February 3rd, 2012

When learning about history and the fall of civilizations, I never really considered the role of their environmental policies in their downfall. With the Mayans, I had always assumed it was because of the meeting between their culture and the Europeans, and never really considered the fact that where they were positioned and how they farmed had an impact on their civilization. I knew about the Anasazi, but did not think, really think, how much the environment played a role.

With Easter Island, however, I always knew it was from overharvesting, deforestation, and lack of planning and utilization of their scarce resources. The fact that people kept debating over what caused them to collapse baffled me, because I always knew it was due to the environmental factors and their response to them. For me, it was easy to see how an isolated island civilization could collapse due to their interactions with their environment and with each other. Put on a larger scale, however, as with the Mayans, it never really occurred to me, because, in my mind, they had room to move away, and had a larger amount of resources available to them.

Thinking about other civilizations in history in environmental terms, and not just socio-political ones, it makes complete sense to me to see how much effect their environments had on them. The Romans, to me, are a perfect example. While they had an infrastructure in place, particularly in the places nearest their center of power, the distances and varied cultures, environments, and resources had a major effect on how they could run their empire. At their peak, the Roman empire stretched all the way around the Mediterranean Sea, into eastern Europe, parts of Germany, and England.

Roman Empire at its peak

They were so extensive that their infrastructure could not cover the entire expanse of the empire; in a way, this is what happened to the people of Easter Island. Not only did they expand across their entire (albeit small) island, but the infrastructure and customs that were in place between the tribes on the island could not support the massive boom in population that occurred over time, leading to the eventual collapse.

I think that keeping in mind the environmental aspect as part of the downfall or salvation of any civilization is going to be important, not only for later in this class, but for when we leave it and enter the world at large. For me, the biggest challenge in saving the environment is not what we have to do in order to fix or combat what is wrong (although this is a massive challenge with many parts to it), but rather changing the way people view the world, their surroundings, and making the environment an important part of everyday life.