Posted by: chrismaser | August 15, 2012


The story of Easter Island is a presage of things to come in the world if we do not control our human population. And, the only way for such control to take place is to grant women unequivocal equality in all aspects of life. Should you dismiss human over-population as a global problem while reading this brief history, keep in mind that over-population is only a matter of scale within any ecosystem across the landscape.

Easter Island is a tiny, 43-square-mile piece of land in the South Pacific, 2400 miles off the coast of South America. The oldest pollen dates (analysis of the pollen from certain ancient plants) go back some 30,000 years, long before the first people, wandering Polynesians, arrived. At that time, based on the pollen record, the island was forested with now-extinct, giant Jubaea palms.

The Polynesians settled on the island in about 1200 A.D. They began to gradually clear the land for agriculture, and they cut trees to build canoes. The island, while small, was relatively fertile, the sea teemed with fish, and the people flourished. The population rose to about 3,000 to 4,000, and probably remained relatively stable, given the low carrying capacity of the island. Eventually trees were cut to provide logs for transporting and erecting hundreds of eerie statues, or moai, some of which are about 32 feet high and weigh as much as 85 tons.

Unfortunately, when the trees were cut, they did not grow back, as shown in the pollen record. Deforestation, which began shortly after the first people arrived in 1200, was almost complete 500 years later, by 1700. When the Europeans discovered Easter Island in 1722, it was treeless and in a state of decline; nevertheless, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen and the commanders of his three ships described the island as “exceedingly fruitful, producing bananas, potatoes, sugar-cane of remarkable thickness, and many other kinds of fruits of the earth. . . .” If the soil was rich enough for these plants, why did the tree not grow back?

Well, as it turns out, the Polynesians brought the Polynesian rats with them in their boats. Once the rats were on the island, they discovered and began to devour the palm nuts. So, while the human population was expanding, the people were cutting the trees. Meanwhile, the rat population was also expanding, and the rats were eating the palm nuts, which prevented the trees from growing back. As well, the effects of drought, wind, and soil erosion could have exacerbated the island’s deforestation. In addition, both the people and the rats exploited many of the island’s other resources, such as its abundance of birds’ eggs. The downward spiral had begun.

With deforestation, there were no trees to build canoes for fishing. Soil erosion would lead to reduced crop yields. And the eggs of the sooty tern were probably exploited to the point that the bird no longer nested on the island.

Fewer fish, eggs, and crops led to a shortage of food. Hunger, in turn, eventually brought the civilization to the brink of collapse. Today, all that remains of the original culture of Easter Island are the statues that once stood erect on specially built platforms, others that lie abandoned between the volcanic quarries of their origin and their planned destinations, and still others that remain unfinished in the quarries.1

The question is: When will men—all men, regardless of religious creed or other justifications—recognize, accept, and treat women as equal partners in all aspects of life, which they are by Nature’s decree, despite the current entrenchment of patriarch dogma? Only then will it be possible to control our human population to the benefit of all generations.

Related Posts:

• Current Crises: Our Growing Heat Stress

• Tropical Crisis: “Bushmeat”

• A Woman’s Melody

• Commandeering Language

• A Matter Of Gender Equality

• We Must Honor Women

• The Essence Of Leadership: Personal Values And Philosophy Of Life

• Giving Children Their Rightful Voice—A Democratic Revolution


1. The discussion of Easter Island is based on:  (1) Michael Kiefer. 1989. Fall of the Garden of Eden, International Wildlife, July-August: 38-43, (2) Terry L. Hunt and Carl P. Lipo. 2006. Late colonization of Easter Island. Science 311:1603-1606, and (3) Terry L. Hunt. 2007. Rethinking Easter Island’s ecological catastrophe. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:485-502.

Text © by Chris Maser 2012. All rights reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.


  1. The idea that we are reaching a population crisis, that is as a species humans are overpopulating the planet, is becoming an increasingly held opinion. This would appear not to take into account that global population limits are dictated in large part by our social behaviour. Our world population has grown more since 1950 than it has in the previous four million years.
    We must begin to understand the carrying capacity of our planet, but we also need to start making decisions about how we function as a society. The population limit for a society that is focused on an economy of infinite growth and one that is concerned with an intelligent systems approach to providing a high standard of living for our entire human family coupled with biosphere sustainability is two completely different things.

  2. I understand the importance of your last statement in the article, but do not see its relevance in this conversation. In this article you speak of overpopulation, deforestation, and the subsequent demise of a fascinating culture. In your writing you did not once tie this back to feminism until the very last paragraph!

  3. I think the last statement was a reference to the Bird Man Cult and inequality which eventually took toll on the Island. But there was no flow or linkages throughout the article to have such a controversial concluding statement. Other than that insightful read with a lot of information which has better helped me understand this concept of Sustainability with the Easter Island example for my class.

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