Thursday, November 25, 2004

Ronald Wright tells an old tale well

Ronald Wright (presumably this one) recounts the Easter Island history beautifully in the 19 Nov TLS.

The story's familiar to environmentalists and others at the very least since Clive Ponting's and other's retelling in 'green' books of 70s, 80s and 90s.

Wright starts with a nice bit of contextualising:

The greatest wonder of the ancient world is how recent it all is. No city or monument is much more than 5,000 years old. Only about seventy lifetimes, of seventy years, have been lived end to end since civilization began. Its entire run occupies a mere 0.002 per cent of the nearly 3 million years since our first ancestor sharpened a stone.

He writes like a dream, and finishes with:

In the epilogue to their 1992 book, Easter Island, Earth Island, the archaeologists Paul Bahn and John Flenley are explicit. The islanders, they write, "carried out for us the experiment of permitting unrestricted population growth, profligate use of resources, destruction of the environment and boundless confidence in their religion to take care of the future. The result was an ecological disaster leading to a population crash . . . . Do we have to repeat the experiment on [a] grand scale? . . . Is the human personality always the same as that of the person who felled the last tree?"

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