- Ray Pierrehumbert
This follows up on Coby's cartoon discovery on Ill Considered. Anybody else care to play?
http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/53200?fulltext=true&print=yesYou may find this of interest and may not have heard about the research before:"It was genocide, not ecocide, that caused the demise of the Rapanui. An ecological catastrophe did occur on Rapa Nui, but it was the result of a number of factors, not just human short-sightedness.I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island's prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today's problems.Ecosystems are complex, and there is an urgent need to understand them better. Certainly the role of rats on Rapa Nui shows the potentially devastating, and often unexpected, impact of invasive species. I hope that we will continue to explore what happened on Rapa Nui, and to learn whatever other lessons this remote outpost has to teach us."
I don't think there's any debate that real life isn't as simple as a cartoon. Diamond, if I recall correctly, (I have given away my copy) acknowledges the role of rats in preventing new trees from seeding.I don't think there is any doubt that whatever collapse happened was preceded by an enormous burst of statue-building and whatever costs would be associated. Half the statues on the island are only partially extracted from the quarry, and one, I think, was abandoned in mid-transit to the beach. It is clear that the statues formed a useful social function at one time and that they eventually became maladaptive. The extent to which the effort played a direct role in the collapse is debatable, but you must admit they didn't help matters.What fascinates me most about the story is how, when the ideology shifted from adaptive to maladaptive, people's attachments and efforts to defend it increased.I do see most modern maladaptations as excessive attachment to past beneficial adaptations. The bunny parable captured the analogy nicely.If things go no worse nor better than I expect, I anticipate a collapse but not extinction in the next century or two. Our surviving descendants, when they manage to reconstitute a civilization, may argue whether our decline was "caused by" our obsessive attachemnt to ever-increasing economic activity, or by war or disease or other misfortune all of which will surely accompany the collapse if it happens. What they won't argue, I think, is that some of our behaviors were very strange and bizarrely out of proportion to our circumstances. Once they rediscover Easter Island, I think it will remind them of us.
The rats responsible can be found athttp://www.climatecartoons.org.uk/labrats.htmlI agree on the complexity of the issues. That's the problem. Cultural solutions need to be simple for ease of digestion by large numbers at speed. Advertisers know this.Therefore cultural messages are necessarily metaphorical. The solutions are comically simple: consume less - think for yourself - act! I imagine we can all agree on that. As the cartoonist responsible I reserve the right to talk bollocks as and when necessary. (it's in the job description)
Thanks, Throb, for stopping by and for the brilliant cartoon.
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