Colorful Beanbags & Easter Island

Colorful beanbags. That was what caught my eye as I rushed into room 215 HSCI, at least 5 minutes late and out of breath from the run from my dorm. I was expecting the usual rows of desks, the annoyingly slanted seats which rocked on uneven legs, the ‘pulpit’ from which teachers taught their scripted sermons. A little taken aback, I paused, unsure how to proceed. The lady near the door, who I took to be the teacher, bobbed over to me “Are you here for DHM 1101?” My brain pulled a Houdini on me, as I frantically tried to remember if this was, in fact, my class. I scanned faces, searching for someone I recognized, hoping against hope that I had not wandered into the wrong class. “Wicked Problems?” She questioned, and I latched on to those familiar words. “Yes!!” Relieved, I selected a blue beanbag and promptly sank into it. And thus began my sustainability journey. Fun, right?

We watched a movie in class which talked about all the different factors of sustainability and how it affects our environment, which in turn affects us. It was actually pretty interesting, but I still enjoying the reading much more. Our reading this week was ‘The lessons of Easter Island’, which described how an island’s entire ecosystem was destroyed during a war between the two tribes who lived there. In short, it was a custom of these tribes to create large statues which represented the great chiefs of the tribes. These were made out of large blocks of stone, and to transport them, many trees were cut down.

Now, all of this was well and good, but the problem was, this dissolved into a contest between the two tribes, each striving to build more than the other. This led to the deforestation of almost the entire island, and as a result of this, the entire ecosystem became unstable. Because the trees died, important plants also died, and in turn this led to many of the animals dying as well. Eventually, the tribes turn to cannibalism in an effort to survive. They forgot how the great statues have been built, and why. And they had no idea how they had been built, because no trees remained on the island.

What did I contribute to the learning community this week? One of the activities we were required to do in class was to answer the question, “Do we face the same challenges/problems as the inhabitants of Easter Island?” I was on the ‘YES’ team, and some of our arguments were: yes. Like them, we are trapped on Earth, can’t leave. Yes, because we have very similar problems now to what they faced then, such as deforestation. However, the ‘NO’ team had some very good points as well. They noted that Easter Island was inhabited by just two tribes, who probably spoke the same language, had similar customs, and were tightly knit within their tribes. On the other hand, Earth is home to a multitude of people, many different languages and customs. If they couldn’t work together to save their ecosystem, they argued, then how could we ever hope to achieve it?

After we had this discussion, Dr. Armstrong asked us, what are our chances of survival, considering everything we had just discussed, and what we have learned so far. I shared with the class that my belief was we would all die, unless we could get the entire world to work together, to put everything else on pause so we could save our world. This would involve getting the government actively involved, total world peace, and much more. What percent chance did I put? 5%. I gave humankind a 5% chance of survival. I was a little worried that I may have given them a much lower percentage than they deserved, but as we went around the room and everyone gave their opinion on our chances, many of us had the same opinion.

What was my major takeaway? This was very sobering to me. Here we were, young, eager, preparing to go out into a world that we believed was destined to crumble beneath our feet. We used to have hopes and dreams, maybe even hoped to change the world. Thus, it was strange to hear so many of us casually say that there was almost no hope for us.

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