Mayan art (Source: Wikipedia, Unknown, CC 3.0)

The End of Our World? (Part I)

| Aug 15, 2016    KOFFEE     , , , ,

American academic and popular science author Jared Diamond published “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”  in 2005. It reviews the causes of historical and pre-historical instances behind the collapse of past civilizations.

Link to Part II: The End of Our World? (Part II)

Do you think that our planet can add a few more billions people despite resources being squeezed? The author Jared Diamond gave his views in “Collapse”, a book I have just finished reading.

I have learnt about ancient civilizations and the way they collapsed, including the Mayas, the Aztec, and people of Easter Island of Polynesia Islands, Anasazi or Greenland. By the term “Collapse”, Diamond means huge drops in population from the peak of civilizations to cities being abandoned.

Drawing of a Mayan scene (Source: Wikimedia, Catherwood, Public Domain)

For instance, the Mayan population, increased almost exponentially from the 2nd century. The civilization reached its peak in the 8th century, leaving behind impressive monuments, pottery and more. By the 10th century, the civilization had virtually collapsed and nearly disappeared. At its peak, the Mayan civilizations had millions of people – exact figures vary greatly, with some estimates as high as 22 million. Some cities survived the collapse but the entire population had dropped to 30,000 people by the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century*.

“Many theories attempt to explain why Angkor collapsed – including droughts and floods, conflict with neighboring countries and also the degradation of natural resources”

Closer to us, the Angkor Empire reached its peak in the 12th century. Then, it went into decline until the 15th century when the population and the Royal family abandoned the city. There are many potential causes behind this collapse. Among them, the overpopulation and capacity constraints are possible arguments. Like the Mayan civilization, the Angkor civilization consumed a lot of resources, to build a luxurious society and monuments. Many theories attempt to explain why Angkor collapsed – including droughts and floods, conflict with neighboring countries and also the degradation of natural resources – as the civilization’s consumption and needs were growing. In my opinion, we can presume there was an unbalance between the consumption and capacity of the Earth to provide for the following generations (such as food, water, arable land, etc.).

Drawing of Angkor Wat by French explorer Henri Mouhot (Source: Wikimedia)

When you climb a mountain, you may reach the very top. Once up there, you will inevitably start walking (or falling even!) towards the bottom again. Old civilizations followed that kind of trend. When they reached the peak, decline and eventual collapse were inevitable. Today, our planet faces unimaginable levels of consumption and is projected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. We wonder if our world is following the same trend – when (and if) the collapse will come soon.

*Source: Diamond, J. (2005). The Maya Collapse. In Collapse (p. 175). New York, NY: Penguin Group

This piece reflects the views of its author only, and not necessarily that of the Politikoffee Media team and editors.


Watch Jared Diamond’s Ted Talk on his “Collapse” theory below: