The Maya

History abounds with examples of communities that were sufficiently intelligent to avoid disaster, yet failed to do so. Our industrial age relies on fossil fuels which are finite, cause dangerous pollution, and are obtained with increasing violence. Twenty-first century man could share the same fate as the doomed Easter Islanders, the Mayans, or the people of the Indus valley civilization. This would be especially regrettable, since – thanks to our ingenuity – we have developed viable energy alternatives to oil-burning.

The reversion in the ninth century A.D. of the highly advanced Maya to a less organized state is but one illustration of a progress trap. Disease may have played a role, but the most likely principal causes were soil exhaustion, agricultural setback, conflict and in all likelihood a general demoralization. Notwithstanding the rise and fall of that elaborate civilization, Mayan society has practiced sustainable forest gardening from the earliest times.

Today their culture remains vibrant, and has survived both European colonization and ideological turmoil in the region. The best known defender and spokesperson for the Mayans is 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum - much of her career has been spent in exile.

Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World; the environment and the collapse of great civilizations, Penguin, London 1993, pp 78-83

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"The Progress Trap - and how to avoid it" Copyright Daniel O'Leary, registered at
the Copyright Office, Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Canada on April 5, 1991 (ref 405917)