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PSU Prof Doug Kennett's new study shows Maya thrived and declined because of climate change

The Maya civilization grew quickly because of the effects of a long period of greater than average rainfall - and then died when the local climate became drier, and the complex systems of the civilzation were not able to adapt to the rapid changes.

There's a lesson here I think.

Complex systems can be surprisingly stable - but they can also be surprisingly fragile. When our own civilization is hit with the triple hammer of global warming, fossil carbon EROI (energy return on investment) decline, and exponential population increase, it is not going to be easy for us to adapt quickly enough to keep our own complex systems going.

An ancient civilization's wet ascent, dry demise
Newly documented climate shifts helped shape Classic Maya destiny

A 2,000-year climate record, gleaned from a stalagmite inside a Belize cave, highlights a central role for climate shifts in the ancient civilization’s fortunes, say anthropologist Douglas Kennett of Penn State University and his colleagues.

A bounty of rain nurtured Maya agriculture and city building from the years 440 to 660, Kennett’s team reports in the Nov. 9 Science. A drying trend and occasional droughts after 660 were accompanied by declining crop yields, increasing warfare among Maya city-states and a shift of political centers northward into the Yucatan Peninsula, the researchers say. After the collapse of Maya political systems between 800 and 1000, a severe drought hit southern Belize from 1020 to 1100 and apparently motivated remaining Maya to leave the area.

Stretches of wet and dry weather influenced the growth and abandonment of ancient Maya political centers, such as Caracol in Belize, a new study suggests.
D. Kennett/Penn State

“It looks like the Maya got lulled by a uniquely rainy period in the early Classic period into thinking that water would always be there,” Kennett says.


We are doing the same thing - letting ourselves (and the media must be held accountable for this ethical lapse) be lulled into thinking we are so special, so entitled to thrive, that we are immune from the effects, and the math, of climate, geology, and biology.

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