February 20, 2008


I tend to think that there's a little too much emphasis placed on choices in this article; human societies are not conscious things, and some adaptations that seem to make sense at one time prove to be maladaptive later, leading to change.

"What we are investigating is the choices the Maya made that ultimately created a catastrophic situation for them," Sever said by telephone from a NASA base in the U.S. state of Alabama.

To support a population boom the Maya felled huge swathes of jungle for agriculture. They collected water in giant reservoirs called "bajos" to farm during seasonal dry spells, but the deforestation raised temperatures and reduced rainfall, drying up water sources, Sever said.

Bajos were found at around half the new sites located by the satellite, potentially boosting this theory of why the Maya had to leave their cities.

Information about the fate of the Maya could help modern societies make better choices and "avoid the sometimes disastrous mistakes of the past," said Sever. "We are in a race against time to preserve our history."

The problem is that we can't tell, a priori, which choices are disastrous, because we can't tell the future. The best we can hope for is that we'll muddle through (a not insubstantial accomplishment, by any means--ask the Maya if they'd have preferred muddling to collapse...)

Posted by Ideofact at February 20, 2008 11:04 PM