Jared Diamond gives a lecture about his book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” Choose is probably too strong a word. As Rush put it in their song “Freewill”:
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
The underlying point is that Malthusian catastrophes have already occured on small scales. There are finally enough of us to accomplish disaster on a global scale. The elephant in the room is population. We can choose humanely and preserve human dignity and quality of life through zero population growth (although even this may entail some reduction in resource usage) or we can let the catastrophe choose for us.
Diamond asks what did the last Eastern Islander say when they chopped down the last tree? It is a failure of imagination to think they did so out of stubborness, invoking property rights and such. When it came down to one tree, the disaster was already upon them. He/she probably saw no other option. The society didn’t address the issue until it was too late to do anything about it, at which point they couldn’t. The destructive spiral was most likely caused by desperation, a vain attempt to stave off the inevitable thus making the problem worse.
Issues, like deforestation, can strike very fast. Easter Island may have been in a halcyon age right before it met unmitigated disaster. Nothing is inevitable. However, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.