Now that even Pres. Bush in his usual Johnny-come-lately approach to societal concerns has admitted that it just may be within the realm of possibility that the environment could be taking a hit from human actions, perhaps something will actually be done to stop the potentially devastating environmental effects of global warming. Even conservative global warming-deniers needn’t be strapped down and forced to watch Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to understand how human actions can result in environmental devastation that could result in the extermination of the species, however. A simple history lesson about Easter Island will suffice, without forcing those who hate desperately to admit that the world took a turn for the worst when the Supreme Court overruled the will of the majority of American voters and handed the Presidency to maybe the only man in American history who ever lost money (someone else’s) in the oil business.
Easter Island, of course, is the island famous for those enormous stone statues of gigantic disfigured heads. For most of the time that Easter Island has been known to the rest of the world it has remained a mystery as to how the native islanders could possibly have moved those gargantuan stone statues across the island despite lack of trees for rolling or making rope. In recent years, however, scientific investigation served both to answer this mystery and to raise a red flag about overusing one’s natural abundance. Analysis of grains of pollen that were discovered on the bottom of swamps revealed that Easter Island was not always the barren island it was when Dutch explorers landed on it in 1722 and instantly set about to shooting unarmed natives. In fact, the scientific evidence indicates that at one time Easter Island was a lush place overgrown with trees, ferns and shrubs. Evidence also led to the theory that the giant statues could have been moved by using limbless palm trees as rollers for the statues. It is the use of these palm trees and the destruction of their life-giving pollen that stands as evidence of how destruction of abundance can lead to devastation.
The islanders, for reasons that still remain a mystery, were dedicated to erecting the famous Easter Island statues. But that, of course, meant cutting down more trees for use as rollers. Without an adequate method of reforestation, society began to change significantly. Scientific analysis of bones reveals that dolphin was a dietary mainstay of older Easter Island civilizations, but gradually that food started showing up less and less. The reason is that in order to get to the dolphins and kill them, the islanders had to hollow out large palm trees for use as canoes. As the tree population dwindled, the islanders became forced to scavenge for shellfish and other food that could be found in shallower waters closer to the shore. No trees meant no dolphins. By around the year 1500, the building of the giant heads had come to a virtual standstill on Easter Island. Interestingly, it is right around 1500 that all traces of dolphin disappear from the scientific record of dietary habits of islanders. This is also around the time that the scientific record shows the evidence of land birds disappeared from Easter Island.
The lesson that can be learned is that no natural resource is inexhaustible. And when one resource is lost, it creates a domino effect. We can certainly go along thinking that something will replace fossil fuel in time and that there are so many trees on this planet that we can never run out, but it doesn’t take a complete loss to result in devastation. If watching Al Gore causes you heartburn, but you still want to learn about the effects of environmental obliviousness, there are other ways to learn. Surely, Easter Island doesn’t present the only bona fide evidence of how not paying attention to environmental concerns can result in the death of a culture.