Easter Island: what were they thinking when they cut down the last tree?

5 October 2009 – Birds, back lanes, experts, professionals and politicians are in dramatic decline. Only one thing separates them and us from extinction. Gutsy media.

To get a sense of what gutsy media is, and whether it may be able to prevent our extinction, click on the following links and you’ll be transported to worlds of images, passions, laughter, beautiful stories and uplifting, incisive analysis of statues.


On Easter Island all the trees and most life except for a few cannibalistic humans were extinguished because the experts, professionals and politicians chopped down the trees and put all their energy into making statues to honour their gods. The island was revived when boat people arrived with food, energy and a different culture. Now the statues support tourism, without which the island’s population would barely exist.

The difference between today’s declining environments and Easter Island’s is that, as far as we can tell, that culture had no independent media.

But we also live in faith-based cultures. We worship and manufacture many statues. We bow down to coal like the Spanish did to gold in the Americas. We defer to four-wheel drives, money, possessions, and we have dozens of gods.

Birds: Australia’s bird populations are imploding because of statues. Two-thirds of bird species studied in Victoria, including common birds like lorikeets, thornbills and honeyeaters, have declined dramatically in the past five years, and bird watchers have warned of a wave of extinctions in the next decade. They’re dying because the vegetation they live on, and which once withstood our harsh climate, is dying from unique heat and dryness. Strong TV and web media has told us this. https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2009/s2720637.htm

(What, did we think we are the whole world? That when we run out of water our world could be kept going by building desalination plants to give us water? We are not the whole world, and other things need water, too; the birds, insects, trees and critters which live here, too.)  (1)

Politicians: they bow to the coal statue, the burning of which is accepted to be one of the single most destructive actions of our planet. We dig coal because politicians honour it as one of their gods.

The Australian politician who dominates federal cabinet’s climate decisions is a frantic worshipper, wanting to burn more and more coal, an action we know – and he does, too – is killing our trees, our birds, our farmland, the Great Barrier Reef and fish populations (he is not the Prime Minister, not the Minister for the Environment, not the Minister for Changing the Climate – they dance to his tune). Now ordinary folk in his electorate are inviting their fellow residents to be rid of him and the media is there. www.crikey.com.au/2009/09/21/ferguson-urges-science-not-green-faith-in-letter-to-batman-residents/

Useful media about how politicians think and how we now perceive them is on the web here, too.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O15DXv3Vwg

Experts and professionals: they also worship coal and design and build mines, power stations, railways, buildings, cities and infrastructure even though they know these statues are killing the Great Barrier Reef and the world’s coral resources, which generate billions of dollars of income and sustain oceans of fish.

Their problem is they have been poorly educated; ours is that they dominate our society. They’ve been educated to believe they know what’s best for Earth. The failure of education to prepare our societies for the impacts we are having on Earth, and the enormous waste of university degrees, has been inspiringly explained by a true educator, Sir Ken Robinson. You can watch here.www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

At one extreme of our city-building culture are those so-called professionals who are motivated entirely by ego and by their emotions.

When Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect in Nazi Germany, was asked why he worked for Hitler, he replied: “But simply being given the chance by Hitler to do the work – for him and for Germany – that was happiness. It was all emotion, you know; very deep and pleasurable emotion”. Again, there’s strong media, this time in a book: Albert Speer, his battle with truth by Gitta Sereny, Picador, 1996, p127.

If you are curious about how emotion can control experts and their judgement, and hip pockets, this book will tell you. It’s one of the great acts of courageous media.

In explaining why she took 10 years to research and write it, Sereny said she thought there were things that happened under Hitler that are still happening everywhere:

“And yet, what I felt neither the Nuremberg trial nor his books had really told us was how a man of such quality could become not immoral, not amoral but, somehow infinitely worse, morally extinguished. . . What is to be learned about these two men [Hitler and Speer] should make us ponder the nature of love, the perils of emotion . . . But truth or lies, however uncomfortable or, seen in retrospect, even offensive they may be, can serve our purpose of gaining understanding . . . My aim here is to put into context all of the crimes against humanity which Hitler initiated, which continue to threaten us today, and of which Speer, who was in many ways a man of excellence, sadly enough made himself a part”.( Pages 10, 13, 14)

What is the difference between folk today who design and build mines and power stations they know will kill folk from uncontrollable bushfires, flood low-lying island cultures, and speed up climate change – and the folk that Sereny wrote about who designed and built things they knew were damaging or killing millions of folk in Germany or elsewhere?

At another extreme of city building are the small things. They’re significant. They’re the truth we citizens see when we walk our streets and compare our experiences with the visions our governments claim they have for sustaining our cities.

They’re-resurfacing a back lane where I live in Chippendale in inner Sydney. It’s a small thing; some black tar will replace old tar. Good in a way but appalling in another.

And certainly not, as the council’s flyer describes its own work, “high quality public infrastructure”.

For, by coating the lane with black tar the council will make the air around our houses hotter by between six and 10 degrees in summer for the next 20 years. On warm days that new black tar will be 50 degrees; old grey tar is 46 degrees and pale tar reaches just 32 degrees. We could do with some media on the small things like this that do long-term damage. None comes to mind, unfortunately, but I’m sure it’s out there.

If the city council seriously wishes to cool the city, to cut air-conditioner use, to use less energy in its street lights, it would use pale tar in all lanes because it reflects night light better and doesn’t heat up in summer. For beaut media with excellent data that easily tells the council and anyone else that this is so you can play with this https://eetd.lbl.gov/HeatIsland/Pavements/Overview/Pavements99-05.html

Powerful media like these help us depend less on politicians, professionals and experts for designing our cities. It helps us to stop statue building.

For the most telling media about our politicians, experts and professionals, though, I’ll go with John Lennon who so wonderfully sang: “One thing you can’t hide, is when you’re crippled inside”.

(1) If all the insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would disappear. If all humans disappeared, within 50 years all species would flourish as never before. Jonas Sulk, who discovered the polio vaccine.

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy. michael@sustainablehouse.com.au

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