Rapa Nui – Global Warming And The Stone Head Of Dr Who

Every Dr Who fan has a favourite Doctor. For most, it’s the one from their childhood. The first Doctor I watched as a nipper was the anarcho-dandy one played by John Pertwee. He could kick pretty much anyone’s arse with his knowledge of Venusian Aikido.

He’s not my favourite Doctor, though. It’s not that he wasn’t cool, because he was. A little on the weird side, even for a Timelord, but definitely cool. However, he did have one very huge disadvantage as The Doctor. Due to BBC budget restrictions, his TARDIS didn’t work most of the time because the alien sets that a working TARDIS would involve were too expensive.

A lot of the time, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was stranded on Earth and he travelled around in this:


Or, in extreme cases, this:


Not quite the same, I’m sure you’ll agree. So, despite the nostalgic haze through which I view my childhood, my favourite Doctor isn’t John Pertwee. It’s not Tom Baker or Peter Davidson either. Despite having been an avid watcher of all but the first two Doctors, the Doctor I have found the most entertaining is this man:


Matt Smith, the youngest actor ever to play the character. A very popular choice and quite the sex symbol. Despite bearing more than a passing facial resemblance – by his own admission – to one of these.


That’s an Easter Island Statue, in the unlikely event you’ve never encountered a picture of one. And that’s really what this blog post is really about. I used a Dr Who segue because I happen to really like Dr Who and mention it at every available opportunity. Or even at every unavailable opportunity, as you have just seen.

The Easter Island Statues are often cited as a shining example of human ingenuity. In fact, they are one of the most telling examples of human stupidity.

Easter Island – or Rapa Nui as its population call it – used to be heavily forested. It is now as bald as Mussorgsky’s Mountain. It used to be covered with the now extinct Rapa Nui Palm Tree, which was the biggest and most impressive palm tree in existence before its untimely demise.

The reason this tree is now extinct is the building of the famous Easter Island statues. To build these statues, you needed wood and lots of it. After several centuries of erecting statues, there were only a few of these trees left.

The deforestation of the island had wreaked havoc with its eco system. The trees were the island’s most precious resource. The only thing that might save its inhabitants from eking out a pitiful subsistence living. They cut them down anyway. There are now only 22 types of vegetation on Easter Island. Mostly grass.

The Easter Islanders weren’t idiots. They were clever enough to carve out those amazing monuments. So why was the decision made to cut down that last Rapa Nui Palm Tree? I think it was denial, pure and simple.

As their agriculture collapsed due to ecological imbalance and wind erosion, I think nobody was willing to make that dreadful connection between their behaviour and their plight.

The world could learn a lot from what happened on Easter Island. There are still climate change deniers out there. And they sort of have a point, in that the Earth seems to have a lot of “Daisyworld” style mechanisms that appear to compensate for the worst of our industrial excesses.

But we have no idea how much strain these systems can take before our carbon footprints end up stamped all over our own faces. For all we know, the next ton of CO2 we produce could be the one that tips the scales and flips us onto riding a runaway greenhouse effect.

If the climate change deniers are right, and we’ve done everything we can to mitigate global warming, then we just end up with a cleaner planet. Even if there was no disaster to avert, there can’t be any harm in having a healthier environment to live in.

If the climate change deniers are wrong, and we don’t do enough, then we could end up like the Easter Islanders.  We’ll have lots of amazing past glories to look at but not enough to eat.

There’ll be lots of questions that need to be asked if that happens. “Which is your favourite Dr Who?”  is unlikely to be one of them.

© Copyright Michael Grimes 2015




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About thedailygrime

At that awkward age - too young to be a grumpy old man, but just acerbic and downtrodden enough to have an opinion. Read it here.

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