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  #1  
Old July 12th, 2011, 11:09 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Default A Parable for Our Times?

Landscape images can potentially make an ecological statement and help make you something of an environmental activist whether you intend that or not.

You may be taking photographs of an untouched landscape and the wonder is that such places can still exist in our world. ... Or your images may reveal the changes wrought by Man and pose questions about how this came to be and what it says for the nature of change.


Ansell Adams and the Sierra Club.

Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas.


Easter Island is a particularly evocative location in this context. You can have wild and untamed landscapes but for the most part, the evidence of human activity from a bygone age is almost everywhere and asks a multitude of questions with a thunderous silence.




Ahu wall from seaward side at Ahu Te Peu





Petroglyphs and the islands of Motu Kau Kau, Motu Iti and Motu Nui (near to far) from Orongo. Tribal candidates climbed down the cliff near here and swam out to the far island for the first egg during the Birdman rituals.





Sunset at Ana Kakenga. This is a cliff-face opening of a lava tube. These were fortified and used as places of refuge in times of conflict.



I have been posting on Easter Island in my blog for nearly two months now and have just finished with the final Easter Island post that includes a list of special topics, a list of posts and a bibliography. There is a selection of six monochrome images in that post, too.


It’s hard to imagine posting images from Easter Island without making comments on the historic, archaeological and emotional context. I increasingly included detailed comments with my posts and for Easter Island alone have made 24 posts with 150 images and 23,000 words.


I regard my second last post as particularly significant and this because of the words rather than the images. Five paragraphs down you will find “Is Easter Island a Parable for the Present?”. I look at what happened in Easter Island, whether similar things are happening to us, how our situation differs from theirs and prospects for positive action in our time.


I think we all have an obligation to Life Itself to understand these issues and to be prepared to stand up for them where appropriate. I hope that people who do not expect to share my outlook will read my "Parable" post as well as those who do. We need a growing consensus to support positive approaches to preserving our environment and thereby to disarm unhelpful vested interests. I am open to all calm and considered viewpoints and welcome comments.




Meditation at Rano Raraku
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Old July 12th, 2011, 01:07 PM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Originally Posted by Murray Foote View Post
Landscape images can potentially make an ecological statement and help make you something of an environmental activist whether you intend that or not.

You may be taking photographs of an untouched landscape and the wonder is that such places can still exist in our world. ... Or your images may reveal the changes wrought by Man and pose questions about how this came to be and what it says for the nature of change.
Isn't it a paradox to try to reveal the changes wrought by Man by photographing pristine landscapes? Maybe showing the results of the changes is more appropriate?

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Old July 13th, 2011, 02:39 AM
Michael Nagel Michael Nagel is offline
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Murray,

Easter Island is indeed a good example of the impact of human activity on the ecosystem.
The massive deforestation starting in approx. 1000 transformed the island massively. This is best shown in 'Meditation at Rano Raraku', but context is needed to receive the message of this photo.

Deforestation is probably the oldest impact of human activity and can be seen on several places of the planet.

Best regards,
Michael
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Old July 13th, 2011, 04:10 AM
fahim mohammed fahim mohammed is offline
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Murray, I have been visiting your blog on and off. Each time I am amazed at your journey, and more importantly the images and the very contextual narrative that accompanies them.

I do think that you should ' Blurb' this. It is a significant addition to our knowledge done from
a non-scientific embedded person.

To me it is your personal observations and the images you choose to share that are remarkable.

Best regards.
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Old July 13th, 2011, 09:29 PM
Ruben Alfu Ruben Alfu is offline
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Hi Murray,

People like you are making the points, it's up to the world to draw the line.

Thanks,

Ruben
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Old July 13th, 2011, 10:55 PM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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I was starting to wonder why there were no responses but it was just that I had forgotten to subscribe to my own thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
Isn't it a paradox to try to reveal the changes wrought by Man by photographing pristine landscapes? Maybe showing the results of the changes is more appropriate?
Hi Jerome

I agree that images of the detritus of mankind (including urban decay and industrial aftermath) can poignantly show the changes wrought by Man. The point I had in mind but didn't really make is that the vast majority of landscapes show these changes.

Here in Australia there has been human habitation for something like 60,000 years. The aborigines had a hand in the extinction of the megafauna and also pervasively changed the landscape by their use of fire, because open forest suited their hunting better than rainforest. And then there was the Europeans bringing new plant and animal species, logging, mining, clearing for agriculture and erosion. This even affects areas where humans never settled. If you take humans out of the picture and were able to compare the present with an environment developing by itself, most landscape images would be quite different.

It is perhaps primarily in Antarctica that Man has essentially no impact, apart from the impact of global warming. I think this is part of the wonder of Antarctica.

Even the wonderful works of Man can be exposed by Nature as travesties if the society that produced them does not have a sustainable ecological basis. This is particularly obvious on Easter Island.

The first image is of a ruined ahu, magnificant now, incredible in its time. Ruined because the society overreached its bounds and the citizens destroyed the symbols of its triumph in their anger. Two thousand years ago, there would have been a thick forest here filled wth birds and with trees over a hundred feet high (less high if the vegetation here were stunted by salt spray, because this is near the coast).

The second image has the petroglyphs which represent the hand of man but not ecological damage. In the right season, the offshore islands would have been covered with birds. There are still birds there (and a few on one of the islands visible in a different image) but not so many. Two thousand years ago, there likely would also have been birds nesting on the forground rocks. The grass, I'm pretty sure, is European grass and the vegetation would have been quite different, even in this little patch. There might have been windswept trees with frigate birds nesting in them. Frigate birds were the original focus of the Birdman cult but they nest in trees and with no trees, they stopped coming. The Rapanui then switched their focus to the manutara or sooty tern.

The third image probably is a pristine landscape, though it also has poignant human associations.

The fourth image shows a moai contemplating his denuded and eroded world that would have changed greatly in appearance even since he was carved.

Here are a few more images that are from the final summary page of the Blog.




The first is intended to represent a romantic nineteenth century view of Easter Island, the moai picturesquely set off against the horses on the horizon. The duality is that it is also a degraded landscape, bare of the previous luxuriant growth. The alien animals and the moai itself are indicators of that change.

The second, of a separated moai head beside an ahu, says more about the environment overcoming Man than Man overcoming the environment.
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Old July 13th, 2011, 11:24 PM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Originally Posted by Michael Nagel View Post
Murray,

Easter Island is indeed a good example of the impact of human activity on the ecosystem.
The massive deforestation starting in approx. 1000 transformed the island massively. This is best shown in 'Meditation at Rano Raraku', but context is needed to receive the message of this photo.

Deforestation is probably the oldest impact of human activity and can be seen on several places of the planet.

Best regards,
Michael
Hi Michael

I guess I have included some of the context in my reply to Jerome above.

I kept the context brief in the original post because I was hoping people would click on the links in the post to the Blog. As Fahim will attest, for example, (and you may well know) I have many more images in there with details of their location, accounts for a wide range of historical and archaological topics and also the ecological comparison with the present. Though there are some people in the Forum who have subscribed to the blog or are following it, there are only two or three who have clicked a link from this thread so far.

So maybe that aspect didn't work so well. Hopefully more will go investigate in time.
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Old July 13th, 2011, 11:44 PM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fahim mohammed View Post
Murray, I have been visiting your blog on and off. Each time I am amazed at your journey, and more importantly the images and the very contextual narrative that accompanies them.

I do think that you should ' Blurb' this. It is a significant addition to our knowledge done from
a non-scientific embedded person.

To me it is your personal observations and the images you choose to share that are remarkable.

Best regards.
Thanks very much, Fahim

That is a good suggestion. I think I'll have to do that. In which case I'll post when I do. Perhaps a single volume but probably three of them, one each for South America, Antarctica/Falklands and Easter Is/Tahiti (Tahiti will be fairly brief).
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Old July 14th, 2011, 12:35 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Originally Posted by Ruben Alfu View Post
Hi Murray,

People like you are making the points, it's up to the world to draw the line.

Thanks,

Ruben
Hi Ruben and thanks

I think it's very important for as many people as possible to understand what's happening with the environment. Public opinion can be a very powerful force for positive change.

Australia is probably the most ancient land mass on the planet and this means it has very poor soils and is ecologically very fragile. What we have been seeing in the last year or so is a number of politicians cynically or ignorantly grandstanding, perhaps implicitly in the name of Greed, and effectively or even actually claiming there is no climate change and there are no environmental problems worth speaking of. This is corrosive in its effect. A few months ago there were even death threats from anonymous members of the public to meteorologists.

It's too important for this. Conservative politicians in power in Europe demonstrate that it needn't be to do with factional politics. Many corporations in Europe and the US have shown commitment to conservation. We need to build a public consensus that will sweep away unreason.

Especially if anyone reading thinks I'm wrong on these issues or exaggerating, please read my post comparing the outcomes for Easter Island with the challenges we face today and report back.

In Australia, the Government has just released a Carbon Tax that taxes carbon output of large polluters. This is positive, a first step to address climate change and there is a schedule for it to change over time.

I think there is much more to be done and that as far as I know is not yet proposed:
  • We need a Population Policy to determine what population the environment can support, how we achieve that and what infrastructure that requires
  • There should be an independent authority to identify resources that we are using unsustainably and to recommend general and specific policies to turn this round. The market is not sufficient because of what economists call "externalities", where individual or commercial interests are at the cost of the society or (in this case) the environment
  • The two points above lead to sustainable development
  • I think it's also very desirable that we set aside 5% of gross national income to aid sustainable development in poor countries (which is not the same as disaster recovery). This needs to be effectively used, not siphoned off to corruption and first world salaries. We cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and if we do not take effective action, their problems will also become ours

After all, we want to be able to take photographs of a temperate world with trees and water and wildlife that humans can be a part of.
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Old July 14th, 2011, 12:57 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Nagel View Post
... but context is needed to receive the message of this photo.
Further on this, I thought to add links in the blog to information specific to those images. I don't seem to be able to edit the first post any more so here are links for those images to posts in the Blog with more information on the images:Images 5 and 6 in the later post already have links below them.
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Old July 14th, 2011, 10:14 AM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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I agree that images of the detritus of mankind (including urban decay and industrial aftermath) can poignantly show the changes wrought by Man. The point I had in mind but didn't really make is that the vast majority of landscapes show these changes.
Certainly, but most people do not realize that the landscapes have been changed by man unless they look visibly degraded. Even worse: most people associate the idea of "pristine nature" to a bucolic landscape heavily fashioned by agriculture, as e.g. in the Bavarian or Swiss alps.

This being said, real "pristine nature" does not feed you.

Now, I really think that images of detritus have a potential for higher impact. Can I cite a link by another photographer? Here is the effect of our detritus on sea birds, which mistake them for food and feed them to their youngsters. I should warn you that the photographs are heavily disturbing, so be prepared for it or do not click:

Chris Jordan: Midway - Message from the Gyre

Citation:
On Midway Atoll, a remote cluster of islands more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent, the detritus of our mass consumption surfaces in an astonishing place: inside the stomachs of thousands of dead baby albatrosses. The nesting chicks are fed lethal quantities of plastic by their parents, who mistake the floating trash for food as they forage over the vast polluted Pacific Ocean.
For me, kneeling over their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror. These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth. Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits. Choked to death on our waste, the mythical albatross calls upon us to recognize that our greatest challenge lies not out there, but in here.
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Old July 14th, 2011, 11:42 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Good points and I agree with what you say.

What an extraordinary set of disturbing images that as your citation eloquently expresses, hold up a mirror to the behaviour and potential fate of our own species. Thank you for showing them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Murray Foote View Post
You may be taking photographs of an untouched landscape and the wonder is that such places can still exist in our world. ... Or your images may reveal the changes wrought by Man and pose questions about how this came to be and what it says for the nature of change.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerome Marot View Post
Isn't it a paradox to try to reveal the changes wrought by Man by photographing pristine landscapes? Maybe showing the results of the changes is more appropriate?
Actually, though, I think I didn't express myself clearly enough, you misread what I said and I didn't pick that up when I replied.

The stark images of dead albatrosses filled with plastic correspond to the second half of my statement your images may reveal the changes wrought by Man and pose questions about how this came to be and what it says for the nature of change. If I'd seen images like that I definitely would have recorded and presented them. I agree they are entirely powerful and valid.

There is a different type of image that involves pristine landscapes but not changes wrought by Man and that corresponds to the first part of the statement: You may be taking photographs of an untouched landscape and the wonder is that such places can still exist in our world

Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas were Australian photographers and environmental activists through taking pristine landscapes that did not reflect changes wrought by Man.

In the case of Truchanas, his photographs of the unique Lake Pedder failed to prevent the Tasmanian Hydroelectric Commission (HEC) from flooding it in a hydroelectric scheme. However, those photographs did galvanise a new generation of activists to actively oppose the HEC when it tried to dam the Franklin river. Those activists were also the group that lead to Australia's current Greens Party.

Olegas Truchanas tragically drowned when he slipped and fell into the Franklin River during the campaign to preserve it. I associate him with 35mm slides, maybe he also used larger formats, I don't know. Peter Dombroskis was a superb exponent of large format landscapes which were widely seen in large prints and calendars. His image of Island Bend (to which this small web image doesn't do justice) was perhaps the key factor in the successful blocking of the Franklin Dam project.

So it can work either way. You can show the shocking handiwork of Man to inspire people to prevent it - or you can show idyllic landscapes to inspire people to preserve them.
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Old July 14th, 2011, 01:20 PM
Michael Nagel Michael Nagel is offline
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I think we have two valid positions here, both with the same goal: To minimize human impact on the environment.

Showing the beauty of the (almost) untouched landscapes can result in a strong motivation to preserve these.

Showing the effects of human activity on landscapes and nature in general has the same effect.

When showing untouched landscapes, to create this motivation, the context must be set well and then it can unfold its strength. The message here is: Stop it before it happens!

Showing the effects needs less context, as the photos contain a big part of the message which can be summarized: Stop it, no more! Bring back the environment as it was (which is often an illusion, it is lost).

Best regards,
Michael
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Old July 14th, 2011, 03:20 PM
Mark Hampton Mark Hampton is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Nagel View Post
I think we have two valid positions here, both with the same goal: To minimize human impact on the environment.

Showing the beauty of the (almost) untouched landscapes can result in a strong motivation to preserve these.

Showing the effects of human activity on landscapes and nature in general has the same effect.

When showing untouched landscapes, to create this motivation, the context must be set well and then it can unfold its strength. The message here is: Stop it before it happens!

Showing the effects needs less context, as the photos contain a big part of the message which can be summarized: Stop it, no more! Bring back the environment as it was (which is often an illusion, it is lost).

Best regards,
Michael
Michael,

show me a landscape from this planet that is unchanged by humans - we have impacted the planet to such a degree that nature has given way to second nature.

just a thought

cheers
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Old July 15th, 2011, 02:08 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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(1) A volcanic landscape that naturally has no vegetation.
(2) Most of East Antarctica because (unlike West Antarctica) global warming has had little effect there.

I think there would be many other remote rainforest, desert and even alpine examples but the problem would be having the scientific and archaeological knowledge to prove they had not been affected by humans.
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Old July 15th, 2011, 05:16 AM
Mark Hampton Mark Hampton is offline
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Originally Posted by Murray Foote View Post
(1) A volcanic landscape that naturally has no vegetation.
(2) Most of East Antarctica because (unlike West Antarctica) global warming has had little effect there.

I think there would be many other remote rainforest, desert and even alpine examples but the problem would be having the scientific and archaeological knowledge to prove they had not been affected by humans.
Murray,

I guess I will just bring into play the butterfly effect and leave it there. I stand by my assertion - we live in second nature.

cheers
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Old July 15th, 2011, 09:50 AM
Michael Nagel Michael Nagel is offline
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I guess I will just bring into play the butterfly effect and leave it there. I stand by my assertion - we live in second nature.
Mark,

I believe you noticed the word almost in what I wrote here. This should answer your question here and encompasses your assertion cited above.

I am somehow under the impression that you missed the central point of what I wrote.

It is about how to communicate to people, that the human impact on nature should be minimal:

By showing the beauty to be preserved (like it worked for Franklin River).
By using shocking images like in Jérôme's example.
By showing the transformation of landscapes over the time.
There certainly more possibilities than the ones cited above...

I was hoping for Murray's take on my assertions concerning the context required and now I am interested in yours as well.

Murray's series about Easter Island has something of a shocking beauty, but the shock part can IMHO only unfold its full power, when the context provided is sufficient. This is done in his blog, but from my point of view, you cannot expect, that a broad public is aware of the history of Rapa Nui (the movie bearing the same name pointed out the deforestation among other things), so the images will not speak on their own, unless you are fully aware of this context.

This discussion is somehow linked to things being discussed here.

I think that the communication part is very important. There is a message worth communicating, so I am curious on more/different views on this.

Best regards,
Michael
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Old July 15th, 2011, 10:05 AM
Mark Hampton Mark Hampton is offline
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Originally Posted by Michael Nagel View Post
Mark,

I believe you noticed the word almost in what I wrote here. This should answer your question here and encompasses your assertion cited above.

I am somehow under the impression that you missed the central point of what I wrote.

It is about how to communicate to people, that the human impact on nature should be minimal:

By showing the beauty to be preserved (like it worked for Franklin River).
By using shocking images like in Jérôme's example.
By showing the transformation of landscapes over the time.
There certainly more possibilities than the ones cited above...

I was hoping for Murray's take on my assertions concerning the context required and now I am interested in yours as well.

Murray's series about Easter Island has something of a shocking beauty, but the shock part can IMHO only unfold its full power, when the context provided is sufficient. This is done in his blog, but from my point of view, you cannot expect, that a broad public is aware of the history of Rapa Nui (the movie bearing the same name pointed out the deforestation among other things), so the images will not speak on their own, unless you are fully aware of this context.

This discussion is somehow linked to things being discussed here.

I think that the communication part is very important. There is a message worth communicating, so I am curious on more/different views on this.

Best regards,
Michael
Michael - you are mixing up quotes ! re read what I wrote in the context of what you wrote I am not in disagreement with you - i think i just adding the term Second Nature to the discussion.

You quoted my response to Murray - which is a direct responses to my response to your almost bit !

- In relation to photography I think we have to move on from imitations of 19c landscape paintings - it is a historical crutch that is no longer needed.

just to add another thought !

cheers
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Old July 15th, 2011, 12:27 PM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Mark
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we have impacted the planet to such a degree that nature has given way to second nature.
I am quite happy with your proposal of second nature just as I am quite happy with Michael's characterisation of (almost) untouched landscapes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Hampton View Post
show me a landscape from this planet that is unchanged by humans
It's this statement that I reacted to, because of its lack of qualification. Just because change is pervasive doesn't necessarily mean nothing is unchanged. We are essentially in agreement so I don't want to push this too far or it just becomes sophistry.
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Old July 15th, 2011, 12:28 PM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Originally Posted by Michael Nagel View Post
Murray's series about Easter Island has something of a shocking beauty, but the shock part can IMHO only unfold its full power, when the context provided is sufficient. This is done in his blog, but from my point of view, you cannot expect, that a broad public is aware of the history of Rapa Nui (the movie bearing the same name pointed out the deforestation among other things), so the images will not speak on their own, unless you are fully aware of this context.
Michael

I agree that the context of these images is as important as the images themselves. They say an image is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, perhaps, you need a thousand words to understand an image.

I deliberately put very little comment in with the images when I first posted them here. I assumed that people would click the links and read all about the context in the blog. Blog statistics tells me that there are many people who have read this thread who have not gone on to read the blog. So that didn't entirely work.

Hopefully I have presented some evocative images that stand on their own. Yet they also conjure up an amazing and mysterious reality in the past. It's not just that the history of Easter Island is fascinating, it also provides a dramatic case study of ecological change. In our world today we also have dramatic ecological change and we can make some useful comparisons with what happened in Easter Island. We also need action to preserve the natural basis of our World. Effective action, I think, can only come as more and more people understand the nature of these issues and we develop a consensus for positive and effective change. Even this thread can play some small part in that.

So I will provide additional comments on the images one by one. This will take me a little while because my comments will be in the context of this thread and not merely lifted from the blog.
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Old July 15th, 2011, 01:51 PM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Ahu wall from seaward side at Ahu Te Peu
Everyone is doubtless familiar with the moai or the statues of Easter Island. Most of the moai were mounted on stone platforms called ahu which could be massive. The ahu were usually near the coast and the moai usually faced inwards, towards the local village with the ariki (chiefs) and the ivi atua (priests) living in the prime positions close to the ahu.

The ahu here has not been restored but is better preserved than many. There was a large settlement around it, with some of the remains visible today. Judging by the fine stonework, this was a relatively late ahu, though it was probably build over the top of several earlier ones.

Here is a super-short summary of Easter Island history. Much more detail in the blog.

Polynesians settled Easter Island somewhere between 300AD and 800AD and there were probably no subsequent migrations. There is no support any more for any settlement from South America. The kumara or sweet potato did reach Polynesia (and even the highlands of New Guinea) so there was some contact but since it was the Polynesians who were the expert ocean navigators, it is more likely due to a return voyage by Polynesians.

The original settlers landed on an island covered in thick forest with trees over one hundred feet high and the island was a massive bird colony, mainly seabirds and some land birds. It was probably the largest avian colony in the Pacific and perhaps in the World.

In the first few hundred years, they cleared much of the forest for agriculture and as much as 85% of the island came to be under cultivation. Somewhat later they developed their remarkable classic culture. The ariki mau (the head chief) was divine and the ariki of the clans had direct links to the Gods. Ahus were common through Polynesia and stone statues were common in eastern Polynesia. On Easter Island this developed to a whole new level. The moai on the ahu represented individual ariki ancestors whose worship guaranteed continued prosperity.

To achieve this there was a hierarchical yet communal society and a significant agricultural surplus. Yet there were problems as well that slowly developed. The volcanic soil was very porous and did not retain water well. Over a long period the forest slowly disappeared. This lead to loss of wild food stocks including birds & eggs, tuna & dolphin and forest fruit & nuts. They still had chickens and various crops, particularly kumara but loss of forest cover also lead to erosion and reduced agricultural capacity. Firewood for heating also became scarce. At the same time the ecological base was shrinking, the population was expanding and a crisis developed.

There was a period of famine, war between clans and even cannibalism. By the time the first Europeans arrived, the population had declined by about 50% to 70% and the situation had stabilised somewhat. The Europeans had firearms, textiles and huge wooden ships whereas the Rapanui could no longer build ocean going canoes. I think the guarantees of the classic society looked increasingly hollow and this lead to the overthrow of the priests, the moai and the ahu, though in a slow process lasting over a century.

European contact was diastrous for the Rapanui who were devastated by diseases including syphilis. This culminated in the early 1860s when Pervian slave traders carried away a large part of the remaining population and the few survivors brought back smallpox. The population had fallen from something like 10,000 to 110.

Yet they survive. The population of Easter Island is around 5,000 today, about 60% Rapanui.

Last edited by Murray Foote; July 15th, 2011 at 05:18 PM.
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Old July 15th, 2011, 05:50 PM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Petroglyphs and the islands of Motu Kau Kau, Motu Iti and Motu Nui (from near to far) as viewed from Orongo.
During the classical period, the Rapanui worshipped the ancestors of the ariki through the moai on the ahu. By the ninteenth century, the dominant religion had become the Birdman Cult, centering on worship of the God Make Make.

At first, the cult centred on the frigate bird but by later times this had become the sooty tern or manutara. Frigate birds nest in trees and they probably stopped coming when there no more suitable trees on the main island. In their absence the Rapanui switched to the manutara. Easter Island originally has 25 species of birds and there are essentially none of the original birds left on the main island, though there are a few introduced species. The only remnant of the once mighty bird colonies are a small number of birds that nest on those offshore islands.

On the top right corner of the big rock on the left is the head of make make. To the left, I think, is a manutara.

Essentially, the Rapanui replaced inter-clan warfare with a kind of trial by ordeal to elect the paramount chief or Birdman or tangata manu for the year. Around July each year, representatives of the clans came to stay for a while in small stone houses behind where I am standing. When the birds were starting to arrive on the small offshore islands, candidates for each clan, called hopu manu, swam out to the far island and waited there perhaps for weeks until the first egg was laid. The new tangata manu was the ariki (chief) of the clan whose hopu manu swam back with the first egg, probably strapped to his forehead.

They left from somewhere near this spot, climbed down a 300 metre cliff and then swam 1.6 kilometres out to the island. It could be dangerous and hopu manu could die, including from falling off the cliff or being eaten by sharks. The last such contest was in 1862.
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Old July 15th, 2011, 06:52 PM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Sunset at Ana Kakenga. This is a cliff-face opening of a lava tube. These were fortified and used as places of refuge in times of conflict.
For much of the classical period, until the ecology that underpinned their society broke down, the Rapanui lived in a peaceful society. This is obvious because they undertook elaborate constructions but none of these involved fortifications.

When the society broke down into warfare, the lava tubes became a place of refuge. They were also used to hide from marauding Europeans. The entrance to Ana Kakenga is something or a tight vertical scramble and therefore easily defensible. Stones to fortify the lava tubes could come from ahus or hare paenga (houses).

There were many of these lava tubes, they could be quite large and they could continue for considerable distances. In some cases they naturally accumulated water and they could be used as places of cultivation where the roof had collapsed & then opened to the sky. Implements discovered inside the lava tubes indicate that they could be more than temporary places of refuge.

This is well demonstrated at Ana Te Pahu, another lava tube with extensive internal fortifications, long tunnels, large chambers, banana trees and manuvai or walled gardens.

I was lucky with the image above of Ana Kakenga. I was set up and making exposures when the sun came out to create the image you see here. It only lasted about twenty seconds.
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Old July 16th, 2011, 12:56 AM
Cem_Usakligil Cem_Usakligil is offline
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Hi Murray,

As you know I have been following your blog from the beginning and I still do so. It's just that I am not so keen on debating and I preferred to lay back and enjoy the pictures and your stories.please keep them coming.
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Old July 16th, 2011, 02:10 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Hi Cem and thanks for your continuing support.

In this thread I'm trying to build consensus for positive and constructive change rather than looking for debate as such. I hope I can express myself well enough so that even sceptics think "maybe I should think a bit more or read a bit more about that".

The posts will keep coming in the blog though they may slow down for a while as I have to attend to other things.
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Old July 16th, 2011, 03:21 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Meditation at Rano Raraku
Ranu Raraku is a remarkable volcanic cone with nearly 400 moai scattered on its slopes or in the crater and probably many still buried. This is also where most of the moai on ahu around the island were carved out of the rock - relatively soft volcanic tuff. Some moai were also carved out of the very soft red scoria from the quarry at Puna Pau at the other end of the island. This is also where the red pukao or topknots came from that were placed on about 100 moai on ahus. A very small number of moai were incredibly carved out of very hard basalt, using basalt stone tools.

There has been much speculation about how the Rapanui moved the moai and recent research has cast many of the theories into doubt. The moai could be over 80 tonnes and the pukao placed on top of them up to 12 to 15 tonnes. Some moai travelled 20 kilometres or a bit more from Rano Raraku. There was a network of moai roads around the island. It seems they were V-shaped or U-shaped so theories using rollers cannot apply. The shape of the roads would have helped them avoid drifting off to the side. They were probably placed on a frame and perhaps there were lubricated wooden rails or round stones on the roads (which could have been pulled up from behind the moai and relaid. They may have been moved either upright or lying down. Different techniques would have been required to erect the moai when they got to the ahu. Placing pukao on top of the moai probably occured after the moai were up, using a ramp of stones.

One of the moai at Ranu Raraku is an eroded kneeling moai with a beard ("Tukuturi") that appears to be quite old because it has a simple style similar to old stone statues from other parts of Easter Polynesia. Most of the moai at Ranu Raraku have the familiar long elegant style that means they came from the late classical period.

There were originally ten clans and later eight to twelve depending on the account or the time, as well as many sub-clans. By the late classical period this had coalesced into a competition between a Western and an Eastern confederation. As the resources dwindled and their ecology crumbled, the competition escalated. The moai and the ahu got bigger and bigger as they vainly appealed to their Gods to save them from their worsening ecological problems. The Eastern Confederation owned the land at Ranu Raraku where most moai were carved from the rock so they decided to take advantage of this, avoid the cost of moving moai and carve large numbers in situ. This is why most of them come from the most elegant later period. They also do not have sockets for eyes because the ivi atua (priests) only inserted eyes in moai erceted on ahu and then only for special ceremonies.

The moai in this image contemplates the passage of time and looks out towards the fertile centre of the island, once covered in thick forest and now denuded and eroded, as the distant rain and mist seeps down into the porous rocks and soil.
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Old July 16th, 2011, 10:39 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Ahu Hanga Kio'e is on the coast just at the northern edge of Easter Island's sole town of Hanga Roa. When resources became scarcer, some parts of the island were affected more than others. Ahu Hanga Kio'e adjoined the best farming land in the south and west. There would also have been good farming land in the centre and around Tongariki. Conversely, Anakena and the north-west lost their fishing and had the poorest agricultural land. Areas around Tongariki and Vinapu possessed the best rock for carving but this counted for less and less as time went on. Vinapu and Hanga Poukura, both at the Orongo end of the south coast, had the best three quarries for obsidian, used for sharp blades including spear heads, and this may have become increasingly important.

There is a profusion of obsidian spear points in the archaeological record during the time of warfare around the period 1500 to 1700. Violence between the clans may have been as much due to disparities in their resource base as the general ecological decline.

This is probably the last ahu and moai erected on the island, around 1650. At this late date, the moai probably had a pukao on top of its head and certainly had eye sockets for ceremonial insertion of eyes. Hanga Kio'e actually means Rat Bay. Easter Island was the only place in Polynesia so desperate that rats were a significant part of the diet so perhaps this has a MacDonalds kind of association.

Originally a sunset and in colour, this image to me represents the romantic view of Easter Island from pictorialist photographs in the nineteenth century. Yet it shows a barren denuded landscape and we know that the island wasn't originally like that. The horses, too, introduce a bucolic element that is deemed romantic in the context of pictorialist imagery. But I find a subtle sardonic twist underlying this. The horses were absent during the classical period and they wander freely over the island together with many cattle. They wander over petroglyphs and probably don't help with regeneration of plants.

Sheep were introduced to the island in the nineteenth century and at one stage there were 70,000. So the island was denuded by the sheep and the farmers as well as earlier by the Rapanui themselves. The island became a huge sheep farm and the Rapanui were forced to live in the village of Hanga Roa with strict rules and a curfew. Their treatment was so bad they revolted in 1914 yet their confinement in Hanga Roa was not lifted until about 1965.
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Old July 17th, 2011, 03:11 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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Here is a moai head lying beside the ahu wall at Ahu Te Peu, that we saw in the first image of this series.

Once, with its back to the sea, and when his eyes had been inserted by the ivi atua, he looked out over a thriving village, part of a vibrant culture completely isolated from the rest of the world. Standing on the ahu above the avanga (funeral chambers ), he saw the manavai (walled enclosures for gardens) and the huge hare paenga (boat-shaped house, 40 metres long, the island’s largest).

He was a great ariki who had died some time ago. He saw all the members of the clan massed in the great square for the sacred ceremonies, singing and dancing, illuminated by the fires in front of the ahu and calling to him to guarantee their prosperity. Then after the long years of famine and vicious killings, the people overturned the moai onto piles of stones so that the head broke off and the mana was lost. Now he lay unseeing and forgotten, turned back to stone, facing up to the heavens and detached from his body.

(Note: Mana means power, prestige and charisma, partly from elevated birth, partly due to great deeds. In the case of moai on ahu, their mana resided chiefly in their eyes.)

For more on manavai and hare paenga and also a boat ramp, hare moa (chicken houses)/ tupa (tombs) and umu (ovens), see the blog post on the Tahai Complex. This also shows the only moai on the island with restored eyes.


Is Easter Island a Parable for Our Times?

Easter Island is clearly a small island yet increasingly so is the Earth. Improvements in communication bring us all closer together, we can travel virtually anywhere within a few days, world-wide decentralised mass production makes all economies interrelated and increasingly there are many issues that affect the world as a whole. So back to the question – Does Easter Island present a parable relevant to the problems of the present?


- Deforestation

The World is not likely to fell all forests quite to the extent of Easter Island. For example, some countries such as Germany and Japan have had effective forest conservation policies for centuries. However, worldwide deforestation is a very serious problem.

Japan preserves its own timber but imports timber from other countries. Australia, for example, sells wood pulp to Japan for making paper. The prices are very low compared to the price of the paper yet in Australia’s fragile ecosystem, the forests regenerate extremely slowly. In most cases similar exporting countries are poor and in return for the wood, wealthy countries are exporting their deforestation problems to poor countries.

The largest remaining forests are in third world countries, especially the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and Zaire. About half of the tropical forest that existed in 1800 has already disappeared and at the current rate of destruction, there will be little left outside protected areas by 2050.
Timber may be increasingly in short supply in some countries. Deforestation can severely degrade cleared land as erosion removes soil, lowers the water table or increases salinity. The most serious issue, though, is the likely effect of deforestation on World climate.


- Water

As Captain Cook saw, availability of drinking water was a serious issue for the Rapanui. Most people take the supply of water for granted but it is slowly developing into a serious issue, for some countries at least. Many regions are drawing on underground reserves at an unsustainable rate. This water can be hundreds of thousands of years old and unrestricted drawing up of bore water can also cause problems in soil salinity.

There are also many areas where agriculture depends on spring runoff from glacial melt. Most glaciers are in rapid retreat and this kind of runoff may reduce substantially. For example, serious problems for agriculture in Northern India and Bangladesh are likely to develop due to sharply reduced spring water flows resulting from climate change.


- Species loss

The Rapanui managed to wipe out most of their wildlife. Essentially this was their birds, reduced from a great host to a few seabirds nesting on small offshore islands. We’re not at a comparable stage of species loss yet, although we’re heading in that direction. Already we are in the early stages of a global extinction event and it already has a name – the Holocene extinction. While this extinction event covers the whole 10,000 years of the Holocene, it mainly relates to the last couple of hundred years and the primary cause is human activity.


- Fishing

The Rapanui lost access to most of their fish stocks due to lack of wood for canoes which prevented ocean fishing. Our problem is rather different. We have no shortage of big metal canoes which bring back huge amounts of fish but we need to be careful we don’t strip the fishing stocks.

It is all too easy to view the oceans as an unlimited resource and awareness of this has improved since the 1970s and 1980s, particularly with the development of maritime reserves and aquaculture (farming of fish and other marine organisms). The main barrier to sustainability is illegal fishing, which can also devastate areas with illegal trawling methods.

International trade accounts for 38% of fish and fishery products, making it the most traded food in the world. Over 80% of that trade goes to developed countries, so if other countries continue to become more affluent, it is easy to see there could be greatly increased pressures of demand.
Easter Island’s deep sea fishing stocks and marine diversity were significantly reduced by illegal fishing in just the last few years. Without appropriate conservation measures, world fishing stocks could be essentially fished out by 2050.


- Overpopulation and Resources

Sometime after 1400, the Rapanui found themselves in an eroded, treeless land that had a reduced capacity to support them and with a population that had grown to an untenable size.

There can be no question that overpopulation is a serious issue for the world today. Population growth is most acute for Africa and to a much lesser extent, South America and India. We cannot isolate ourselves from this; increasingly, like the Easter Islanders, we are living in a small and shrinking island (the Earth). Just as with Easter Island, it’s not in anyone’s interest for one group to ride roughshod over the rest. In the words of John Kennedy: If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

One thing that can happen is that when a country sees it is overexploiting its resources, it takes measures to safeguard them but transfers the exploitation to other countries. This is ultimately self-defeating; when the resources of poorer countries are gone there is nowhere left to turn.
While developed countries often have stable population levels net of migration, they use disproportionately large amounts of resources compared to the world as a whole. Many of those resources come from less developed countries. Increasingly there are newly prospering nations that want a share (China, India, South East Asia). We are already familiar with the essentially fixed supply of petroleum that has already peaked. It seems likely that resources will not increase to meet demand this time around.


- War

Ecological crisis on Easter Island gave rise to vicious warfare. The same thing happened to the Southern Maya when their civilisation overran its ecological basis. Where nations face the exhaustion of resources upon which they depend, such warfare is obviously possible and war in our world can be truly horrific. We can only hope it doesn’t work out like that. At least some of the time, we may be able to contribute to public opinion and help prevent inappropriate, hasty or even illegal wars.


- Is there a Comparison with Easter Island?

Deforestation, water availability and species loss are serious problems for us though not often as severe as the outcomes that Easter Island experienced.

The Rapanui experienced a reduced supply of fish due to reduced capability to fish, though their fishing stocks, for deep water fish at least, were not greatly affected. We run some danger of exhausting world fishing supplies though effective measures may be in place, as long as we can control illegal fishing.

Easter Island experienced severe overpopulation (hand-in-hand with ecological degradation) and their capacity to take effective measures was probably hampered by excessive resource demands of the privileged elite. Many areas of our world suffer overpopulation, especially Africa, while the developed countries (and even elite groups within developed countries) tie up a high proportion of world resources.

So if that were it, we could say that there are strong parallels with Easter Island and also significant differences. The world is not as degraded as Easter Island became and we can still address the issues. In the worst case, we would need to settle for a degraded lifestyle, as did the Rapanui before the arrival of the Europeans.

However, we also have global warming and climate change to contend with and we need to be very sure we understand and deal effectively with those issues as well.


- Global warming and Climate Change

Sometime between 1400 and 1700, the Rapanui experienced an ecological crisis that resulted in starvation and warfare so that the population fell by 50% to 70%. After that, they may have reached a period of relative stability. They still had a viable agriculture although life was much less comfortable and the numbers they could support had fallen.

The issues for the current world that I have summarised above loosely correspond to the crisis that Easter Island went through before European contact. In the worst case, we will turn many regions arid while many species and a significant part of humanity will die. After some time, the chastened humans will regroup and hopefully develop a sustainable way of living under a reduced resource base.

Unfortunately, there is more to it than that. In the case of the Rapanui, the cataclysm of European contact – disease, exploitation and slavery –almost wiped them out after 1722. In our case, the somewhat equivalent danger has a quite different cause: global warming and the potential for climate tipping events.

Some people deny the possibility of global warming when they say “but it’s cold this year, there’s no warming at all”. This is to misunderstand what it is. Overall there is warming, the glaciers are melting, the oceans are getting warmer and giving rise to more hurricanes, but it also means greater climatic extremes and in the short-to-medium term, some regions will get warmer and drier while other may get cooler and wetter. It is true that there can be large natural variations in climate. It is also true that the great majority of scientists believe that global temperatures have been rising in the last 200 years and that this has a large man-made component. This view is virtually unanimous for climatologists, those scientists who specialise in climate and climate change.

The most unsettling risk is the possibility of the world ecosystem degrading to fundamentally change the conditions for life. It has happened before, in previous global extinction events. It could happen fairly quickly and only be reversible in the very long term, and then to a completely different world, a climate tipping event.

As it stands, if we keep on as we are without effective remedial action, the consequences will be severe. However, we are not yet at the point of no return. We can still turn things around. I think that no-one really knows how much time we have so it is better to act sooner rather than later. The complication is that there are significant lags involved. The effective action we take today may take several years to bite. If necessary, we must be prepared to take one step back to take two steps forward. If we wait until the situation is catastrophic, it might be too late to recover from.
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Old July 17th, 2011, 03:11 AM
Murray Foote Murray Foote is offline
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- Nuclear power

In economic terms, we are used to assuming we can always have progress but it’s not necessarily so. In Europe, for example, Greece’s debt is 150% of its GDP, Ireland’s government deficit is 33% of its GDP, Spain’s unemployment is 20% and Italy owes France $500 billion (as at July 2011). A number of developed countries including the US and Japan appear to have long-term economic problems that will not be easy and quick to address.

We have seen the Japanese experiencing serious problems with explosions in their nuclear reactors, still supposedly under control but unresolved. Germany and two other European countries have abandoned nuclear power after studying what has happened in Japan.

Indonesia is a much poorer country also prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. If a situation like Japan’s were to happen in Indonesia, I don’t know what it might develop to if it were to keep on getting out of control. It couldn’t be good, especially if there were other severe problems to deal with at the same time. Other countries could at some time descend into economic chaos, civil war or anarchy in such a way as to imperil their reactors.

The economics of wind and solar power keep improving while nuclear power is a short-term solution (plants last for 20 to 50 years) with long-term dangers (waste stays radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years). Tim Flannery has an interesting view here, though. He says that notwithstanding the dangers of nuclear power, the dangers of coal power (for global warming) are larger and more immediate. He also says that wind and solar energy may be cheaper than nuclear by 2018.


The way forward

We have no way of knowing whether the Rapanui saw their oncoming ecological problems and tried to do something about it while they still had time. My guess is that they didn’t. There might have been a groundswell of opinion from the common people for sustainable change but it was probably too unequal a society for that to be possible.

The ariki mau (the divine paramount chief) could have summoned the ivi atua (priests) & the ariki of the clans and compelled them to accept new social & ecological practices to achieve a sustainable society. Something like this happened in Tokogawa Japan and in quite a different way in the Polynesian island of Tikopia. My guess is he didn’t, and any attempts were certainly unsuccessful. The ahu and moai got larger at the end so the Rapanui classical culture probably went out in a spectacular display, trying to persuade the Gods to restore their prosperity. The ariki and the ivi atua were also entrenched interest groups who probably felt threatened by any prospect of change.

Today, progress towards a constructive outcome is impeded by politicians who serve their own interests rather than the common good and by special interest groups who represent ecologically questionable practices. In both cases, they are arguably not acting even in their own best interests.

We’re not doomed yet although we are clearly facing risks. I think all of us have a responsibility to Life itself to understand these issues. Progress will require concerted and enlightened action by government bodies at national and world levels. It also requires that “we, the people” support appropriate and positive action wherever we can. Developing a consensus for change is much more productive than competitive argument.

Any risks of moving to a more sustainable society and then finding out it wasn’t as bad as we thought are nothing compared to the risks of doing nothing until it’s too late.


What Action?

It is clear that we need action at both National and International level. In simple terms this needs to include:
  • Sustainable Development
    ==> We need Population Policies to determine what populations our environment can support and what infrastructure this requires
    ==> We need independent scientific organisations, well-funded and specifically set up to identify what resources we are in danger of exhausting and to recommend policies
  • Global Warming
    ==> We need effective policies to ensure that world climate remains amenable to human life. This has started but there is much to be done. There can be long time lags for measures to bite.
  • Preserving the Ecology of Poor Countries
    ==> This may be hard to achieve politically, especially if countries become more and more immersed in their own problems, but if we do not help to solve the ecological problems of poor countries, they will also become ours. Developed countries should move towards providing 5% of their gross national income to assist poor countries towards sustainable development
    + In the longer term, this is more important than disaster relief because it will help to prevent disasters. There of course needs to be safeguards against corruption and against siphoning off to first world salaries.

Even as photographers, we can help to build this consensus with our images of what we need to preserve as well as our images of what has been despoiled.

(For my sources, see this blog thread).

Last edited by Murray Foote; July 17th, 2011 at 03:41 AM. Reason: Added bibliography reference
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Old July 17th, 2011, 10:55 AM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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What Action?
While I generally agree about your analysis, I am afraid that the implementation is little more than wishful thinking. Am I allowed to exercise extremely bad taste and be sarcastic? If yes, I'll just take your first example:


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We need Population Policies to determine what populations our environment can support and what infrastructure this requires
(Remember: sarcasm) Obviously, it will not be useful to say that a particular area can only support so many people and then let the inhabitants multiply like rabbits. So, who are we going to kill first?

The interested readers may wish to refer themselves to their favorite historical encyclopedia. Or book a travel to China.
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