The small Polynesian island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is famous for two things: the 887 monolithic statues called moai created by early Rapa Nui people, and how the creation of the moai led to the environmental degradation of the island and the collapse of the Rapa Nui civilization.
Archeological evidence shows that the 163.6 square kilometre island was covered in forest when the first Polynesian colonists settled the island sometime between 700 and 1200 CE.
The island's forests were home to at least six land bird species and many species of trees, including at least three species which grew to 15 metres tall or taller. The forest provided food for the Rapa Nui people and the trees provided wood for buildings, tools, seagoing boats, and sledges and runners to move the moai statues.
The massive moai averaged 12.5 tonnes each, with the largest weighing 87 tonnes. Carving and transporting the huge stones from quarries in the interior to the island's shore consumed huge amounts of effort for the small civilization, and massive amounts of trees to make wooden runners to slide the stone monoliths across.
Soil analysis has shown that by 1650 there was virtually zero tree pollen present in the island's soil -in other words, the island had been almost completely deforested. Not coincidentally, that time marks the end of the production of moai.
By 1722 when the first Europeans visited the island, 21 species of tree and all the land bird species on the island were extinct. The very few trees left were shorter than three metres and the local seabird population was heavily depleted.
Without trees, the islanders couldn't build boats to fish, trade or escape the desolate prison Rapa Nui had become.
Within the course of a century the island's population dropped from about 15,000 people to 2,000-3,000 people. When a population drops by 80 to 87 per cent in the course of a century, it isn't pretty. Starvation, warfare and - according to some scholars - cannibalism took its toll on the Rapa Nui people.
It's an example of an Malthusian catastrophe -humans building, consuming and expanding until nothing is left to sustain the population. It is historic proof that humans are capable of stupiding themselves to death.
One would like to think that modern people have learned the lessons offered by Rapa Nui.
But, if anything, we are more willfully blind and reckless with the environment of the little island in space we call Earth.
The islanders believed the moai would appease the spirits and encourage them to use their power to bring prosperity to the living. Modern conservatives and global warming deniers believe just as blindly in the power of the fossil fuel economy to save us.
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to be released today. But already the details released Friday are terrifying: 0.3 to 4.8 degrees Celsius warming and 26-82 centimetres of sea level rise by the year 2100; the potential for a ice-free Arctic summer by mid-century; and little hope of any serious international effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
This is no longer a future-generation problem. A child born today will turn 87 in 2100 - meaning they will witness vast swaths of Louisiana, Florida, Bangladesh, Shanghai and many island nations disappear into the ocean; the total collapse of the oceanic ecosystem; massive declines in agricultural productivity; mass extinction of species; and droughts, floods, super storms and other extreme weather.
But while the nations of the world know, now with 95 per cent certainty, that humanity is dooming its own children, we are too focused on building moai to solve the problem.
--Associate news editor Arthur Williams