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Remember Easter Island

Entry 360, on 2006-07-05 at 19:47:41 (Rating 2, Science)

In my recent reading I have come across two accounts of the history of Easter Island. This is the island, in the South Pacific, famous for its stone statues, and very little else. Early western explorers, such as Cook, couldn't understand how an island with so few natural resources could support a civilisation capable of building the huge stone statues, up to 10 meters high. The Spanish thought they must be the work of the devil. Of course, that was there explanation for anything which didn't fit the world view of the time. One source of mystery was that there were no trees on the island to build platforms and other devices which would make the construction of the statues feasible.

Archaeologist have since solved the mystery, and it has a scary lesson for us today. In the past Easter Island had an environment capable of supporting a sophisticated civilisation after it was settled in 500 CE. It had many tall trees, rich volcanic soil, and supported many people. So why is it a wasteland today? Because the human population destroyed it! The worst aspect of this is that it was largely the creation of the statues, something which provided no real benefit to the people, which caused the stress on the environment, and its eventual virtual destruction.

Can you see the parallel today? What are our modern Easter Island statues? What are the useless symbols of our civilisation which are threatening to destroy the environment for no real return? It seems to me that consumerism, driven by capitalism, is our equivalent of the statues. Its something which has lost its original meaning and simply drives itself forward in some sort of bizarre internal positive feedback loop.

Look at many of the big industries today such as finance, banking, and advertising. What do they do? Nothing. They only exist because they support each other in some unreal economic model which has evolved over time. Even the "productive" industries like oil production, minerals, etc only work the way they do because they fit into a system which can never work long term. We need to recognise the useless "statues" we are creating and change the way the world works before its too late. Global climate change would be a good place to start. Unless the model our global civilisation works on changes the whole Earth will become another Easter Island.

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