It all comes down to carrying capacity. If you are not familiar with that term, it means living within the means of the ecosystem and its ability to replenish itself for all the inhabitants to survive or at least one. That’s my definition anyway.
I have read many environmental books and have seen countless environmental documentaries but none really hit me as much as Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse.” That was just last winter. Resource depletion was nothing new to me but to see it demonstrated in real life history made an impact for some reason. You can talk about resource depletion but if it hasn’t happened yet . . . or it happened 2,000 years ago . . . why get into a tizzy. Look at climate change, it happens so slow, we forget it is happening.
Diamond details societies that collapsed and those that didn’t and his calculations on the reasons. His book was different, also, in the fact it is mainly about resource depletion and not the climate crisis. Resource depletion rarely gets mentioned in mainstream anything. Most people aren’t really aware of it. I think I can go out on a limb and make that assumption. Everyone knows about climate change . . . which has now changed to the climate crisis.
So what about Easter Island and Tikopia?
Easter Island was a society that didn’t make it. It is an island in the Southeastern Pacific, some 66 square miles, that is subtropical and very remote. As Diamond details, they had canoes that were barely 10 feet long and were always leaking. How did they manage to get to this island some 2,300 miles east of Chile and 1,300 miles west of Polynesia’s Pitcairn? There were no ocean liners in 900 A.D. to drop off supplies and get them to and from the island. That was the best estimation of when they inhabited the island. Their population ranged from 6,000 to as high as 30,000. Seems like way too many for an island that is 66 square miles. They were most known for the huge stone statues they carved. There are about 397 of them weighing anywhere from 10 to 270 tons. Yes, and how did they move them if they couldn’t fashion a decent canoe? Hmmm.
The island had a vibrant ecosystem when they arrived. It was complete with animals, insects, trees, vegetation, etc. from the scientific assessment. Without going into all of the details, somethings went wrong — very wrong, and they all perished. Basically, I envision them watching the last tree fall in dismay as the last of their resources were depleted.
On the other hand, Tikopia addressed their carrying capacity needs. It is an isolated island in the Southwestern Pacific, at 1.8 square miles. They adhere to strict population control at 1,200. There is no animal raising for consumption with so little land available to do so. They have inhabited the island for some 3,000 years and are still there.
In the US, we live a very insulated life of extreme convenience. Most of us have no idea where our energy and food comes from. We turn on a switch, pump some gas, or drive to a Big Box store to get what we need. We are totally separated from Nature. So, that can be a huge problem right there when trying to make changes that will benefit the planet and address the climate crisis.
We don’t fetch water, chop wood, or grow food.
These two islands, an example of one that collapsed and one that survived, demonstrate how important adhering to the constraints of carrying capacity and what happens when resources are depleted. Add to this the climate crisis. Fossil fuels are burned for our energy needs and are heating the planet to create extreme climate conditions of forest fires, hurricanes, flooding, drought, etc. Although we are not an island, resource depletion is a very real threat on a finite planet with 8 billion people. What does the average person do with that knowledge?
Well, that is a great question. The answer is that you do something. That brings up an example of what one does with information. A wonderful friend gave me the book, “We Are the Weather,” by Jonathan Safran Foer. For some 63 pages, I had no idea what the book was actually about. He spends that much time talking about how we come to act with the information we have.
Safran Foer’s grandmother decides to leave Poland at twenty years old when she finds out the Nazis were days away from where they lived. She is the only one in her family to leave her mother, two siblings, cousins, and friends. Stated in Safran Foer’s book, “Asked why she left, she would say, “I felt I had to do something.” Everyone else perished. They all knew the same thing.
Maybe the climate crisis doesn’t feel like Nazis are days away. We have been hearing about climate change for a long time. For most there is no urgency but many people are feeling that it is getting worse . . . worse enough that they want the government to do something. Again, that is here in the US. It may feel different in other countries. And, resource depletion isn’t even an awareness at all.
Some of us feel compelled “to do something.” Maybe it is because we know more than the average person in the US about the climate crisis and resource depletion. Perhaps. Some of us figured it out. Some of us stumbled on it. I found out in a college class in 2009 called Environmental Sociology and countless documentaries and books after that class. It isn’t in newspapers and the news. Again, we are isolated, and it is business as usual. No fossil fuel industry is giving up the money they are making. And, extreme convenience and the lure of a new car, big house, new phone, and the list goes on . . . no one wants to give that up either.
“Only when the last tree has died, and the last river been poisoned, and the last fish been caught, will we will realize we cannot eat money.” Cree Indian Proverb
Just like Easter Island and Tikopia, our survival is at stake.
We must all realize we need to do something.