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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 23rd, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

THE ENVIRONMENT & HUMANITY’S FUTURE: Lessons From Easter Island.

The collapse of this small Polynesian island stands as a stark reminder to those exploiting the earth’s natural resources.
By Ryan L. Caswell May 2, 2008  www.realtruth.org/articles/080502…

The cold faces of stone stare silently over the barren landscape. Standing at attention, each stoic face resemble the one beside it. On a tiny Polynesian island in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, these sentinels are the onl immediately recognizable sign of life

Now A barren land: The massive stone sentinels of Ahu Tongariki form an uncompromising guard against the crashing sea on Chile’s Easter Island.

A closer inspection reveals abandoned villages, gigantic stone quarries and hundreds of platforms used for religious rites, built by a once thriving society.
Throughout Rano Raraku, a 600-yard quarry, stone picks, chisels and axes lie in dusty disarray. Situated on a dormant volcano, the quarry provided material for Moai, the giant stone statues dotting the island. The only human presence in the mine is a crushed finger bone trapped under a toppled Moai, perhaps remnants of a miner’s accident. Many of the Moai remain unfinished, partially carved and frozen in time. Finely chiseled features adorn some groups; others are without defined shape, ranging from 13 to 75 feet tall. This stone army grimly stands watch at the abandoned mines and gapes at the deserted scar in the earth.
Just east of the quarry lie vast stretches of field, flat, brown and scorched. Dried hay forms a thin veneer over layers of volcanic rock. Sandy soil, drained of all nutrients, no longer supports even small shrubs and trees. The flat terrain offers little resistance to strong winds sweeping the plains. The few remaining trees are no taller than 10 feet and offer little protection for indigenous animals from the beating sun. Only a handful of shattered, starving islanders remain on the island.

Without firsthand descriptions of historic events, scientists have relied on pollen samples, archeological digs and geological tests to understand what happened to the ecosystem. Hailed as one of the most haunting cases of environmental collapse ever seen, Easter Island is an isolated eco-survival study of mankind’s “worst case scenario”—a testament to environmental destruction on a grand scale.

Early Easter Island:

Off the coast of Chile, Easter Island was once a lushly forested subtropical paradise. This tiny triangular island nation supported a prosperous and complex society of up to 30,000 people. Separated from the rest of the world by roughly 1,300 miles of Pacific Ocean, the early Polynesian inhabitants made a daring migration from the neighboring Pitcairn Islands and the mainland of South America.
The climate was well suited for habitation; three long-dormant volcanoes left rich deposits of fertile soil across the terrain. Open grasslands covered the island in between Easter Palm forests, which grew to over 70 feet tall. The volcanic deposit at Rano Raraku to the southeast provided plentiful stores of volcanic tuff for construction.
The tribes that migrated to the island formed a loose collective government that created a unique culture. Primarily farming and seafaring, these groups had a structured tribal society, with a leading chief and a class of priests, along with farmers and tradesmen. The religious pantheon included hundreds of animalistic gods.
Chiefs raised the Moai, each weighing an average of 10 tons, to prove their status with the gods, and exercised power over their followers. The chiefs’ elite status allowed a ruling class to organize society and maintain order among the tribes. Under them, vast projects were organized. Trading harvested resources from the 66-square-mile island encouraged construction on a broad scale. Large plantations produced food surpluses, which aided population growth. Religious worship, fueled by ever larger Moai and elaborate funeral services, united the tribes.
Their society blossomed in an era of prosperity and peace—yet it eventually collapsed.

A Lack of Vision:

An August 1995 article in Discover magazine suggested that the environmental collapse of Easter Island happened “not with a bang but with a whimper.” After several generations, islanders slowly consumed most available resources.
Forests were clear-cut for canoes, ropes and firewood. Farms producing sweet potatoes, taro and sugarcane stripped soils of available nutrients. Bird, fish and porpoise populations dwindled to extinction by overhunting. Blind to the impact that a growing population would have on the environment, inhabitants used up the island’s resources until there was nothing left.

A massive migration was impossible due to the great distance from the nearest landmass. The isolated island was unable to draw needed resources from other continents; it was forced to continue on its own. Populations, now too large for the island to support, soon began to die out. Easter Island descended into civil war as chiefs-turned-warlords vied for leftover resources.
Internal conflict and violence turned into anarchy, as the only way to survive was to steal food from opposing tribes. The wars hindered communications and made transportation between the tribes almost impossible. The island was no longer unified—cooperation between peoples ceased. The greed of individuals nullified any attempt at an organized solution to the now catastrophic problems.
The islanders’ use of resources was not sustainable. Great amounts of forest were clear-cut for materials to erect the gigantic Moai. While scientists today do not fully understand how these ancient people raised the monoliths, they agree that strong lumber and rope were necessary. This, coupled with unchecked growth, eventually led to a food shortage. The tribes sank into starvation and cannibalism.

The Environment & Humanity’s Future:

Resource priorities were completely misplaced. Instead of planning for the future, tribal chiefs squabbled over who could erect the largest Moai. In their lust for power, chiefs sought to maintain their god-like status with great feats of architecture and dazzling sacrificial pyres.
Without a vision of future needs, the population slowly overextended itself. Their unabated consumption ended with the extinction of 90% of all plant and animal life on the island. By the time the people realized their mistake, it was too late. The population was too large, and there was nowhere else to go.
The inhabitants of Easter Island became a historic example of Proverbs 29: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (vs. 18).

Our Earth:

Many today see Easter Island as a metaphor of the modern world. With haunting and obvious parallels, our earth is a tiny island floating in the vastness of space. Globalization, trade and communication have united various “tribes” on our “island.” With “tribes” of nations bound together in a global network, humanity is responsible for planning, controlling and using its valuable—and limited—resources.
The shortsighted decisions made on Easter Island caused the complete destruction of its environment and inhabitants. All tribes were guilty of the sentence they brought on themselves.
Most today believe this scenario could never happen again. Yet Easter Island stands as a stark reminder for those who believe in endlessly exploiting earth’s valuable resources—a testament to mankind’s inability to solve its problems.

—————– * * * —————-
Is Going Green the Answer? Or Is It Too Little, Too Late?
By Samuel C. Baxter May 2, 2008  www.realtruth.org/articles/080502…

Severe drought, global food shortages, strip-mining, the destruction of rainforests—these are a few of the issue raised by the green movement.

The average man or women lives a life of excess, the movement asserts. Water is being used up and polluted, and fast—the global population is 6.65 billion and expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050—experts insist consumers buy organic foods so future generations will be able to continue farming—30% of wildlife species have been driven to extinction over the past 30 years.

Some issues rely on science, others on ethics and morals. However, while many of the above points may be valid, will “going green” solve the world’s problems?
Certainly, “going green” has garnered a lot of press. Virtually everywhere you turn you see “green.” Major TV networks “go green” for a week, featuring shows with an environmentalist message or promoting sustainable practices. While shopping at a mall, you hear an announcement crackle over the loud speaker concerning an “eco-friendly” promotional giveaway. “Thank you for going green with us,” the message ends.
There are websites where you can take a test to see how many “earths” your lifestyle consumes. These ask about your car, job, eating habits, etc., and reveal whether you are living a sustainable lifestyle. Even if you are living under the global average, you still are reminded, We only have one earth.

It seems that everywhere you turn, the green movement asks, “Are you doing your part?”
Even though it began as a grassroots idea, going green is quickly gaining a voice. Many are looking to this movement as the way to solve man’s environmental issues. But has mankind already pushed the earth past its limits—or is there still time to change if humanity comes together and acts quickly?
Living Within the Earth’s Means
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) produced Living Planet Report 2006, detailing the state of earth. The report reveals that humanity’s ecological footprint (the impact man has on the planet) has more than tripled since 1961. That footprint now exceeds the world’s ability to regenerate by about 25%. The report also shows that man’s increased ecological footprint leads to the rapid extinction of species, with populations of vertebrate species having declined nearly a third since 1970.

The WWF conclusion provides a fitting description of the green movement: “The message of these two indices is clear and urgent: we have been exceeding the Earth’s ability to support our lifestyles for the past 20 years, and we need to stop. We must balance our consumption with the natural world’s capacity to regenerate and absorb our wastes. If we do not, we risk irreversible damage.”
Those who strive to live sustainably tend to look to nature for inspiration. They see the equilibrium present and strive to disrupt it as little as possible.
To minimize man’s impact on the environment, systems are often devised to turn waste into a usable resource, such as harvesting methane gas from garbage dumps. Placing a membrane (which is generally made of clay) over the waste, pipes are used to pump out the methane gas, which can be used to create electricity or heat homes from gas that would otherwise be burned off by landfill owners, further polluting the atmosphere. Even after a landfill is closed, it can still produce methane for 15 to 20 years. This process, if widely implemented, would be seen as a step toward reducing waste and relying less on fossil fuels, until more permanent solutions can be created.
This desire to live in harmony with nature is where the movement gets its name.
To live sustainably means to reuse waste. For instance, instead of tearing down an abandoned building and sending it off to the garbage dump, it can be renovated or the waste can be recycled.

Most of the green movement’s progress has been made at an individual level. People are switching from cars to buses, trains or bicycles as their major means of transportation. Some fit the roofs of their homes with solar panels, or buy organic foods, or do something as simple as flushing the toilet less often. They help increase awareness by volunteering for vocal green organizations or supporting environmentally friendly politicians.
The green movement claims that no one owns the earth—no one has the right to destroy and take from it as they please. Instead, man must live within the means of nature (the movement advocates), always taking into account the effect his actions will have upon the environment.

Drop in the Bucket:

While “going green” makes sense on paper, and seems plausible on the individual level, there is a problem. The global economy is based upon growth. Growth means consumption. Lack of growth is seen as moving into a recession.
Also, many in the West have come to expect a high standard of living, which automatically accrues substantial waste.
In order to put “green ideas” into motion, humanity as a whole would need to change, much more than the efforts of a few scattered individuals. Nations would have to work together. Laws would have to be implemented, determining, for example, how buildings are designed and built in relation to the environment. Building codes would have to be enforced and followed. Farming practices would have to be completely changed. Large corporations would need to rethink their “bottom line.”

Instead of thinking solely for profit, here and now, they would have to think how their actions will affect the environment in 30 to 50 years. Cities would have to “retro-fit” buildings to make them “green.” Solar and wind power would have to be widely implemented.
While the green movement may look good, and makes people feel like they are doing their part, it is not easily applied globally. For it to work, it cannot remain a grassroots movement. Individual efforts are not enough.

Also, the world’s governments would have to begin working together to identify the problems and quickly implement effective solutions. Instead of worrying that a rival nation is growing more powerful, political leaders would have to think of the environment.

The sheer amount of money to make the global economy eco-friendly would be astronomical. Who is willing to pay the price?

“Going green” is a large investment now, with payoffs in the future.

The global mindset of what you can get here and now would have to be changed. People would have to think of future generations, while taking responsible actions today.

Yes, “going green” has worked on minute scales. But governments, mindsets and ethics need to be drastically altered to accommodate this sort of thinking. Applying worldwide sustainability requires a complete change of mind.

To begin “living within the means” of the earth, there must be a catalyst for change.

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