from the sun enters the system as well. Meanwhile humanity advances every year in its ability to find and use energy more effectively.

      Our situation is incommensurably different from a several thousand primitives isolated on island less then ten miles across tip to tip.

  39. Some perspective. I live on an island in the Puget Sound, with roughly the same area as Easter Island. the 2010 census is approximately 10,000. It’s very rural, with lots of houses, yurts, and trailers so deep in the woods that they can’t be seen from any road. I can’t possibly imagine the 10,000 people here cutting down all the trees, let alone the 2-3,000 estimated on Easter. Even if everyone here heated with wood, they’d never make a dent in the trees because the trees grow back too fast. And they grow a lot faster in the tropics.

    I don’t know what the real explanation is, but has anyone done any kind of reality check on the numbers before pointing the fingers at humans?

    • —> any kind of reality check on the numbers before pointing the fingers at humans?

      That is exactly what Bill Gray did early on and the global warming alarmists labeled him a denier. For as long as there is a political advantaage to be gained by associating with those who think human activity is evil, there will be no value in seeking truth for its own sake and public money will be spent to promote ideologically motivated conclusions about what is and is not reality..

    • P.E., the population of Rapa Nui at it’s height is estimated to have been anywhere from 6,000 – 30,000 depending on how the estimate is made. This give a population density of about 450 persons/mi^2 if the higher end estimates are used. For comparison, Delaware has a population density of 460 persons/mi^2.

      The island is also fairly dry with rainfall on the order of 50cm/year (about 20 inches) so growth rates are quite a bit slower than in the rather lush, wet environment of Puget Sound.

      • And the problem with estimates is that they leave you with Fermi’s paradox. Show me the martians.

      • Can’t show you the martians, but we can show you where the very real Rapanui people lived and the infrastructure which supported them. You can see the housing, the chicken coops, the 2,500 or so lithic mulched gardens, etc. etc.

        They really did exist, and there were quite a few of them, we just don’t have a census.

      • Hmmm. 20 inches of rain a year. Lithic mulching. Sounds like a culture as susceptible to drought as the Mayan one.

  40. Terry Hunt’s thesis has been known for at least 5 years; I first read of it in American Scientist (link no longer works). I copied and pasted the article, however. Here are the last four paragraphs of it, with some sentences removed for better clarity:

    “…the actual downfall of the Rapanui resulted not from internal strife but from contact with Europeans. When Roggeveen landed on Rapa Nui’s shores in 1722, a few days after Easter (hence the island’s name), he took more than 100 of his men with him, and all were armed with muskets, pistols and cutlasses. Before he had advanced very far, Roggeveen heard shots from the rear of the party. He turned to find 10 or 12 islanders dead and a number of others wounded. His sailors claimed that some of the Rapanui had made threatening gestures. Whatever the provocation, the result did not bode well for the island’s inhabitants.

    Newly introduced diseases, conflict with European invaders and enslavement followed over the next century and a half, and these were the chief causes of the collapse. In the early 1860s, more than a thousand Rapanui were taken from the island as slaves, and by the late 1870s the number of native islanders numbered only around 100. In 1888, the island was annexed by Chile. It remains part of that country today.

    In the 1930s, French ethnographer Alfred Metraux visited the island. He later described the demise of Rapa Nui as “one of the most hideous atrocities committed by white men in the South Seas.” It was genocide, not ecocide, that caused the demise of the Rapanui. An ecological catastrophe did occur on Rapa Nui, but it was the result of a number of factors, not just human short-sightedness.

    I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island’s prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today’s problems.

    Ecosystems are complex, and there is an urgent need to understand them better. Certainly the role of rats on Rapa Nui shows the potentially devastating, and often unexpected, impact of invasive species. I hope that we will continue to explore what happened on Rapa Nui, and to learn whatever other lessons this remote outpost has to teach us.

    • “Jean-Baptiste Onésime Dutrou-Bornier, born 19 November 1834 to Montmorillon and murdered on 6 August 876 was a captain of the French Navy and installed on the Easter Island from April 1868. He introduced the trade of wool and tried to turn the island into a sheep ranch. He proclaimed himself king of the island in 1870, and reduced the indigenous Rapanui into slavery.” ~ wiki

  41. An important shift in the Hunt thesis is the date of occupation. He places it around 1200 AD (as opposed to the previously accepted 400 AD). This could account for major historical misinterpretations, if true…
    Some nice footage of Easter Island (certainly not a paradise), storyline by Sir David:

  42. Truth or myth?

    “Mann used tree ring data from one tree to model the entire 15th century”

    • Brandon Shollenberger

      I’m not sure where that comes from. It sounds like a conflation of several different issues which have been raised in the hockey stick war. The one tree you refer to, from Yamal, wasn’t used in the original hockey stick (it was used in other papers by Mann). Bristlecones were the source of the hockey stick in it.

      Yamal matters because it is used in papers which don’t use bristlecones (about a dozen different ones). It’s significance varies amongst those papers, but it is always a primary source of the hockey stick. And as a source of it, it is dependent upon a single tree.

      There are only a handful of sources of the hockey stick, and they all have their problems. If you focus on them to the exclusion of other data, you get a hockey stick. That’s the only way. That is the truth.

      • Write it up, I’ll look for the paper.

        To date, all the global temperature analyses published in the peer-reviewed literature have confirmed the hockey stick. Over and over. You’re going to overturn all that, so your paper should make quite a splash. Send me a copy!

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Robert, I have a better idea. How about you pick any one paper which “confirms” the hockey stick, and we discuss it? You can pick whichever paper you feel is strongest, and we can examine it. If you pick an example which doesn’t fit the description I provided, I’ll admit I was wrong and retract my comments. If, instead, we find the paper fits my description, you can then pick a different paper. We can repeat this process as long as it takes for either you to show me wrong, or for you to concede the point. If the hockey stick is as good as you claim, this should be an easy challenge for you to win. In fact, if you’re not interested, I’ll extend that offer to any and everyone.

        I don’t have to publish a paper to be right, and it’s ridiculous to suggest a paper should be published discussing this point. There is no way such a paper could ever be published. You’re talking about studying something like a dozens different papers, and you could easily write a whole paper about each individual one. There is simply too much material to fit in one paper, even if the paper wouldn’t be rejected for other reasons (though everyone knows it would). The best anyone could hope for is it be published in some other form, such as a book, or online compendium,

        In any event, I’m willing to meet any reasonable requests or challenges. If you’re willing to be reasonable, maybe we can find some common ground. In the mean time, I’ll wrap up with one final remark. You claim:

        To date, all the global temperature analyses published in the peer-reviewed literature have confirmed the hockey stick. Over and over.

        This is flagrantly untrue. A number of temperature reconstructions have not confirmed the hockey stick, The most obvious of these would be from Craig Loehle. I imagine some people would just hand-wave that example away due to who he is, so I’ll offer another example, Crowley and Lowery (2000). Both of these examples (and several others) show your claim to be simply made up.

      • The normal way of approaching the issue in scientific literature is to present a better analysis written in fully scientific way. I don’t believe that getting a comprehensive analysis of the statistical evidence published would be impossible, when the paper is written following proper writing practices, which may differ from best net comments. Earlier analysis can be criticized, but anything approaching attacks on persons must be avoided. It’s also better to leave such claims on earlier paper out, which are not accepted as true by everybody. New better analysis wins by being better, not by explicit claims on earlier work.

        It may be difficult or impossible to publish just statements or claims on the validity of the earlier work, because that may be judged to be of too little scientific value, but a proper better analysis that presents clear evidence for contrary results is publishable. The paper of McShane and Wyner was written in that spirit, but concentrated too much on certain limited issues of statistical analysis rather than discussing the issues related to the data. It has been published in March in the Annals of Applied Statistics. They concluded that the uncertainties are larger, but they found also the hockey stick. The publication didn’t proceed in most straightforward way and the issue contains both a four page editorial on the process and nine comment papers on the paper. All in all the work of McShane and Wyner got a lot of attention.

        Doing a paper in a similar spirit with McShane and Wyner, but looking more carefully on the data coverage and other issues related to the data would be the right way of presenting contrary claims and getting them acknowledged. That’s certainly possible to do and to get published.

      • In the above comment I mention the publication of the McShane and Wyner paper. I hadn’t before checked, how it got finally published, and find the case really interesting. it would be worth a separate post and own discussion thread, but all that material is behind paywall, which may make such a discussion impractical.

        I just add two excerpts from the interesting editorial by Michael L. Stein:

        McShane and Wyner (2011) received a careful reading by two referees, an Associate Editor and myself. All four of us made detailed comments about aspects of the paper that we wanted to see changed before we could recommend publication in The Annals of Applied Statistics. The authors undertook an extensive revision of their work and the paper was reviewed again by all of the original reviewers as well as by Tilmann Gneiting, an incoming editor at the journal and, after additional minor changes, I accepted the paper.

        Because of the obvious interest in this paper’s subject matter, I decided to make it a discussion paper. After consulting with some members of the editorial board and a few others including the authors, I invited a broad range of individuals with an interest in the topic to contribute discussions. All but one of the people I invited contributed a discussion.

        and from the end of the editorial:

        Some of the discussants touch on the broader implications of paleoclimate reconstruction for the study of climate change. I would just like to raise one further issue, again related to something I tend to say in every class I teach: classical statistical hypothesis testing is overused in the scientific literature. I particularly object to the testing of sharp null hypotheses when there is no plausible basis for believing the null is true. An example of an implausible sharp null hypothesis would be that a large increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has exactly zero effect on the global mean temperature. When a null hypothesis of no effect is untenable, emphasis should be on estimation and/or prediction along with uncertainty quantification. Thus, the testing and attribution questions for climate change seem to me to be irrelevant and the focus needs to be on prediction. Seen in this light, paleoclimate reconstructions on a range of time scales are more useful for estimating the effect of various climate forcings (e.g., solar variability, aerosols and trace gases) on the climate than for testing sharp null hypotheses. Appropriate assessment of uncertainties in reconstructions of both the climate and the forcings are, of course, critical to this endeavor.

        Statisticians are, by their professional nature, skeptics. We often find that researchers in other fields have not taken proper account of all important elements of uncertainty when they analyze data. However, uncertainty is not a basis for inaction. (If it were, none of us would get out of bed in the morning.) Taking appropriate account of the uncertainties about the future climate, we need to be evaluating the consequences of various courses of action by making the best use of all of our knowledge about climatology and the many other disciplines that bear on the issue. Careful study of tiny pieces of the knowledge base is important, but no single study provides a direct basis for action or inaction. In particular, the presence of even substantial uncertainties does not necessarily mean that the appropriate response is to wait for better information about the future climate. Any potential benefits of waiting depend in part on estimates of how much our uncertainty is likely to decrease over the next several years. My understanding is that the major uncertainties in climate projections on time scales of more than a few decades are unlikely to be resolved in the near future. Thus, while research on climate change should continue, now is the time for individuals and governments to act to limit the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions on the Earth’s climate over the next century and well beyond.

        We can see that the editorial touches many issues discussed earlier on this site, but worth further discussion.

      • One more excerpt from the editorial of Stein, because this is so closely related to the former of my above comments

        As I get older, I find myself saying many of the same things in every class I teach. One claim I frequently make is that, in terms of what is most important about using statistics to answer scientific questions, data are more important than models and models are more important than specific modes of inference. In the present context, this suggests focusing efforts on the development of new climate proxies and the attendant statistical issues in processing them into usable forms. More broadly, statisticians need to engage the entire climatological community in questions of what raw data to collect and in how to process these data into forms that can be broadly used.

        The list of discussion contributions can be seen from this link even if the papers themselves are behind the paywall.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        I’m afraid I can’t respond to the bulk of what you said (which actually dealt with a different issue than the one being discussed) as long as you seriously claim McShane and Wyner:

        concluded that the uncertainties are larger, but they found also the hockey stick.

        This is a laughable remark. McShane and Wyner’s reconstruction didn’t find a hockey stick. Their reconstruction’s error margins are so large their results are not inconsistent with a trend of zero. There is no way to use their results to “confirm”: the hockey stick.

        I have to say Pekka Pirilä, this is disappointing. You’ve repeatedly told me (and others) you aren’t trying to defend the hockey stick, yet you still make flagrantly untrue remarks in defense of it. This latest untruth is arguably the most severe as all it takes to see it is untrue is a quick glance at the figure in McShane and Wyner’s paper. I don’t know what caused you to say what you said, but for an accurate description of their results, I’ll quote William M. Briggs description of their main figure:

        Can a hockey stick fit this? Sure. Can a straight line? Also sure. A line which also starts high in 1000 and continuously drops until now also fits. It’s getting colder!

      • “This is flagrantly untrue.”

        Sorry, you’re wrong. While you may have a “better idea,” I’ll continue to wait for your paper to clear peer review.

        Unless you don’t think it can.

        Unless you don’t think you have anything that would challenge the repeated confirmations of the hockey stick from research group after research group.

        “I don’t have to publish a paper to be right”

        If you are afraid to even submit your argument for consideration, then obviously you know you’re not right, you just hope other people won’t know.

        Too bad, I was looking forward to you revolutionizing paleoclimatology. But I guess you’re just another denier blowhard with opinions and no data.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Robert, I’m going to have to violate Hanslon’s razor here and assume you’re just trolling. I don’t want to believe you are irrational enough to have made this latest response with honest intent. I’ve already had enough disappointments today.

      • McShane and Wyner state in the abstract of their paper

        Our model provides a similar reconstruction but has much wider standard errors, reflecting the weak signal and large uncertainty encountered in this setting.

        My earlier comment included both aspects of this sentence.

      • What the results of McShane and Wyler were, was in any case only a side remark. The point of my message is that critical analysis gets published, when it meets the standards.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Pekka Pirilä, there are two components to this exchange. One issue is what you said about the possibility of critical analysis being published. This is one worth discussing, but I’ve refrained due to the second component. The basic response I have for it is critical analysis can be published as you say, but the specific analysis Robert referred to could not.

        Now then, the second component is the one I find most important, and it is what makes me not want to discuss the first in any detail. Put simply, you’ve misrepresented McShane and Wyner’s work to such an extent it makes advancing a discussion impossible. There is simply no way for me to have a discussion while ignoring flagrant misrepresentations. If two people can’t agree on a simple and obvious point, I don’t believe they will find agreement on a more complex point (save possibly by chance).

        With that in mind, let’s look at our simple disagreement. You claimed McShane and Wyner found a hockey stick. I disputed this. I said their results did nothing of the sort, and I offered an explanation to justify my position. You did not dispute my explanation, but you continued to dispute my position. While ignoring what I said, you offered a quote from McShane and Wyner’s abstract to justify your position. That is where we stand.

        Obviously, I think ignoring my explanation is enough to discredit your position. I think your behavior makes it quite clear your position is wrong. However, I think it is still important for me to address the quote you provided. This is because the context of the quote shows you’ve misrepresented it, and thus it provides more evidence your comments cannot be trusted. The quote says McShane and Wyner provides a “similar reconstruction,” and your comment portrays it as being “similar” to the hockey stick. This portrayal is misleading as the abstract never claims similarity to the hockey stick. Instead, it says:

        We propose our own reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere average annual land temperature over the last millenium, assess its reliability, and compare it to those from the climate science literature.

        This sentence is immediately prior to the one you quoted, and it clearly shows McShane and Wyner were referring to millennial reconstructions in general, not to the hockey stick. You have simply misrepresented the quote by giving a false portrayal of its context. I believe this, combined with your decision to not respond to the explanation I provided, should be enough to convince any reasonable reader your comments are untrustworthy. Further, I believe the fact my simple explanation has not been disputed is enough to convince any reasonable reader my position is right.

        I don’t know why you’ve said the things you’ve said, but as long as you continue to support your unjustifiable position, I don’t think we’ll be able to make any progress.

      • Brandon,

        It’s not clear, how much we disagree on the value of multiproxy reconstructions, as my views on those are also rather critical.

        When the discussion goes beyond that to interpreting what the authors have in mind in addition of the precise wording of the papers or what they have done behind the scenes, we look at the issues in a very different ways. We appear to interpret minor hints very differently and to have a very different way of judging people based on the hints. These differences appear to be so deep in our own thinking that it’s totally hopeless to try to reach any agreement on these issues.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        Pekka Pirilä, your response is complete rubbish. None of our disagreements have ever had anything to do with minor hints. You simply make bold claims which are obviously untrue, and when I demonstrate such, you ignore what I say. All it would ever take to determine which of us is right is reading a few sentences or looking at a single figure, yet somehow, you never put the slightest effort into resolving anything.

        This isn’t a situation where we’re both to blame, and it isn’t a situation where there is just some irreconcilable difference. It’s much simpler than that. You’re full of it.

      • Hah, hah, Pekka; Stein says we must act because uncertainties won’t diminish soon. Follow me into the Big Muddy.

  43. OK, let’s say the Rapanui did use logs to roll the Easter Island statues into place. According to Nova only 288 statues were moved into position and another 92 statues were partially moved.

    Over the course of 200 years would moving 380 statues use up enough trees to effectively deforest the entire island? I could be persuaded otherwise, but unless the island was only sparsely wooded to begin with, my gut sense is No.

  44. It was more complex than that huxley. For example, slash and burn agriculture played a large part:

    • This is the second time I’ve tried following a link from you in this thread to no avail. Not sure what’s up.

    • Rattus: I’m sure it is more complex. I’m suggesting that the long digression on “walking” vs “rolling” the statues is a distraction from the real deforestation.

      • I’m suggesting that the long digression on “walking” vs “rolling” the statues is a distraction from the real deforestation.

        I think it’s the very heart of the matter. Think of it this way. You have hundreds of people on a rock in the middle of nowhere and not all want to be there. The only way off requires trees, and Diamond and his apologists are trying to forward the absurd claim that these half insane imbeciles instead devoted the only possible resource to get off the island to roll gigantic rocks about.

        The ecocide story where the natives deforest the island to move giant heads rather than leave is simply stupid no matter how you look at it.

        Deforestation via humans probably did happen in terms of those who didn’t find the island the end all and be all of existence and used the available resources to leave.

        Which of these things makes sense? If you choose “let’s blow the resource pool to roll gigantic heads about” then there’s little more one can say.

      • random,

        The point of the paper linked to in my post above is that slash and burn agriculture is a huge contributor to deforestation. Read the links, you might learn something.

      • RE: I agree that “rolling the heads” enhances Diamond’s narrative and makes it especially attractive to secular liberals who disdain tradition.

        However, unless I’m missing something, rolling the heads could only have been a minor factor in deforestation. The real mischief was slash-and-burn and/or rats and/or boat-building and/or whatever. The real debate lies with these other activities.

  45. One impression I have felt growing stronger over the years is that, ignoring the “Don’t Cares”, we seem to be split into two distinct tribes.
    Those that believe Mankind is the root of all evil and those that don’t.

    • Roy, I’ve been studying environmental issues for at least a couple of decades. On some issues, in my view, mankind really has been extremely harmful, perhaps irreversible in some cases, but that the harm alleged to have been done by us is much overstated in others.

      In the first category is overfishing. We have evidence — from middens, or where people discarded what couldn’t be eaten — that about 1,000 years ago, green sea turtles were the everyday fare of the peoples of Hispaniola. Then, at that time, sea turtle carapaces began getting smaller. Then, quickly, they were replaced by fish. In other words, green sea turtles, now very scarce, once were so common they could be caught from shore whenever needed.

      The book “Cod” shows how incredibly abundant they once were — so much so that dried cod was currency, traded into interior Europe in the 11th C AD. But now cod are commercially extinct in North America — this from a fish that before overfishing routinely grew to 6 feet long. They are almost commercially extinct in Europe as well.

      Pretty much every fish that is a major food source is being overfished, or fished up to the limit of sustainability. Possibly as a result — the science is as of yet unsure — jellyfish, competitors of fish at larval levels — may be becoming much more prevalent than before. Yes, there is even a concern about a tipping point when jellyfish might permanently become a much larger percentage of ocean biomass, and fish a much smaller proportion. Have we already shifted the balance in oceans, away from biomass that provides sustenance, or could do so, had it been sustainably used?

      I do think that mankind has shown it can’t help itself when it comes to overfishing. Canadian fishermen kept telling scientists, in the 1980s, that they were wrong about overfishing on the Grand Banks — once one of the most productive fisheries in the world. After all, fisherman said, we keep catching cod! But in the early 1990s, they could no longer catch cod. Finally, fishing stopped. But the cod never came back. Perhaps the very few remaining cod could no longer produce enough eggs to survive competition and reach adulthood? Had the scientists been heeded, and fishing kept to a low enough level to guarantee enough reproduction, that fishery would still be there.

      On the other side, climategate, Himalayagate, all these “gates” that we have become accustomed to demonstrate to me that leading scientists don’t deserve the trust I used to give to all scientists. And the low rates of increases in warming are more consistent with Lindzen and other critics — those who are “allowed” to get published — than with the climate models which assume positive cloud feedback, assumptions not yet backed by observations.

      But I also agree with your general point, that we are dividing into two tribes. The only thing I can say is, look at each issue from a blank slate, there are big differences among them.

      • John: Thoughtful post. Overfishing is a real problem, but not impossible. The sardines are back in Monterey — the collapse of Cannery Row in the 1950s was due to overfishing and a 50-year ocean cycle — but this time there are quotas so the sardines won’t be overfished.

        I don’t want to choose between one tribe or the other. Like you I prefer that we take environmental issues on a case-by-case basis rather than decide humanity is always wrong or always right.

      • It’s wonderfully revealing how people who no virtually nothing about climate science but have strong opinions as to why >95% of the top scientists in the field are wrong transition smoothly and without hesitation or doubt into expressing their strong opinions about another subject they know virtually nothing about: archeology. Again, they instantly assert that the vast majority of scientists are wrong and that they can infallibly identify the truth of the “skeptic” narrative . . .

        Denial: the Swiss Army knife of cognitive fallacies. Works for any subject, any time. :)

      • no = know

      • It’s wonderfully revealing how people who no virtually nothing about climate science but have strong opinions as to why >95% of the top scientists in the field are wrong transition smoothly and without hesitation or doubt into expressing their strong opinions about another subject they know virtually nothing about

        >95% of top scientists get it wrong because of tunnel vision, group think, politics and mass hysteria.

        Possessing expertise on a topic can be a real disadvantage because the expert is too close to the situation.

        Example: Challenger disaster
        Example: Forest management and fires in Yellowstone Park
        Example: Cane toads in Australia
        Example: Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
        Example: WHO and vaccines for avian influenza
        Example: Tobacco – First safe … then dangerous
        Example: Biofuels
        Example: The safety and efficiency of windfarms
        Example: The UK MET office and the BBQ summer

        The list goes on and on …

        As for archeology? It is intensely addled with dogmatism, blunder, vested interest and contradictory platitudes .. Who knows what to believe.

        Denial: the Swiss Army knife of cognitive fallacies. Works for any subject, any time. :)

        Mirror mirror on the wall …

      • >95% of top scientists get it wrong because of tunnel vision, group think, politics and mass hysteria.

        Thanks for providing an example of the denier hysteria I was referring to. Appreciate the assist, buddy. ;)

        Possessing expertise on a topic can be a real disadvantage


        You may want to call this like-minded fellow when you get sick:,11237/

      • Robert

        You seem to regularily report baloney.

        Oh, what is it that 95% of “climate scientists” believe?

        What potential harms worry YOU, and what do you base these fear on? Is it a particular GCM?

      • Robert: You may want to call this like-minded fellow when you get sick

        Coming from a medical family and from long and hard earned experience, I prefer to stay away from doctors as much as possible.

        It is very easy to cross over the line wherein the ‘cure’ becomes worse and less healthy than the ‘disease’ itself. Caveat emptor.

      • “You seem to regularily report baloney.”

        Keep whistling past the graveyard if you like . . .

        But denial of the facts, coming form you, is neither surprising nor persuasive.

      • Robert

        I wrote about baloney regarding your statement of knowing what 95% of “climate scientists” believe—I asked what you think these 95% believe and what is the source of your belief… failed to respond. You also fail to respond to other very simple reasonable questions about what you fear about a warmer world and what is the source of those fears.

      • I wrote about baloney regarding your statement of knowing what 95% of “climate scientists” believe… failed to respond.

        Maybe you should have just expressed your opinion rather than vaguely alluding to it in the context of an ad hom. I responded to what you wrote.

        If you want to claim climate denial is endorsed by more than 5% of climate scientists, then make your argument. Now that you’ve got the name-calling out of your system, what is your evidence for that claim?

      • As usual Robert, the broken record of polling a narrow consensus in a deceptive way and then linking them to the poliitically insane who think co2 will turn the earth into venus.

        The false nature of the polling, the politically isolated IPCC fringe as the focal point of your science truth while the door is slammed shut on many higher and more objective fields that have dissent is the standard MO.

        You are among the permanently clueless and dishonest on these boards.

        A partisan and statist core hyjacked the IPCC consensus over decades. They do it to many trade, academic and social organizations but rather than consider that trend we have the mindless mantra of tainted propaganda over and over; “95-98% believe” while taking every step to eliminate specific figures or quantity or cause. Just a giant bowl of mush of AGW without dissecting the specific links to co2 or scoring relative impacts. All to shove the tired co2 regulation scheme of your dying leadership on the world.

      • Judith –

        Did you read cwon’s 3:00 pm post?

  46. The Myth of Easter Island

    Easter Island is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands. Its closest inhabited neighbour is Pitcairn Island, 2,075 km (1,289 mi) to the west, with fewer than 100 inhabitants. …It has an area of 163.6 square kilometres (63.2 sq mi), and a maximum altitude of 507 meters (1,663 ft). There are three Rano (freshwater crater lakes)

    Jared Diamond tells a wonderful story.
    Is it true or is it horse feathers?

    When I look at the raw geographical data my response is to say … Easter Island is irrelevant. Whatever happened, happened … but the salient thing is that it is irrelevant because it is a tiny rock in the middle of nowhere under constant human habitation for a few thousand years.

    Sheesh! How the heck do you expect large mammal ‘K selected’ populations to function? Surely not like some climax community in delicate balance at maximum carrying capacity.

    Large mammal ‘K selected’ populations go up and down in size drifting all over the map according to internal interactions and self direction.

    In other words cutting down all the timber, stranding themselves … (like they had somewhere to go after a few thousand years huh?) … and finally eating each other up until there were few or none remaining is perfectly fine and acceptable.

    Many many much larger places on this planet have had far more precarious and vanishing large mammal populations.

    What’s the problem with a 63.2 sq mi rock, 1,289 mi from the next nearest rock which is smaller … messing up with a population colonization of over 2,000 years?

    You want to call that Ecocide then bully for you.
    I call it a pretty darn good run of human habitation!

    • “Jared Diamond tells a wonderful story.
      Is it true or is it horse feathers?”

      And how would you know, not being an archeologist and not having actually read the book?

      Shifting your blithe ignorant denialism from the subject of climate change to the subject of archeology just illustrates the fundamentally flawed nature of your thought process . . .

      • Diamond is a physiologist. You can see that tradition in the book structure of ‘Collapse’

        Is Easter Island as an ecosystem including humans, a good model for a single organism? It’s a great idea which is attractive in obvious ways. I agree. … Is that how it ought to be? … Seems so.

        Is that how it is? … No.

        An island ecosystem is a heterarchy. That is quite different to a single whole organism.

        It is a mistake for ecologists to anthropomorphize ecosystems. They ought to know better.

      • Diamond’s early work involved ornithology, ecology, evolutionary biology and island biogeography (a particulary appropriate area for the present subject, although all of his main areas of study are apropos for this discussion).

        The rest of your comment is incomprehensible. For example ecologists (those who study ecology in a scientific manner) most definitely do NOT anthropomorphize ecosystems.


        He was primarily a physiologist who branched into adjacent interests. If you look at the link to the book structure, it clearly indicates an interest with functional process in the local scale as it relates to the whole organism.

        I did some work with Diamond and Bassert’s diffusion and transport equation. Also worked with biogeograpy, ornithology, evolution and ecology. Spatio-temporal reaction diffusion and transport stuff. It’s not all that different whether one is talking population or fluid dynamics, ecology, or evolution, however spatially coupled.

        As for ecologists mistakenly viewing holistic structures as ‘whole organisms’, A.K.A. anthropomorphizing ‘Gaia’ into a sort of superhuman mother nature. Well yeah, that sort of happens automatically. What else could ecocide mean? … It’s like murdering a pseudo human.

        I’m not surprised that you don’t understand the alternative meaning to ‘holistic’ structures. It is one of the most difficult of conceptual problems.

        The strongest demonstration of the alternate meaning is that ‘K selection’ is illusion. It does not occur in nature. What does one replace it with? My mind goes blank. ‘K type’ populations go up and down, through bottle necks and go extinct. … Societal pressures, psychology, cultural memes (talking large mammal animals here)… I haven’t even encountered any half mediocre description of it.

        K type populations are weird. The assumption is that they are simple population dynamics .. I.E. .. fitness and fecundity … climax community .. carrying capacity …parameters and structures.

        Yet all those ways of describing it .. or setting up the problem … don’t work and are sort of turned on end.

        Frankly, I never heard directly about the problems with the traditional ‘K selected’ population models until a year or two ago in reference to sustainability.

        It’s this whole linking of sustainability – growth – consumption … which are nice clean models that “ought to work fine” … yet stridently go against intuition and don’t work that way at all.

        I expect there must be at modest literature on the K-selection paradox. It probably is indexed to problems with sustainability.

        The waters have become impossibly muddied from the debates over AGW and Intelligent Design that it is just about impossible to discuss this very fundamental and very real predicament.
        There seems to be almost no literature on this. Extremely difficult topic from a perceptual standpoint. (I won’t try to explain why it is so. .. Don’t need cheap shot responses to this …)

        Two serious credible references …

        For sustainability, google “Professor Aynsley Kellow” … He seems to be a heavyweight (expert) denier with a low profile.

        Here is a link which describes ID from a NON ‘supernatural’ deity perspective. It is serious stuff ….

      • Re: Prof. Jared Diamond

        “He was a … ” Prof. Diamond is still actively involved in things. The past tense is used with regard to his earlier work.

      • Erratum: Diamond and Bossert

  47. Year Without a Summer – 1816 – caused by Mt. Tambora eruption

    Description of what happened in New England …

    The crop failures of the “Year without a Summer” may have helped shape the settling of the “American Heartland”, as many thousands of people (particularly farm families who were wiped out by the event) left New England for what is now western and central New York and the Upper Midwest (then the Northwest Territory) in search of a more hospitable climate, richer soil, and better growing conditions.

    Here is the difference between ‘r-selection’ and ‘k-selection’:

    If you are a mouse and there is a famine then you live or starve to death.

    If you are a human and it’s cold and there is a crop failure then there are various choices …

    a) Mouse choice: No decision. .. What happens, happen .. live or starve to death.

    b) The very ‘subtle’ choice … “Things are are real tough at the moment. Hmmm … Maybe this is a good opportunity to pull up stakes and head on out West? .. Family packs up and moves … Lives, starves, meets with accident, thrives … whatever.”

    “b)” is a very subtle thing. It is easy to invert the perception and imagine that the volcano eruption forced survivorship fitness onto the individuals. A choice of migrate or die!

    The subtle alternative is proactive … “Maybe we should take advantage of these lousy conditions to do something else? .. Let’s move.”

    My assertion is that ‘K selection’ works by such populations making decisions and seizing opportunities … and not getting stuck in a growth-and-limit situation where population sized is imposed from without by environmental constraints.

    In the ‘K selected’ populations, the size of the population is set by decisions and opportunities within the population itself. I.E. Things are bad. Good opportunity to move.

    Under the ‘K-selection’ mode, externally imposed environmental constraints on population size are a NON ISSUE. It means that eccoside .. assuming that was the case … is an appropriate and internally self-directed mechanism.

    maybe not rolling and probably not vertical walking –
    there is another way that seems more logical to the guy who has to do the work.
    note- there are people who do and people who talk.
    it’s the doers who really know.

    • Notice that he pivoted the blocks on a stone sitting on poured concrete.

      What do you suppose would happen to a stone placed on dirt or grass that then had a 90 ton stone placed on top?

      Notice that to stand his block up, he dug a trench. To the statues on Easter Island extend down into the ground?

      • Walking on cannonballs!
        (It would be easier than walking on concrete. No?)

        Hmm … now if there was the evidence for such

      • No need for cannonballs.

        They could have just walked them on linoleum – you know, like your “expert” said – just like a fridge in a kitchen.

      • Didn’t bother watching the video. Just saw the comment of walking heavy weight across concrete. It simply occurred to me that it could be accomplished by pivoting on ‘cannonballs’. Didn’t realize about the ball bearing sized technique.

        Ok … so here is another obvious E. Isle. solution.

        No trees. No problem. … bamboo mat boat, cockleshell boat, etc. Maybe driftwood washes ashore sometimes.

        In a pinch, people can be creative.

  49. i notice that most of the heads seem to have noses rubbed, except for one near the end.
    that might happen if they were rolled in a similar way to how a gandy dancer moves a 1500 lb 33 ft stick of #120 rail by himself.

  50. An interesting misrepresentation of Easter Island is the notion of not only the last tree standing, but the last man, or woman, standing. There was never a time when a last lingering soul walked the island looking for a companion before collapsing in a sobbing heap along in the world on an uncaring landscape, tree-barren, and now freshly devoid of the plague of man. The reality is the first people there are represented to this day by people still there. There is a genetic continuity that reaches from the erectors of the Maoi to the people who punch your ticket when you get on the plane when leaving the island at Mataveri International Airport.


    • Nobody have ever made a claim like this, although the native population may have dropped to as low as 111 ~1870.

      • [blockquote]Easter Island is famous for its massive stone statues. Polynesian people settled there, in what was then a pristine tropical island, around the middle of the first millennium AD. The population grew slowly at first and then exploded. As the population grew the forests were wiped out and all the tree animals became extinct, both with devastating consequences. After about 1600 the civilization began to collapse, and had virtually disappeared by the mid-19th century. Evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond said the parallels between what happened on Easter Island and what is occurring today on the planet as a whole are “chillingly obvious.”[/blockquote]

        What does “virtually disappeared” mean to you? Does it sound to you like there are survivors that will drive you to the airport, punch your ticket, and take your luggage? The popular belief is that like the last tree, the last of the Rapa Nui people died alone and forgotten among the Maoi that finally owned the silent island long after the knappers who carved, transported, and erected them were gone and turned to dust.

        That is the story of Rapa Nui as told by fiction writers.

      • Virtually disappeared means just that. It could have been written “almost disappeared” w/o changing the meaning one bit. A population estimated to have been as low as 111 around 1870 (down from several thousand at the high point) certainly qualifies as virtually disappeared, but virtually disappeared does not mean disappeared.

  51. Richard Saumarez

    When I went to Easter Islands, I saw the exhumed skeletons of Islanders. I was struck by how many showed signs of either congenital or active osseous syphilis.

    The effects of syphilis on Easter islanders is well documented as is the depopulation by slave traders in the 1850s.

  52. Robert accuses others of denying facts, but he’s making stuff up with his predictable, rude, recycled remarks about EE. Of course its peer reviewed papers are peer reviewed, and of course Peiser is competent to comment on this subject. The knife is out for EE chiefly because it published the M&M paper, which was the first serious blow the Warmists had got, and its gone on and on publishing peer reviewed work which makes a mockery of the claim, central to their position, that the science is settled. No wonder Big Warmings team of PR shills and stooges devote a lot their time to trying to discredit it, in the usual underhand, deceitful ways.

  53. And before the Team stooges and trolls crank up their lie machine, EE’s not peer reviewed? Really? I’ve seen recent blog comments from Tol, from Loehle, that the peer review process there is perfectly normal. In the Climate gate emails, one of Jones’s mates says “by the way EE is peer reviewed”; and of course much to the horror of Global Warmism, EE now is in ISI, inclusion in which means a journal is peer reviewed, as they themselves have so frequently pointed out

  54. The end of ‘Eco-side’ Island & The Bizmuth Age.

    And the rain falls on…

  55. you are right about the limits of simple theories. That’s why we should avoid broad statements like “Ecosystems eventually adapt to climate change and insults from humans.”

  56. Im currently reading the book collapse by Jared Diamond, and my professor asked me to comment on the metaphor of Easter Island and the U.S. What are your thoughts about such metaphor?

    • I don’t think that it is a very good metaphor for the US as a whole. Our resources are not nearly as limited, nor our technology as primitive. Part of the problem with Rapa Nui was the isolation and lack of external trade.

  57. “Im currently reading the book collapse by Jared Diamond, and my professor asked me to comment on the metaphor of Easter Island and the U.S. What are your thoughts about such metaphor?”

    Apparently they used up their wood and couldn’t leave the island.
    US doesn’t lack resources but it’s been 40 year since we went to the Moon.

  58. roger mcevilly

    I have a slightly different take on the Easter Island decline. Try this:

    The islanders did indeed use up the trees through continued use of statue building and transport, but the imporant thing is that this stemmed from a rigid religio-bureacratic class system, not from the people on the land themselves. This distinction is important, as it places blame on a well developed system of high-minded bureaucracy, and so the last tree was felled by the enforcement of this rigid bureacracy, and not the natural adaptive instincts of those who actually worked, and lived on the land (ie vaguely defined as the ‘market system’).

    The whole ‘environmental warning’ flavour of the argument therefore shifts. The idea that this is a lesson against (market-based ) over-exploitation is not really the point, the issue is one of a system of rigid socio-environmental bureacracy working outside of market forces, the very thing most environmentalists want to argue is needed to ‘save the planet’. If such a rigid reiligio-bureacratic attitude is the main reason the trees disappeared, it can hardly be expected to ‘save the planet’.

    It is suprising how few environmentalists consider this angle, that the forces that destroyed the islands fragile ecoysystems were social and bureaucratic, and not from natural instincts/?market forces? of the people working on the land themselves.

  59. Beside the documentation of Capt. Cook and Atenbough’s PBS documentary of his research, including long finger-nailed religious elder
    icons (of the extinct palm wood) found in Russia and Boston, Jered’s story is repetative. For all these pages here of this or that, I read not one word of this previous material. Is everybody so damn superficial these days?

  60. Another round on Mark Lynas’ site: the response to Diamond from Lippo and Hunt.

    • Gene: Thanks! A good read and a strong rebuttal to Diamond. Also, for those still interested in whether the statues were rolled or walked, strong arguments that the statues were “walked.”

      • I really liked the ‘guns, germs, and enslavement’ they slip in near the end.

  61. This is an old thread now, but as well as Jared Diamond’s response (included in the update above), Mark Lynas published a very interesting response to Diamond by Hunt and Lipo which I think adds to the debate. Link here:

  62. Aaargh! I jumped straight to the comment box and didn’t see Gene had already raised this point.

    Sorry, Gene.

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