Ecological Catastrophe and Collapse: The Myth of 'Ecocide' on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

29 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2012

See all articles by Terry Hunt

Terry Hunt

University of Hawaii

Carl Lipo

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: April 19, 2012


Easter Island — the name is synonymous with mystery, intrigue of archaeology, and today an ecological parable of reckless choices and ruin. The hundreds of giant statues known as moai located on a remote windswept and treeless landscape cry out for explanation of what happened there. Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as it is known to the island’s native Polynesians, has also become the “poster child” for what happens when societies squander their resources and destroy their environment. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond describes an ecological catastrophe brought on by the island’s inhabitants that led to their own destruction. Diamond (2005) calls it “ecocide”: the choice to construct giant statues led to the island’s ecological devastation and the collapse of the ancient civilization. He and other researchers offer the ecocide story as a parable for our own potential destruction of the global environment. But is the story told for Easter’s human-induced environmental change correct, particularly what has been said about the causes and consequences? We consider new evidence from Rapa Nui in light of recent discoveries from the Hawaiian Islands and offer some perspectives for the island’s ecological transformation and the consequences.

Suggested Citation

Hunt, Terry and Lipo, Carl, Ecological Catastrophe and Collapse: The Myth of 'Ecocide' on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) (April 19, 2012). PERC Research Paper No. 12/3, Available at SSRN: or

Terry Hunt

University of Hawaii ( email )

Honolulu, HI
United States

Carl Lipo (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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