Is Easter Island’s Collapse an Old Tale, or a Modern Warning?

This week we discussed the topic of collapse. I found the subject to be both equally interesting and unsettling. Some of the points I contributed to my learning community during our discussion related to biodiversity, deforestation, resource depletion, population size, and competition. Deforestation is a topic that my group focused on heavily. The Easter Islanders’ excessive use of trees is one of the main factors contributing to their downfall. Trees were cleared by the islanders to create shelter, provide agriculture fields, and transport the islanders’ large stone head statues. The islanders’ continued to cut down trees until there were none left standing, which utterly altered life on Easter Island. Since there were no grounded trees, the soil began to erode, and the nutrients seeped out, making it impossible to grow sweet potatoes, the only crop the islanders grew. They were left to rely on chickens as their only food source since they made their fishing nets from a paper-like material as well. Sadly, deforestation is a prevalent issue today as well. People continue to clear rainforests to make way for farms or to use the trees as a resource. Doing so speeds up the process of desertification, causes increased flooding, and increases the rate of global warming as scientists explain in the film “The 11th Hour”. The parallel between the two is quit disturbing. One of my peers brought up the point that the lack of biodiversity on Easter Island didn’t give the islanders much chance at survival. Being that there was hardly any edible flora and fauna present on the island, it was only a matter of time before the society collapsed. I found this interesting because it shows that without a wide variety of plants and animals, the chances of human survival immensely decrease. Another connection drawn by my learning community was the similarities between the population on Easter Island and today’s population. The number of people on the island outgrew the number of available resources, a concern expressed by the scientists in The 11th Hour about our current population growth. Had we had more time, I think it would have been fascinating to further discuss the connection between population growth and competition. Ultimately, the collapse of Easter Island shows what could happen to our society if we don’t adopt sustainable practices.

I had a couple of significant takeaways this week. The first being that everything on earth is interdependent. When one aspect of life is affected, everything else is affected too. For this reason, it is crucial for us as humans to try to make smart environmental choices, because whatever we put into the environment ultimately circles back around to us. For example, polluting waterways affects the fish living in and around those waters that people later eat, ingesting the same chemicals they dumped in rivers. The second major takeaway I had this week is that humans are wasteful. So many industries produce unnecessary waste. One example, shown in The 11th Hour, is the fishing industry that will pull hundreds of fish from the sea to keep the single kind they want and dump the dead remains of the others back into the water. Learning this has encouraged me to reduce my waste by buying long-lasting, sustainable products instead of single-use items, and recycling whatever I can so it can also be reused.

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