Few people now deny that the world has entered a road from which it is difficult to see the way out. The climatic crisis, the economic and financial crisis, the health crisis, the plastic catastrophe, overcrowding, the mass extinction of species, etc. are just a few of the crises we face today. Some scientists are examining whether the current route that humanity is taking is viable in light of these numerous issues. Many people come to the conclusion that it is not, and that the collapse of society is what awaits us if we continue on our current trajectory or even if we change it, but not firmly and courageously enough.
It’s important to take into account a wide range of variables in order to comprehend why and how a civilization can fail and vanish. Like everything else, in order to approach this seriously, it must be done in a methodical, controlled, and scientific manner.
How do we characterize the demise of a civilization, first? Does this imply that the vast majority of its populace will perish? Is the system losing its identity? the incredibly straightforward social complexity we live in now, which enables the extraordinarily varied range of goods and services to be produced? We only have information on historical civilizations that have collapsed, like Easter Island, the Western Roman Empire, and the Mayan Empire. Understanding human eco-dynamic responses (socio-ecological dynamics of connected human and natural systems) might help us understand the causes of the emergence and dissolution of complex societies, including those in the Maya lowlands and other places.
The Mayans and the weather
Numerous records from around the world and throughout human history demonstrate that climate has had an impact on the health of many different societies in the past. One of the clearest and most spectacular examples of this comes from the Classic Maya civilization, whose advanced culture left incredibly thorough records of every aspect of their existence.However, population reductions, political rivalry, and civil war characterize a protracted period of unrest in the ancient Maya city of Mayapan, located in the Yucatan area of Mexico.The conflict, unfortunately, reached a crescendo between 1441 and1461 C.E (common era), resulting in the city’s total institutional collapse and abandonment. All of this took place during a protracted drought.
The impact of climate change on civil war throughout the past century has also been the subject of intriguing statistical research and served as a crucial discussion point, highlighting the significance of human agency and illuminating unanticipated, nonlinear linkages between climate and behavior. Longer-term meteorological, archaeological, and historical records can add to these current discussions, but they require a strict transdisciplinary framework that unites natural and social systems.Under this perspective, the lead author Kennett and collaborators in the fields of archaeology, history, geography, and earth science investigate the relationships among climate change, civil conflict, and political collapse in the largest Postclassic Maya capital of the Yucatán Peninsula. In order to specifically identify a period of disturbance between 1400 and 1450 CE, the researchers looked at archaeological and historical evidence from Mayapan, including isotope records, radiocarbon data, and DNA sequences from human remains. Then, they coupled a more recent, local record of drought from cave deposits beneath the city with data from broader climate sources.
According to the study published in Nature Communications, a prolonged drought fostered hatred between rival factional groups, but later changes indicate regional resilience, ensuring that Maya political and economic structures endured until the European contact in the early sixteenth century C.E. These findings suggest that a reduction in social complexity and the loss of civilization-specific technological knowledge are traits that accompany the demise of all civilizations. According to the authors long-term, climate-caused hardships provoked restive tensions that were fanned by political actors whose actions ultimately culminated in political violence more than once at Mayapan. This loss of social complexity is more of a result than a cause, though. According to other studies, there can be a wide range of factors that lead to collapse, from big catastrophes to climate changes that affect grain harvests to an unsustainable rise in complexity. For instance, in the case of the Mayan cities, it is thought that its population left because the water conveyance system grew so complicated and challenging to maintain during periods of drought.
The archaeological and historical records provide lessons from the past, today we also have so much more information about our Earth’s climate and the potential vulnerabilities in our own sociopolitical systems. These sociopolitical complications are critical as we assess the probable success or failure of modern state institutions designed to sustain internal order and peace in the face of future climatic change. Drier conditions in Central America are perhaps related to global warming, according to recent regional climate records and modeling findings. In some areas of Mexico and Central America, food shortages, social upheaval, and emigration because of drought are already major causes of concern. The researchers emphasize the significance of comprehending the intricate connections between environmental and social systems, particularly when analyzing how climate change exacerbates factionalism and internal political conflicts in regions where drought causes food poverty.
Figure 1. The impressive historical record left by the Classic Maya (300–1000 C.E.) is engraved on stone monuments that have been dated. Long-count calendar dates are associated with certain days in the Christian calendar and are used to date wars, marriages, and the accession of kings and queens. Between 800 and 1000 C.E., this tradition came to an end, signaling the general demise of Classic Maya governmental structures. Multidecadal drought is one of the principal theories about the collapse of Mayan civilization. Credits: mage by DEZALB from Pixabay
It is possible that the Maya collapse will again?
When combined with climate changes that are causing increasingly extreme weather, we are confronting a global water crisis with extremely intricate social and economic implications. There are documented incidents of water overexploitation in various basins and aquifers around the world, demonstrating that we have beyond the bounds of sustainability. This scenario has compelled us to focus on the potential tensions that a prolonged water shortage could cause. It has even sparked the notion that water, rather than oil, will be the source of future military confrontations between sovereign governments, giving rise to the so-called “water wars.”
Water wars are conflicts that have taken place when two communities, towns, regions, or countries disagree over water resources in a violent and armed manner, regardless of whether they are underground aquifers, rivers used for communal purposes, or other types of water supplies. The intensity of conflict can vary from the eventual mobilization of armies and direct combat to the use of communal violence to exert control over resources.Despite the fact that some studies suggest that sharing transboundary rivers increases the likelihood of armed conflicts, most water conflicts between nations have been settled by collaboration. In fact, the only recorded water war in human history occurred between the Sumerian cities of Lagash and Umma (today southern Iraq) between the years 2450 and 2400 BC.
When King Urlama of Lagash decided to divert the surface water of the TigrisRiver, leaving the neighboring land of Umma without a supply of vital liquid. Global climate change adds new uncertainties to the future sociopolitical conflict around the world. As temperatures rise and glaciers melt, fewer water resources will be accessible to farmers and communities during the summer months, when irrigation demand is greatest. Some places of the world may see major reductions in precipitation or significant shifts in the timing of the summer and rainy seasons. Climate change will raise supply-side strain for river water management and global warming may also contribute to demand-side pressure due to rising residential, irrigation, industrial, and ecological needs. Given the possible effects of climate change on water supply and demand patterns, sharing finite water resources in arid and semiarid countries will be one of the most likely security challenges in the near future.
When it comes to environmental catastrophes, the Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions in the globe, particularly in the next 30 years. The future scenarios predicted that 1.2 billion people would be displaced globally by 2050. According to statistical models, more than one billion people live in countries that are unlikely to adapt to new difficulties during the next three decades. A lot of Middle Eastern countries will be exposed to severe water shortages in the future.
According to scientific evidence, there are already 2.6 billion people suffering from water stress around the world, a figure that is expected to rise to 5.4 billion by 2040. Lebanon, Singapore, Israel, and Iraq are expected to be the most affected countries. Shared water is predicted to enhance participation and collaboration among the riparian states as well as competitiveness and conflict. Numerous water treaties have been negotiated and signed during the past 50 years. However, if appropriate institutional arrangements for adequate water are not made, these water treaties risk not being able to continue. Most of the time, the water allotted under the current sharing agreements cannot satisfy the rising demand. Due to the potential effects of global climate change, the scope of additional river water augmentation in dry and semiarid regions of the world is increasingly constrained. The landscape of water security could be significantly changed by global climate change in the near future.
Figure 2. In the next 100 years, water sources like the Nile, the Ganges-Brahmaputra in India, the Indus River in Asia, the Tigris-Euphrates, and the Colorado rivers stand out as potential flashpoints for diplomatic war. Credits: Image by Pexels from Pixabay
- Swain, A. Water wars: fact or fiction? Futures 33, 769–781(2001).
- Kennett, D. J. et al. Drought-Induced Civil Conflict Among the Ancient Maya. Nat.
Commun. 13, 3911 (2022).
- Kennett, D. J. et al. Development and Disintegration of Maya Political Systems in
Response to Climate Change. Science 338, 788–791 (2012).
- Smyth, M. P., Dunning, N. P., Weaver, E. M., Beynen, P. van & Zapata, D. O. The
perfect storm: climate change and ancient Maya response in the Puuc Hills region of
Yucatán. Antiquity 91, 490–509 (2017).