On The Road to Repeating History

This course has taught me a lot about the science of sustainability and the lasting impacts of industrialization. We’ve been looking towards the future so much in class, but the most eye-opening lesson I have learned so far came from the past. Reading about Easter Island changed the way I think about resources and their availability.

A major factor in the downfall of the Easter Islanders was deforestation. I have heard of deforestation, but I don’t think I ever recognized how big that problem can be. Before, when I heard deforestation mentioned, I always thought the main concern was oxygen, and while I recognized that running out of wood would be bad, I didn’t stop to recognize just how many industries that would affect. We use trees in the production of paper, shelter, furniture, and textiles. The Easter Islanders used trees for similar purposes, and as the number of trees decreased and they faced resource shortages in these fields, it also started to affect every aspect of life, even down to how they interact as a society. The whole time I was reading, I was picturing the parallels to today. When we faced shortages at the start of quarantine last year, it brought out the worst in people. People were hoarding, fighting, and price gauging important things. That was a temporary shortage, and it already showed that under resource pressure, we also naturally start to feud and we change the way we treat each other.

The reading said that the reason the Easter Islanders allowed their island to be ravaged so completely was because even though they saw that they were running out, they didn’t manage to come up with an effective system for their environment to withstand the growing population and cultural development of the island. The deforestation of Easter Island was a slow process, but it was a problem that only gave way to more. Lack of wood lead to a lack of shelter, a lack of food, and it kept them stuck there. The one problem leads to many more, and by the time they tried to fix it, it had become so much more complex and difficult to find the balance they needed. I think that is what we are encountering today. It is easy to think that wood is an infinite resource, because up until recently, we’ve treated it like one, but if we wait till it is too late to fix it, we are doomed to have a similar downfall to the Easter Islanders.

The only way for progress to be made on such a multifaceted issue is to approach it from all angles and fields. Going into fashion marketing, my goal is to someday set up textile drop-off stations. As fashion cycles are speeding up and the pressure to update our wardrobes more regularly has grown, the fashion industry is working hard to increase their output, which also uses up more resources. I want to have centers that collect old clothes, recycle and repurpose the fabrics for future projects.

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