According to a TreeHugger post, a new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science concludes that the ancient Mayans not only practiced effective forest management and conservation, but also that when they abandoned these practices, it was detrimental to their entire civilization and helped them find their way into Jared Diamond’s book, titled Collapse. Diamond claims that the Mayan people met their demise because of the damage they caused the environment, climate change and hostile neighbors. Interestingly enough, the TreeHugger article states that researchers discovered that the Mayan were prohibited from cutting trees in certain areas until the Late Classic period when Jasaw Chan K’awiil beat the Tikal Maya and took over. The reconstruction of the city of Tikal required a lot of resources, and the new rulers decided to tap into the off-limit forests to find the tall straight trees they needed.
It is very interesting that the Mayan created these rules and followed them without having the scientific knowledge that we possess now. There is a lot of evidence indicating that the Mayan had very advanced understanding of the physical and natural worlds. Their calendar and knowledge of the solar system was surprisingly accurate. So, it’s not surprising that they knew that too much logging would impact their environment. However, as stated above they stopped following these guidelines and both sources believe that this lead to their downfall.
Both Collapse and the TreeHugger believe that it is important to learn from the past. Natural resources are very important to human civilization. This has not changed in the last 3,000 years. And just like the Mayan set up guidelines to ensure they did not take too much we must do the same. The term renewable resources seems to be misleading. Trees, for example, are a renewable resources but they do not grow back over night. It takes years for trees to grow. It takes years for animals to reach maturity and this timeline must be respected when we take from the natural world. When we take faster than the environment can replace we alter the landscape. Removing too many trees can lead to erosion or habitat loss for the animals that live or hide in those trees.
When the Mayan started taking too much they collapsed we have the advantage of knowing their mistakes as well as having advanced scientific information. We must learn that we can not have everything now. We must set limits. We only have one Earth. Many of the civilizations that met their demise in Collapsed were isolated from the rest of the world and humans could live other places on Earth. Now we do not have that luxury. We have inhabited every corner of this Earth and there is no where left for us to go.