As governments begin another round of international climate change negotiations today, this time in Cancun, Mexico, we could all do with a lesson from the history of the indigenous Mayan people.
At its peak, Mayan society was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. It was noted for the only known fully developed written language of its time, as well as its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. The Mayans were also accomplished scientists.
A warning from the past
Greenpeace's hot air ballon flies over the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico.
© Promteo Lucero / Greenpeace
The collapse of this once great civilization has been the subject of continued debate but increasingly accurate records from ice cores, tree rings and some deep sea sediments provide evidence of multi-year droughts in the region, each event leading to a collapse of a portion of the population, until those remaining could not survive the last severe drought. For all their sophistication, the Mayans did not see their destruction coming. But we can see ours.
Right now, a clean energy future is a choice we can still make. An international climate change agreement could catalyse and help pay for a world with clean, secure and independent means of energy guaranteed for generations to come. It could keep natural and ancient forests standing and forest peoples thriving, as well as protecting many forest species and helping to stop catastrophic climate change.
Business as usual will mean more temperature increases, threatening many aspects of our society, including coastal cities and infrastructure, water supply and agriculture.
Governments at the Cancun Climate Conference have to weigh their options carefully.
They must acknowledge the cuts they have already promised are not enough, make the right decisions on the structure of an agreement and decide how they provide new money for developing country action and adaptation. They must agree how to open the coffers to provide money to stop deforestation in developing countries. They must close loopholes around rules for forests and land use that could increase emissions from industrialized countries.
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If they can do these things in Cancun, we can start to believe that governments have woken up to the stark reality facing the planet.The Mayans may not have had the information or the tools to prevent the collapse of their civilization but from our vantage point in the 21st century we truly can see into the future and we can choose a different path.
Take action: spread the word and tell everyone you know that a fossil-fuel free future is necessary - and possible.