Easter Island has been described by Jared Diamond as the “clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources”.
Prof Diamond has told and retold the story and drawn a parallel between the ecological disaster he says befell Easter Island and our likely fate because we are cutting down too many trees and consuming too much energy.
In the September-October issue of American Scientist Online Terry Hunt details findings from his work on Easter Island.
It is an interesting read in which Hunt concludes that rats introduced by the Polynesians negatively impacted on recruitment in Jubaea palms resulting in forest decline. In contrast, Jared Diamond says the Polynesians simply cut down all the trees.
Furthermore Hunt suggests that the downfall of the original Polynesian civilization resulted not from internal strife associated with ecological disaster following destruction of the forest, but rather from contact with Europeans.
I read a lot of James Michener books when I was a bit younger. Civilizations destroyed by new arrivals is a consistent theme in Michener’s stories.