Tomorrow’s Ruins

NOTE: We have left Honduras and moved into Nicaragua and we are safe. We are now catching up on blog posts…

A few days ago, before our ‘breakdown’, our makefast tribe of Dave and Ann, Chad and Emily, and Tree and I went to the Copan ruins. Collectively, we have all seen many, many ruins in the past few months, so maybe that’s why we were all more impressed with the twisted, old Ceiba trees and the squawking red Macaws than with the actual archaeological site.  What can we say? We’re ruined out. Yet, no matter how many times I climb up dilapidated staircases or try to decipher yesterday’s emoticons, I still seem to be fascinated by what actually caused the collapse of the ancient Maya civilization. How could a culture so advanced in astronomy, mathematics, and with a system of calendars more accurate than our own, just suddenly disappear?

Until recently, the collapse of the civilization at Copan was a mystery. Now, archaeologists are beginning to understand what happened. Near the end of Copan’s heyday, the bulging population (more than 20,000 at its peak) put an immense strain on the valley’s agricultural resources.  Copan could not feed itself on its own and had to import food.  As the urban core expanded along the fertile lowlands in the central valley, agricultural and residential areas rose further up onto the steep surrounding slopes.  Deforestation and massive erosion is thought to have further decimated agricultural production and caused flooding during rainy seasons.  People were prone to more diseases and died younger, according to evidence gleaned from skeleton remains of residents who died during the final years of Copan’s heyday.  By the year AD 1200, very few people remained and the jungle reclaimed the royal city of Copan. 
Of course, the fall of Copan is not unique.  For as long as civilizations have existed, they have been exploiting their natural habitat and overusing their resources, thereby wiping themselves out, not to mention wiping each other out with disease and violence. That’s old news.  The part I find fascinating is our collective denial of the harsh truth that these ruins so clearly evidence—namely that civilization is not and can never be sustainable.

This is especially true of industrial civilization, which is enormous and expanding exponentially.  To support our massive population and all of our civilized needs, we continue to systematically destroy our landbase and our waters at an alarming rate. We take infinitely more than we give back to our environment, happily hurdling ourselves closer towards collapse every day.  Unlike the ancient civilizations, however, we’re taking out countless non-human life forms with us.  To give you an idea of where we’re at today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has calculated the percentage of endangered species as 40 percent of all organisms based on the sample species that have been evaluated through 2006.
Having seen so much inequity and injustice recently, I had come to feel quite strongly that something was wrong with civilization, and my hunch was that it had a lot to do with the greed driving transnational corporations and world superpowers like the United States.  I pictured the unholy alliance between big business and bad politics to look like a Juggernaut steamrolling over innocent people that simply had the misfortune of having been born lower on society’s hierarchical structure.  It hadn’t occurred to me, though, that the transnational corporations and governments are just the henchman for the real Juggernaut, that being civilization itself.  
So, if we accept that the industrial economy—and beneath it, civilization—is destroying the planet and creating unprecedented privation among the poor, then it’s obvious that the best thing that can happen, from the perspective of pretty much all nonhumans as well as the vast majority of humans, is for the industrial economy to be stopped right now in its tracks. In other words, we need to do something NOW. We need to meet the Juggernaut–full force and head-on. We need to take direct action and fight to save our living planet and all supported life on it.

 But….we all know that won’t happen. We crossed the Rubicon a long time ago. We’re addicted to civilization, constantly striving for what we call ‘advancements,’ blind to the travesty of progress—or, rather, what will be tomorrow’s ruins. –Stevie

(For further reading on this subject, check out Endgame by Derrick Jensen; and here’s an article on the looming mass extinction problem:

Copan was a beautiful site, as were all the great Mayan cities…as will be Los Angeles someday.

The Mayan people truly lived in paradise. They had everything they needed to survive and flourish as a society, yet their available resources were less than what was necessary to create the temples that are all that is left of them today. Ironically, much of the deforestation that led to their demise was done to fuel the construction of these ruins.

Habitat for nature’s species is in rapid decline. Humans are steamrolling the forests and species are going extinct. What will tomorrow’s ruins show? What will they think about us when they unearth our history?

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  1. Beautiful photos. I love looking at the images you guys post! Makes me want to get out there and see more…

  2. Anonymous says:

    You are telling the truth and you make us reflect on what is truely important. Thank You

  3. Well said.

  4. Love your rad take on the world and the way you express it, you're a regular Stevienista

    My take is two words – birth rate –

    Time for a tropical cocktail


  5. Dani Brubaker says:

    Stevie!!!! You look like you are having the time of your life.

  6. looks good guys. You say you are ruined out. How fortunate. You guys seem to have hit the best of the best. safe travels.

  7. mamatuyas says:

    "With the steep decline in populations of many animal species, from frogs and fish to tigers, some scientists have warned that Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction . . "

  8. Anonymous says:

    are you guys going to hit the ruins in Peru?

  9. Paul H. Burton says:

    Proof that entropy ain't just for math geeks!

  10. John Rich says:

    Stevie….Two excellent books about civilizations and human history you should read, if you haven't already, are Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse, both by Jared Diamond.
    Peaceful journeys.

  11. Hi Stevie. I am really enjoying following you on your trip, and reading your thoughtful insights. There is a good book called "Collapse" by Jared Diamond if you haven't already read it. Safe travels-Annette (Casa Raab)

  12. Word for the week:

    makefast 🙂

  13. Anonymous says:

    I believe a transnational corporation designed and built the Sprinter van – hmmmm
    Perhaps writing these statements should go along with walking to South America…..or I have friends doing the same trip on bicycles
    Love the photos and travel blog- just not all the rhetoric

  14. Please, for the love of god, don't give my wife any ideas. You may not know this but I already have 2 bad feet. Walking to South America just might be the end of me. TREE

  15. Hey Anonymous- you are absolutely right, and let's not forget the fossil fuels that we need to power it! You've helped make my point that every aspect of our lifestyle (by 'our', I mean 'modern civilizations', and yes, Tree and I are a part of it too!) is dependent on limited resources, and the transnational corporations do a great job of procuring those for us. Like you, I hate the rhetoric too….maybe we could change it -STEVIE

  16. There is an interesting book about ancient societies and their demise, appropriately called Collapse by Jared Diamond. I think you might like it.

  17. Stevie, Tree, and Kiki says:

    Holy moly!!! 3 recommendations for Collapse….I'm downloading it onto my Kindle right now. Thanks everyone for participating in my doomsday dialectics 🙂 Much appreciated. -Stevie

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