Today's Lesson in Societal Collapse, Courtesy of the Mayans

The same issues that experts worry about for our world today -- climate change combined with environmental mismanagement -- helped end Mayan civilization, according to a recently-released article.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn


What's the Latest Development?

The 9th-century collapse of the Lowland Maya civilization in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula had much to do with both climate change and human-made environmental stressors, say the co-authors of an article published yesterday in the online early edition of Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences. Prior to the collapse, the Mayans had lived in harmony with the environment for over 2000 years, building and maintaining production and water networks that carried them through at least two dry periods. However, as time went on, large-scale deforestation exacerbated and intensified the droughts. With a shift in trade routes that drastically affected the local economy, "the decision was made to vacate the central lowlands rather than maintain the investment."

What's the Big Idea?

Social scientists B.L. Turner and Jeremy A. Sabloff write: "The Maya case lends insights for the use of paleo- and historical analogs to inform contemporary global environment change and sustainability...Complex system interactions generated the collapse and depopulation of the [Central Maya Lowlands] and fostered its long-term abandonment. This lesson -- increasingly voiced in the literature -- should be heeded in the use of analogs for sustainability science."

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