PRINT February 1993


Andrew Ross' Weather Report

AT SOME POINT in our youths, most of us were invited to ponder the “mystery” of the Easter Island statues. The fantasies may have varied from culture to culture, but the basic narrative, whether it involved visits from extraterrestrials or Thor Heyerdahl’s colorful wars of conquest between long-eared and short-eared peoples, was probably the same romance about lost civilizations that still holds sway over some part of my own barnacled imagination. It’s only recently that environmental history has given us the straight dope about Easter Island (and other “lost civilizations” to boot).

In the first chapter of A Green History of the World (Penguin, 1991), Clive Ponting presents Easter Island as a “lesson” in how hierarchical societies can turn their limited resource-bases into instruments of environmental collapse and self-destruction. The story is one of clan chiefs competing in symbolic

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