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Tale of Two Islands (Get along or Perish)

On a recent United Flight there was an interesting short video. The kind you don’t watch, but glance up at as you are doing the real work on the flight.  Well this one caught my eye.  Amazing story of the Island of Anuta in the Solomon islands and then a short bit on Easter Island 2000 miles off of the coast of Chile.

How is it that Anuta which has 300 permanent residents on a ¼ square mile island lived sustainably for thousands of years. As opposed to that of Easter Island, a gorgeous subtropical island paradise of 64 sq miles, becomes a barren land that can’t support even 300 people today.

It was all in the islanders control. Those who think of the whole and long term well being, and those that think and act only for there own interests. Anuta’s people realize that their “world” is limited and resources need to be cared for and shared.  Their long term survival depends upon it.  They grow food and store it, they harvest select trees as needed for shelter or boats. They fish and fish a lot in various reefs around the island, and they capture birds to eat as well. They care for each other and make sure no one is left out.  This is sustainable living at its finest.  Even in a very small scale with one of the highest population densities in the world they manage to live very well and happily

Now let us compare that to the calamity of Easter Island, a big island with abundant resources. Within 1000 years the residents depleted every living resource on the land.  How?  First they started to cut down the forest for agriculture a much needed resource, and as population grew so did the cutting.  This in turn creates stress on the water supply and accelerate soil erosion and of put pressure on wildlife.  But it may have been managed had not the strangest thing happened.  They had life so good with almost a population of 10,000, but they developed a vanity for competing carving great stone statues called Moai. It was religious in nature but it that didn’t help them.  The statues were so big that they needed to cut down trees to make rollers and make miles of rope, every time they needed to move the statues.  Over a serveral hundred years they managed to cut down every last tree.

This meant the soil washed away, the crop yields dropped drastically; the lack wood meant no more canoes, hence no fishing; and finally they couldn’t build houses, which meant living back in caves.  A peaceful stable society collapsed into a warring land, over the very last resources that were left. Deadly tribal wars wiped out the population along with starvation.

This sad story gets worse as the remaining islanders were now raided and abducted into slavery by Peruvian traders. That and disease wiped our all but a few hundred.

There is a big lesson here on how we manage the Earth.  As a good colleague of mine just noted, people should now realize that we have gone from an earth that is half empty to one that is half full.  Think of this. Ponder it.  It is more than real.

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