Humans and limits

Any organism that ignores Nature’s limits
threatens its own existence

We know from many archeological studies that humans, like other organisms, are also governed by Nature’s limits1. For example, the Maya population of Copán, grew to over 25,000 between AD 500 and

Copán ruins

Copán ruins (Honduras).

AD 1000. Unsustainable population growth caused environmental stress, they exceeded the regenerative capacity of the ecosystems and suffered crop shortages which led to malnutrition and disease followed by societal collapse.

The Mesopotamians suffered societal collapse when they lost their ability to grow crops because of salt-poisoned fields resulting from irrigation practices. The Anasazi, a group of ancient Pueblo people, had to abandon their community setting and migrate due to a variety of factors including climate change that involved an extended cycle of drought, topsoil erosion, and environmental degradation.

Easter Island Moai

Easter Island Moai

Perhaps the most famous of the many collapsed civilizations is the story of the people of Rapa Nui or Easter Island2. The Easter Islanders apparently exceeded their carrying capacity, eliminated their forests and saw their complex society spiral into decay. A recent archeological study3 has cast some doubt upon the self-induced environmental collapse, although some aspects of this study are in dispute4. Whatever the ultimate cause of the societal collapse on Easter Island, major human-caused deforestation on the island (exceeding the regenerative limits) likely played a role.

…Tenet 5

1Collapse: Why do civilizations fall? (Accessed 20 November 2007). Note: this link opens a new window.
2Cairns, J. Jr. 2004. Sustainability ethics: tales of two cultures Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics 30-43. (Accessed 10 October 2007). Note: this link opens a new window.
3Hunt, T.L. 2004. Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island. American Scientist Online (Accessed 10 November 2007). Note: this link opens a new window.
4Holmes, B. 2006. Did humans devastate Easter Island on arrival? New Scientist (Accessed 20 November 2007). Note: this link opens a new window.

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