Welcome To Easter Island

Remember Easter Island? That place in the pages of National Geographic with the gigantic carved heads peeking up from grassy slopes?

Whether you recall it or not, you live there – in a manner of speaking.

Easter Island was colonized by the Rapanui, a particularly adept seafaring culture. When they arrived, around the year 800 A.D., the island was a lush forested tropical paradise.

But eventually, according to researcher Jared Diamond in his bestseller Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, they committed ecocide.

They cut down every single tree on their island. Eventually the people had no wood to burn in their cookfires. They had to resort to burning grass, a particularly inferior fuel source.

But before arriving at that sad state, the Rapanui cut numerous huge stone effigies called “moai” out of solid rock – some weighing 14 tons – sculpted them, and moved them great distances.

For whatever reason, the Rapanui tribe felt it was very important to make these giant stone heads, often at the cost of using trees as the means for transporting and erecting them.

Somewhere along the way I’m sure there were alert members of their society quietly wondering if maybe they should instead start protecting their dwindling groves and forests?

It’s tough to be “that person” who concludes that your culture is up to something completely non-sensical. It’s tough to open up and call that stuff out – because most people don’t see the problem themselves, and can feel attacked if you bring it up.

In this story of Easter Island, the production of the gigantic stone moai were deemed more important than every tree on the island. Hey, maybe that was the right call – I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But whether it made sense or not, it wasn’t a sustainable practice.

It was an activity with an easily-predicted end-date stamped right on it. Carving gigantic stone heads consumed the vital resources of a culture, yet did not offer any measurable productive returns to that same culture. The activity diminished valuable resources instead of enhancing them.

So if ‘sustainability’ is the correct criteria to use to evaluate a culture’s actions, then the Rapanui of Easter Island wasted the last of their trees on the wrong activity.

Welcome To Easter Island

Silly islanders, right? Right? Amiright?

We’d never do anything so foolish ourselves! Right? We’re certainly smarter than that these days, correct?

Actually, no.

Take oil. Our most valuable resource. Bar none.

“Wrong!” you might think “Water is certainly the most valuable resource.” I wouldn’t say you’re wrong…but I’d point out that with oil ,you can construct massive aqueducts to transport water a thousand miles across open desert.

With oil that’s a relatively easy project to pull off. Compare that how much less is possible in a world without oil:

What about building massive desalination plants to create fresh water, like the Saudi’s have done? Those, too, require oil to manufacture, transport, erect and operate.

So, if we agree that water can be brought to where it’s scarce due to oil, oil becomes more important than water.

In this metaphor, oil is to us as the trees were to the Rapanui of Easter Island. And just as the Rapanui blindly consumed their trees until none were left, modern society is on the same path with oil.

Once there were vast pockets of easily-tapped oil beneath the ground. Now? We’re forced to drill 20,000-foot-long fracked monstrosities that might each yield somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 barrels of oil in total over their short life of perhaps 10 years.

Contrast that with the wells drilled in Saudi Arabia in the 1950’s and 1960’s, each of which are still producing thousands of barrels per day and have yielded anywhere from 20,000,000 to 152,000,000 barrels. Each.


That means that the oil wells of old were 100x to 300x more productive than today's newer wells.

On Easter Island, the old trees were big and strong and grew everywhere. Today’s trees there are small and skinny and sparse.

An observant mind like yours may ask; “Maybe we should be a bit more careful in how we use our dwindling resources.”

But that question is not being discussed at any level that will change the status quo.

Society is busy ripping through the last trees and shrubs in this story, one that no longer makes any sense. At all.

For some reason, our modern equivalent of island elders are convinced that what we need is a return to economic growth as fast as possible and by any means necessary. That, among other things, we need more of these:

However, unlike a gigantic stone moai, these little boxes won’t last long. They also won’t return anything useful to current or future humans. They are a ‘sink’ not a source.

Energy in, nothing out.

Worse, they probably paved over good farmland because, hey, the ground here is flat and will allow us to build a strip mall quickly.

With equal eagerness, our culture seeks to secure more vehicle sales, houses, roads, bridges, a resumption of leisure travel and a million other activities and goods which we call, in aggregate, ‘the economy.’

All of these things have apparent utility in a world awash in oil. But most of them make no sense in a future where oil is a finite, dear and dwindling resource.

Loss of Sensemaking

My reporting on Covid is very similar to when I said the housing market was due for crash back in 2007. Or when I deduced within 48 hours of the massive 2011 Japanese earthquake that three of the Fukushima reactors had entirely melted down (a fact not admitted to by the authorities for nearly two more years).

I used my common sense to assemble the facts and make the best sense of them I could. Perhaps it’s a rare skill. But to those of us who like to understand things, nothing less will do.

As I am fond of saying, “I don’t know what the truth is, but man, I can sure smell bullshit instantly”.

The idea that we have no national or global energy policy besides one that translates into “we’ll just keep making these gigantic stone heads here thankyouverymuch” makes no sense to me at all.

The current ‘plan,’ such as it is, centers on growth, growth and more growth. If we wait until it’s brain-dead obvious that oil is a dwindling resource because that’s what a decade’s worth of data says (sometime around, say, 2030 to 2040) then it will be too late. By then we’ll have another 1-2 billion people on the planet to worry about. And quite possibly, ruined ecologies that no longer support as many people, to boot.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can use our species’ advantage of insight and intelligence to chart a different path.

Here’s a short list of everything that we should be doing with our remaining dregs of oil:

  • Installing new energy systems and all of their components as fast as possible
  • Building homes and commercial buildings that are super-insulated and designed to last 500 years
  • Taxing the living hell out of wasteful energy consumption (e.g. private jets, mega yachts, and massive McMansions).
  • Rebuilding soil as fast as possible and shortening our food chains
  • Recycling agricultural nutrients back to the fields and for god’s sake stop flushing them out to sea
  • Installing and using new energy efficient transportation systems such as trains, electric bicycles, and barges
  • Making cities, towns and suburbs livable places that colocalize the eat/work/play functions
When we’ve run through that list and possibly a few hundred additional essential bullet points I’ve overlooked, only then should we indulge in wasteful activities. If there’s any energy left for those activities, that is.

This all makes perfect sense. It’s what any competent strategist would do for a company.

To be truly successful you need a good strategy, which boils down to knowing where you want to go (the vision) and how you’re going to get there (the resources).

As is always the case, grand visions are easy to come by. There are never enough resources to do everything we’d like to do. We’d all love to live in a clean, safe world powered by a limitless energy source.

That’s an easy vision to rally behind. But it’s not so easy to pull off, especially if we wait too long and only try once oil is hard(er) to come by.

After a certain amount of inaction, what was once “possible” is no longer. At that point, it becomes an impossible fantasy.

The Approaching Tipping Point(s)

The Peak Prosperity tribe consists of curious-minded people who are drawn to things that make sense to them.

The recent US presidential debates were nearly completely devoid of sense. What were they even saying? Was any of it important to our future? How did any of their words get us closer to a vision for sustainable future?

Of course, the answer is that virtually nothing in the debates had anything to do with a future based on careful resource stewardship. It was just two old guys arguing over how many new gigantic statue heads they were going to deliver to an increasingly hungry and emotionally-depleted culture. They never discussed the dwindling trees at all.

In other words, they didn’t address the things that matter the most: our crumbling ecosphere, depleting fossil fuels, a stagnating economy. They have no Plan B for any of it. Neither does the media. The center mass of our culture is dead-set on making more gigantic stone heads, damn the consequences.

But like it or not, like-minded folks like you and I exist in that void of sensemaking. We’re going to have to put in real effort to find one another and then figure out what we’re going to do. Because one thing made abundantly clear by the debates is that you’re on your own.

There’s no cavalry coming. No better government stepping in to lead the way. No rational political voices are going to cut through the noise at the eleventh hour.

The Federal Reserve prints money to make big Wall Street firms and the ultra-wealthy even richer, and then claims it plays no role in the wealth divide. The news media is captive, toothless and vapid. Even our health authorities have abandoned science and logic to the point that they can’t even get face masks right.

None of all this makes the slightest bit of sense. We are sleepwalking towards our own destruction as we blindly consume valuable resources for…what??

This is our home: Welcome to Easter Island.

So, short of putting our heads in the sand and waiting for the inevitable reckoning, what should we be doing now?

In Part 2: The Approaching Frenzy Of Tipping Points, I detail out the specific predictable major shifts to our way of life that await ahead, and share my personal strategy for dealing with them.

Yes, change is coming, and it won’t be pleasant for those caught unawares. But for those of us paying attention and positioning smartly in advance, it’s actually an extremely exciting time to be alive.

Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/welcome-to-easter-island/

The truth is like a wet fish. No one likes getting slapped in the face with it.

its interesting that maybe the investment in “mc mansions” is probably a direct result of fractional reserve lending. ie/ the mc mansions are a proxy for hard money. then you read saifedean ammous and you find that fiat money also pressures our thinking to be short term and then added to that democracy tends to push our thinking to short term as well. i think that even though bitcoin uses a lot of energy, basing our money around it, we could make the economy net more efficient in terms of energy whilst DECREASING population. the money system has to get back to hard money to having any hope of tackling climate change. in australia because of our “housing industry”, too much money goes into the price of the house, when it should go to ward making it as energy efficient as an antartic base building. i love it when you do these types of articles chris, you summarize things well. the australian pm scott morrison (“scotty from marketing”) should read your stuff.

I forget where I read this, but apparently the Easter Islanders succumbed to diseases brought by Europeans, not to deforestation.
Which? Maybe both?

It’s tough to be “that person” who concludes that your culture is up to something completely non-sensical.
I’ve always agreed with every issue you address. When I was learning accounting in the 1970s, I ran across the phenomenon, in business, of budgeting 5% growth every year. That seemed absurd to me, but no one else. Where we differ, I think, is that I add animal agriculture to the unsustainable human practices. The data is readily available, but seeing it involves recognizing an addiction. As a society, we are not ready to see any foods as addictive, but take a look around you. It’s not about overeating, it’s about what we choose to eat and it’s killing us and the planet. I started to say our planet, but it’s not ours. It belongs to the bears, lions, seals, cows, birds and deer also. It used to belong to dodos and carrier pigeons as well.

I think inscribing this Easter Island statement in granite in several places around the world would give the Earth a higher rating should aliens discover it when surveying the ruins.

“Though the consensus is that Easter Island did indeed suffer an ecological catastrophe, no doubt helped along by human folly, one theory argues that it was rats – yes, rats – that were key culprits in the demise. Archaeologists have found that nuts retrieved from the extinct Easter Island palm show evidence of nibbling by Polynesian rats. By eating the nuts, the sizeable rat population could have prevented reseeding of the bountiful but slow-growing palms across the island, causing them to die out.
But the most likely cause of the downfall of Rapanui society is disease brought about by slavery. According to Easter Island: The Truth Revealed, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 people – half the population – were taken in 1862 in a raid by slave traders from Peru to work there, predominately in agriculture.
After disease had ripped through the enslaved Rapanui following contact with Europeans, resulting in mass casualties, just 15 survivors were granted permission to return to Easter Island. They brought disease with them and much of the remaining population was decimated. A matter of years later, just 110 Rapanui existed, down from approximately 4,000 before the raid.”
from this website https://www.sbs.com.au/guide/article/2018/02/06/what-really-happened-people-easter-island

For Chris and Adam and all others on this website:
Thought you might like to be aware of this new film called “Kiss the Ground” about how regenerative farming can have very big, positive effects on reducing carbon emissions, local rainfall amounts and farmer’s economies and livelihoods. Just so you know that there are still useful things to watch on Netflix!!

  • Then rats (may have) crippled the island ecology's ability to regenerate. Today we're busily destroying the planet's ability to regenerate and keep us alive.
  • Then human predation (slave traders) ravaged the population. Today there are many forms of slavery in the modern world ravaging the long-suffering population — and their rulers. Slavery warps the mind of both slaves and slavers.
  • Then disease reduced the population to a level which could not manage its environment, agriculture, forestry. Today we think we're controlling diseases, but are we? I learnt yesterday that in very deep caves in Mexico one can find ancient bacteria against which we have no defences whatsoever. There seem to be plenty of pathogens out there which we're bringing into close contact with us.

An example of not facing reality. Shale oil drillers are going bankrupt and leaving taxpayers with the cleanup bill. In this cases Texas taxpayers are being stuck with a 100 billion plus cleanup bill to pay. This should be on the front page of every mainstream paper in America.
But it won’t be reported at all.

Given all of this, it seems the fortified small city or town, surrounded by agriculture, is the right blueprint. Defensible, walkable and positioned along a navigable waterway. Back to the (low energy) future. Thoughts?


We’re going to have to put in real effort to find one another and then figure out what we’re going to do. Because one thing made abundantly clear by the debates is that you’re on your own. There’s no cavalry coming. No better government stepping in to lead the way. No rational political voices are going to cut through the noise at the eleventh hour. ... So, short of putting our heads in the sand and waiting for the inevitable reckoning, what should we be doing now?
Dang good question. As the trope has it: first, just show up. Show up informed, and as physically able as possible. 1. Chris is building a kind of secular monastery. There are many such, now, around the globe. 'Showing up' might be as simple, and profound, as joining one; those with resources can establish one; those more shy of living in communal settings can emphasize social capital development among suburban or (much better) rural neighbors because it's the non-formal 'ties that bind' that bind in crisis. 2. Foundational to the future is real wealth: arable land and the infrastructure to maintain it and build its resource reserves. This is 'restoration' and 'regeneration' work. It is experimenting and discovering what our great-grandparents took for granted. It is considerably more physical work than we are presently inclined to embrace, culturally - but it does 'settle the mare' that is our monkey-brains, too. It is more-so work if we prepare for the potential need to do the work with minimal or no oil-based power; even without solar/wind. 3. Everyone who sees the writing on the wall needs to be learning to grow food. It isn't about replacing food at this point, it's about learning the basics of how to start, develop, harvest, preserve the harvest, and preserve seeds and 'starts' for the next crop. It's also about learning how to build soil fertility. These lessons can be learned in a small back yard; even, if necessary, in a few window boxes. Plus, of course, there's more value to a community in taking on an addition hand who can actually provide a hand than someone who can't contribute physically or has no practical exposure to sustaining and improving a community's common wealth. The 5 core foods to master first: corn, beans, potatoes, squash, and eggs. Those 4 vegetables, grown from organic, open-pollinated seed in nutrient-rich soil have the protein, starch, minerals, and enzymes to keep you alive and thriving. Eggs add a protein boost - plus, well-raised chickens or ducks will provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the soil. Keep the birds on a 'deep litter' bed of untreated wood chips/shavings (if you can't tractor them in fields and spent gardens) and you'll have the carbon, too. 4. Get in shape. I have 2 adult boys who are Crossfit practitioners. They're 30 years younger than me and most definitely stronger. But my stamina - my 'wind' - is better. For work dependent on human-scale motive power, stamina matters. Humans are ideally suited for long periods of moderate exercise punctuated by short bursts of heavy exertion. Muscles and internal systems remember their training and adapt to how we use them. It is food-oriented farming that fits one's body for that work, and it takes time, so there's no time left to waste. 5. We are in a period of experimentation - of trying on new "clothes" to see what fits, and the fashions will vary from place to place; partly because the specifics of the problems vary across geology, ecology, and time. Variable responsivity - in a region and across regions - is always a good thing, imo. It's A/B solution-testing in real time. Some lessons learned in a window box or suburban back yard, or in New England, will translate well to an acre of crop production in, say, the Southwest; others won't. But it's much easier to figure out how to adapt practical knowledge to new settings than to build core competency in the first place. Time, like nature, is an ally. But also a harsh taskmaster.

" Because one thing made abundantly clear by the debates is that you’re on your own."
Chris likes to say that alot. The truth is, we are not on our own, its much much worse than that. If we were on our own we’d be able to keep what we earn. If we were on our own, the markets would pick the winners and the losers instead of a round table of elitists at the fed.
If we were on our own, we could organized an armed resistance to the rioting mobs when they come for our lives and property. If we were on our own, you could milk your cow and trade the milk to your neighbor without swat teams of government henchmen kicking your door down at 3am.
If we were on our own, we could conduct business as usual, each individual taking the precaution he or she think were necessary to protect themselves during a pandemic. if we were on our own, nobody could print money, run up a “national debt” and force you to pay it.
You’re not on your own Chris, please stop repeating that. The fact that we are not more on our own is the PROBLEM. Most every problem we are facing today is a result of centralized power structures meddling in the lives of individuals.

How did we get Here? one may ask.
“…The need for the project was a sham — partially contrived by those who would profit from it. Trump’s claimed option on the property was a sham; he was working immense deals with nothing but a handshake. Then the project passed through a sham closing, orchestrated by its Trump-connected public sponsors, and binding the city and state. What is real, and will get more and more real in this busted city in the next 41 years, is what we gave away. Revenue not collected is as real a loss as revenue expended. The Commodore is the largest symbol of the new state and city resolve to “stimulate economic development” by giving away the future. IBM, ABC, CBS, WNET-TV, New York Telephone, the Palace Hotel, Howard Johnson’s have already gotten abatements under the new state program. Twenty-six projects have been abated in midtown already. Nine projects have been approved under the city’s incentive program, though it is still no more than a phantom program. These abatement programs are the moral-obligation bonds of a future city collapse.”-- Wayne Barrett, February 26, 1979



Why did Easter Island collapse? I wasn’t there, but we can all read historical accounts written by those that weren’t there.
So why did the US collapse? So we are all here, but if we were forced to distill it down to one event, there would be nearly as many answers as participants.
Federal Reserve. Certainly gets one of my votes.
Monetary system. Enough said.
Peak oil. Peak resources. Really, really big deal.
Global cooling, warming and climate change. Make up you mind.
Cobid 19? Not so much.
Blue team rats - unlimited welfare, MMT, really, really stupid leaders.
Red team rats - capitalism, really, really obnoxious leaders.
Collapse happens because numerous systems collide with reality and reality wins. Don’t hammer the messenger - Chris picked a collapsing society to help prepare the slow responders on this site.
Very late in the game. My garden is rocking right now.

hear, hear!

Example of not facing reality. Shale oil drillers are going bankrupt and leaving taxpayers with the cleanup bill.
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