Sustainability Parable

1500 years ago Polynesian explorers reached and settled the most isolated piece of habitable land in the world - an island some of their descendants called Rapa Nui. Only sixty-four square miles, but extremely fertile, it was well forested, and the inhabitants were able to live quite well by fishing and farming, making use of the trees to make the excellent outrigger canoes with which their people had explored so much of the world. Their population grew to about 15,000 and they built a vigorous civilization, featuring elaborate stone statues, which they erected at great cost in labor and wood. Their religious enterprises began depleting the forests, but the high priest of the cult, who was called Exxon, assured the population that the only way to propitiate the gods was to continue to cut down trees in order to erect more stone statues, and that stopping would bring economic ruin. When the last tree was cut down, no more canoes could be built, and without the fish which had been the staple of their diet, starvation, war, and cannibalism ensued. The population collapsed as did the civilization, and the first arriving European explorers found a largely depopulated and almost completely deforested island, with only very primitive and decrepit boats fastened together from small pieces of wood.

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