Culture and the Environment on Easter Island and Tikopia Essay examples

Culture and the Environment on Easter Island and Tikopia Essay examples

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In his book Human Natures: Genes, Culture and the Human Prospect , Paul Ehrlich argues that the cultural practices of a given society develop largely as a result of the large-scale environmental factors of the area in which the society lives. He gives the striking example that all religions that developed in deserts are monotheistic, whereas those that began in rainforests are polytheistic (Ehrlich, pp 9 of handout, 2000). Ehrlich argues that the size and geography of a region, its climate, the availability of resources - the "macroevolutionary" forces - will have an enormous effects on the cultures that develop there.

Ehrlich continues by pointing out that cultures do not only develop as simple, predictable reflections of their environments. The influences do not only run in one direction; cultural beliefs and practices may lead to large-scale environmental changes made by a society. The culture of a given society may influence how and to what extent that society interacts with its environment. The rate at which cultures acquire new technologies has historically been highly variable; on the one hand, a culture may deliberately restrict the use of a given technology or simply may not have the cultural demand for an available technology (1) . On the other hand, many cultures seem to have desires and appetites that far exceed a sustainable method of utilizing their environment. All too often, the practices of a society over-strain its existing resources in ways that leave those resources irretrievably damaged.

A telling example of the complex interactions between a culture and its surroundings is the relative fates of two Pacific islands: Easter Island and Tikopia. Although it would be impossible to pin-point a simple cause-an...


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...because they had received early notice and were able to protect themselves in caves. However, their water supply was affected, threatening their fruit supply. These storms have historically hit the island with terrible frequency. In one instance in the 1950s, 200 islanders were killed by a famine in the aftermath by a storm. (ABC News Online, January 4, 2003)

Literature Cited:

Ehrlich, Paul. Human Natures: Genes, Culture, and the Human Prospect. Island Press, 2000.

Firth, Raymond. History and Traditions of Tikopia. New Zealand: Avery Press Limited. 1961.

Kirch, Patrick Vinton and Yen, D.E. Tikopia: The Prehistory and Ecology of a Polynesian Outlier. Hawaii: Bishop Museum Press. 1982

Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1991.

Ross, Marc Howard. The Management of Conflict. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1993.

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