Easter Island lives as an example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. However, some anthropologists are now suggesting that the island’s ecological destruction might not be the fault of humans alone, but their imported population of Polynesian rats:
The ecosystem was severely compromised. And yet, say the anthropologists, Easter Islanders didn’t disappear. They adjusted. They had no lumber to build canoes to go deep-sea fishing. They had fewer birds to hunt. They didn’t have coconuts. But they kept going on rat meat and small helpings of vegetables. They made do.
In this article, Robert Krulwich argues that this success story provides a gloomier example for us to learn from:
Humans are a very adaptable species. We’ve seen people grow used to slums, adjust to concentration camps, learn to live with what fate hands them. If our future is to continuously degrade our planet, lose plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, never shouting, “That’s It!” – always making do, I wouldn’t call that “success.”
People can’t remember what their great-grandparents saw, ate and loved about the world. They only know what they know. To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed. That’s when we’ll act. The new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm.
The boiling frog anecdote offers a similar conclusion.