Climate Change Threatens Easter Island
Easter Island has long served as a reminder of what happens to a civilization when the environment it depends upon collapses. Now, the iconic remains of that civilization are under threat from a new environmental challenge: global climate change.
Easter Island, Rapa Nui in Polynesian, is surrounded by statues called moai situated on top of ahu, or platforms. But according to an in-depth report for The New York Times published Thursday, the moai are now at risk from erosion caused by sea level rise.
The article, written by Nicholas Casey with photographs by Josh Haner, launches a series by the Times called Warming Planet, Vanishing Heritage which examines "how climate change is erasing cultural identity around the world."
In the case of Easter Island, Haner photographed one moai that had fallen over and lies just yards from the edge of an eroding cliff; Casey reported on a stone wall that stood between some platforms and the coast and had partly collapsed due to powerful waves.
But while the moai are the most visible signs of Rapa Nui's heritage, what lies beneath them might hold even more cultural importance: The ahu the statues stand on often double as tombs.
Archaeologists told the Times that the remains inside these tombs might help determine what exactly caused the deforestation of the island and shrunk the population from the thousands to around 100 by 1870.
But for some islanders, the fate of the tombs has a more personal meaning.
"You feel an impotency in this, to not be able to protect the bones of your own ancestors," Camilo Rapu, leader of the Ma'u Henua indigenous organization that runs Rapa Nui National Park, told the Times. "It hurts immensely."
One landmark that has already changed dramatically is Ovahe Beach, which used to be covered in sand. The sea swallowed most of it, leaving only rocks, and now threatens a nearby burial site.
Hanga Roa mayor Pedro Pablo Edmunds told the Times about a time capsule the town had buried two years ago to be opened in 2066, including a picture of the still-sandy beach.
"They will dig it up in 50 years and see us standing there, where there is no beach," Edmunds said.
The loss of monuments could also damage the island's economy, which depends on tourism. In 2016, 100,000 people visited the island of 6,000, according to the Times.
There is debate surrounding what caused the first, infamous alteration of Rapa Nui's environment. In accounts like Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, the inhabitants deforested the island in the process of constructing the moai, leading to erosion, the deterioration of agriculture, starvation and war.
However, according to Scientific American, that account is now debated by archaeologists. There are no signs of armed conflict in the remaining artifacts, for example. Some think the process of deforestation was much slower and perhaps helped along by droughts or rats, and that the inhabitants were not necessarily aware of it as a catastrophe.
Now, some islanders find hope in those of their ancestors who did survive the mysterious collapse.
"They knew their environment was coming apart, but that didn't stop them from persisting here. It's the same with climate change today," Ma'u Henua's head of planning Sebastián Paoa told the Times.
Study Projects Two Feet of Sea Level Rise by 2100 https://t.co/h29H45myYN @TheCCoalition @CarbonBrief— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518604507.0
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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