Lush forests once supported every aspect of life for the great civilization of Easter Island. The economy, food chain and spiritual life of the Rapanui people were inseparable from and reliant on the many species of trees that covered this 66 square mile island.
Located 2300 miles off the coast of Chile these Polynesians created a thriving society largely in isolation between the period 900 – 1600 AD. Best known today for the immense Moai statues that adorn much of the landscape it is also the site of one of man’s most incredible self inflicted environmental catastrophes.
Ruled by a class system, the people and their leaders slowly destroyed the one resource that provided for their very existence. Generation after generation watched the receding tree line and undoubtedly felt its impact on their daily lives. Yet, they were unable or unwilling to stop it.
One imagines there must have been some level of awareness. Did the people dismiss the problem as one future generations would solve? Did chiefs and elders give assurances of new technology or religious intervention that would somehow mitigate the growing despair that comes from food and fuel shortages? Did Rapanui elite sit around a 14th century version of Starbucks and figure out ways to disproportionately cast the growing burden on the lower classes? Did artists and agitpropists complicity hone the tenets of hard work as a means of improving ones lot in life?
We can only guess how the people of Easter Island dealt with the social impact of a dying environment. By the time the first Europeans made contact with the island in the 1700′s the fate of the Rapanui people had already been sealed. The island was completely barren of all life supporting trees and the fragments of a once great people existed in the shadow of chaos after enduring centuries of civil war. Therein lies the portent. Will the destruction caused by current climate change pale when compared to what we will do to each other?
As minor shifts in weather and food production complicate conformance will we start a slow march to a stark and foregone conclusion that taxes the ideals of morality and robs us of our humanity long before we reach resource exhaustion?
Will climate change induced poverty be cast begrudgingly within the narrative of free market capitalism and self determination?
Does mankind become so wrapped up in his own immediate needs and too attached to his own folly that it becomes impossible to see the forest of our connected society? And, by the time the last tree fell on Easter Island had all threads of civility already been lost?
This Thursday, November 15th, Orpheum Theater, Boston, Massachusetts, join the growing movement standing up to the fossil fuel industry. Organized people have the power over organized money.