Parables, like those you find in the Bible, are often inspiring and heartwarming. This one is not.

Hundreds of years ago the tiny island in the Pacific known as Rapa Nui was far from a being peaceful paradise. In spite of having only sixty-five square miles of land it was divided between two hostile tribes. Both tribes built the giant stone statues that astonish modern tourists, and worshipped them as gods. Each tribe believed that its own stone statues were the best gods, so they built them bigger and bigger, dragging them into place using wooden rollers and setting them up using wooden scaffolding. They also used wood for their houses and canoes, and so trees soon became scarce on the small island. But the tribes never abandoned their perpetual hostilities and, one day, they cut down the last tree. Driven by spite and malice and the desire to win at any cost they knowingly cut down the last tree, and that was the end of them.

Without trees, they had no way of building homes to live in, or canoes to fish from, and no way of rolling their great statues down to the shore and setting them up so they could stand in mute defiance against the almost identical statues of the other tribe on the other side of the island. So statues lay unmoving half-finished in the quarries, the ones already finished began to crumble and fall to the ground, and both tribes began to fade away on their barren island. Perhaps they were comforted by the wreckage of their mighty stone gods, and the memory of their old myths. Crouching in their caves they must have thought: “That’ll teach them!”

In other words, they were just like us. They couldn’t be happy, even on a beautiful speck of land in a vast abundant ocean, without an enemy to fight, and a stone god to give them an excuse to fight. So, in the end, out of sheer spite and to keep the conflict going, they cut down their last tree

That’s the parable. I hope you like it.


*This version came from “A Short History of Progress” by Ronald Wright. Some historians disagree with the account, suggesting a more purely ecological explanation. The indisputable fact is that, at some point, the islanders cut down the last tree.