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VARIOUS TEXTS: Don’t Be Fooled: Advanced and Rational Societies Can Commit Environmental Suicide

When Tony Blair flew to Washington on Monday to discuss the rapid changes to the earth’s climate caused by man, it is a shame he could not make a pit-stop on Easter Island. […]
The grimacing statues of Easter Island have – over the past 2000 years – witnessed the purest example in history of human beings committing unwitting environmental suicide. The story is startlingly simple: the human settlers on the island – living in perfect isolation from the rest 5 of the world – systematically destroyed their own habitat. In a burst of over-development, they cut their forests much faster than they could grow back. The result? At first, the island was plunged into war as different groups scrambled to seize the remaining natural resources for themselves. They turned on their leaders and staged revolutions, enraged that they had been 10 misled into such a disaster. They even toppled some of their famous statues, symbols of the despised former chiefs. And then – finally – they were left with nothing. They went slowly mad, committed cannibalism, and almost completely died out.

[…] It’s a cute analogy but the world of Bush and Blair is an infinity away from pre-modern disasters, isn’t it? I would like to think so – but, according to the world’s leading 15 climatologists, we must stop kidding ourselves. Ecocide has happened before to advanced, rational societies, and it can happen again. They warned yet again this week that we seem to be five minutes away from environmental midnight, and are now on-course for the most rapid increase in global temperatures since the last Ice Age.

And Easter Island is salient for another reason. When the Islanders’ environment collapsed, 20 they had nowhere to go; they were an isolated island cut off from the rest of the world. Now – for the first time – we have a global society where we all are dependent on each other. [...]

Of course, the ultimate fate of the islanders is only the most extreme possible end-game for global warming. […]

More likely is that environmental damage – unless it is reversed now – will cause a drastic 25 fall in living standards and rapid shifts in the way we live. It is a recipe to Make Poverty the Future.

Yet the Easter Islanders were not incomprehensibly mad. Like all societies that unknowingly commit collective suicide – from the Maya to Norse Greenlanders – they became afflicted with dozens of symptoms, each of which seemed understandable at the time. They might 30 sound familiar. One is simple denial. They said: surely it can’t be this bad? Doesn’t it always work out in the end? Aren’t we decent people? This mentality is common in Bush’s Republican Party, with swathes of oil cash and bogus research to reinforce it. Another problem is group-think: if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I? Why should I be the one who has to stop?

35 But the biggest common factor in past ecocides has been the pursuit of short-term “rational bad behaviour” arising from clashes of interests between people. For example, one logging company decides to destroy great chunks of the Amazon, on the grounds that if they don’t, some other logging company will. […]

The way our economy is currently structured actually encourages this environmental 40 destruction. Try finding out how to get from London to Edinburgh: you’ll find that the most environmentally disastrous form of travel (flight) is the cheapest, while the least damaging (train) costs a fortune. […]

So what can we do? Despair would be foolish, and a gift to the environmental vandals; the solutions are all around us. For example, the British government has announced that the G8 summit will be “carbon-neutral”: the 4000 tonnes of carbon dioxide released 45 will be counterbalanced by the planting of trees in Africa that will absorb the same amount.

It is a smart gesture, but if the Prime Minister really wants to deal with climate change, he should introduce legislation to make all our air travel carbon neutral. It is simple: if you want to get a flight, you should also have to pay the cost of the carbon debt you are building up by 50 paying for trees in Africa.

Some environmentalists call this “true cost economics”; instead of paying the market price you also pay the environmental price for your actions. This would roughly double the cost of air travel. […]

It will take dozens of tough political decisions like this to fend off disaster, but whenever 55 these ideas are put to the Prime Minister he says they are morally attractive but “politically impossible”. Can’t he see this is a classic example of “rational bad behaviour”? […] We are still trapped in a destructive mindset, never mind the even-worse Americans. Recriminations against Bush aren’t enough: we have been living beyond our environmental means far too long as well. […]

Source: The Independent, 8 June 2005 (abridged), by Johann Hari
Words 810

Annotation
swathes of oil cash (l. 32) huge sums of money derived from the oil industry
recriminations = gegenseitige Schuldzuweisungen

Assignments:
1. What, according to the text, do the ancient society of Easter Island and our modern world have in common? 30 %
2. What means does the author use to convince the reader of his point of view and to what extent are those means effective? 30 %
3. Either
a) “Solutions (to environmental problems) are all around us.”
Discuss.
or
b) “Never fear: technology will solve our environmental problems.”
Discuss.
40 %

From: Bildungsserver Mecklenburg-Vorpommern


Info on Easter Island:
One of the world's most famous yet least visited archaeological sites, Easter Island is a small, hilly, now treeless island of volcanic origin. Located in the Pacific Ocean at 27 degrees south of the equator and some 2200 miles (3600 kilometers) off the coast of Chile, it is considered to be the world's most remote inhabited island. Sixty-three square miles in size and with three extinct volcanoes (the tallest rising to 1674 feet), the island is, technically speaking, a single massive volcano rising over ten thousand feet from the Pacific Ocean floor.
The oldest known traditional name of the island is Te Pito o Te Henua, meaning 'The Center (or Navel) of the World.' In the 1860's Tahitian sailors gave the island the name Rapa Nui, meaning 'Great Rapa,' due to its resemblance to another island in Polynesia called Rapa Iti, meaning 'Little Rapa'. The island received its most well known current name, Easter Island, from the Dutch sea captain Jacob Roggeveen who became the first European to visit Easter Sunday, April 5, 1722.


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