Do three Pacific islands provide lessons for achieving a sustainable human population?

| May 1, 2023 | Leave a Comment

Item Link: Access the Resource

Date of Publication: March 28

Year of Publication: 2023

Publication City: Gothenburg, Sweden

Publisher: The Overpopulation Project / Gothenburg University

Author(s): Frank Götmark

These islands were more-or-less isolated, microcosms that perhaps tell us what is going to happen with the global population. Anthropological accounts also describe remarkable forms of birth control. Do they tell us anything about how to achieve sustainable populations today?

Easter Island, and historical background

One of the most debated questions in island historical research concerns the fate of people living on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui. This island of 164 km2 is one of the most isolated in the world, located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Research shows that the inhabitants had cleared the forest on the island before 1650, which meant that canoes could no longer be built for fishing or catching seabirds and collecting eggs on nearby islets. People had to rely more on risky agriculture on the barren island. When Captain Cook arrived in 1774, his crew met inhabitants that were in poor condition. Strong population decline is part of the story. However, there were earlier visits by Europeans, the first in 1722 and there is debate about how these visits affected the islanders through disease, murder, slave raiding and other conflicts. The case of Rapa Nui is often used as a warning about humanity’s future and the costs of ecological overshoot.

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