I wonder if this was how it all ended on Easter Island. Some of the people raising the alarm while the leaders denied the obvious, exhorted the faithful, and frightened the fearful until complaining voices fell silent.

Maybe after the island was stripped bare those in charge refused to accept responsibility; blamed political opponents for the disaster, or just wrote the whole thing off to an angry god. Divided citizens formed warring groups and commenced fighting among themselves about who caused the problem.

When the first inhabitants arrived at Easter Island, they found vast forests of palms covering the place. These trees became the source of their fuel and the walls of their homes. The roots held the fertile soil in place so crops would grow. Apparently, their importance was underestimated.

Perhaps religious leaders began to spread the word that theirs was truly a blessed nation and they must do something to honor the one and only mighty God who was responsible. The precious trees became the means of transportation to move the carved statues from the quarries to the place of holiness where they still stand today.

It appears the fervor to create and display the statues was overwhelming. The priests emphasized the idea. Not to worry, God would provide. And you know someone was getting rich. When the last tree disappeared, there was no longer any reason to stay but there was no way to build boats to leave.

Those moai are all that remain of the flourishing civilization that once inhabited Easter Island. No one knows exactly how it all happened but one thing is pretty obvious; at some point a decision had to be made. They chose to continue on their current course rather than conserve for the future. That decision brought the whole thing crashing down.

I can’t help but wonder at what point a few of the inhabitants begin to question business as usual. Did some guy do the math and realize the trees were disappearing at a faster rate than new ones were growing? Did he express his concerns only to be shouted down or called an alarmist? Did the population trust their government to do the right thing?

As we argue among ourselves about the planet getting warmer and the ocean dying and fresh water getting scarce and the air being poisoned, we are seeing the same process. The Europeans had reduced their forests to miniscule levels by the time regular voyages began to America. One of the great benefits of this exciting new country was the abundance of trees. The Anasazi did virtually the same thing. When the trees were gone, they disappeared.

After 10,000 years we can’t seem to figure out what is really important. We have moved past trees and are abusing every resource on the planet so governments and large corporations can stay rich and powerful.

Most of the civilizations that respected our resources have been abandoned in favor of governments and organized religions much more cavalier about conservation. Our priorities remain our own selfish needs. At six billion and growing, the population is shrinking the planet very quickly yet we are still fighting each other over things that men have been fighting over since Easter Island had shade.

I wonder what they felt when the last tree was felled. You’d think mankind would have learned something. You’d be wrong.

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Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.