My dad used to tell me “Son when you think of the future, make sure you look into the past. Hiding in there you may see what has been and is to be”. It did not make a whole lot of sense to me growing up. Of course we are all well familiar of those clichéd utterances that go something like ‘History repeats itself’ or something to that effect. If we peer deep these turn out to be of a symbolic nature, or something that repeats itself in spirit. But I least expected to get reinforcement about sustainability by peering into the dark pages of a long gone past!
For the history buffs amongst you, the Mayan civilization dates back to ancient times. From 2000 BC or beyond (depending on which version you are reading), to until their Spanish conquest the Maya civilization extended throughout present-day southern Mexico, and extended to include present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and parts of Honduras. So what does that have to do with sustainability or being green you may wonder? You may even go as far as to remind me that per the Maya everything ends next year – 2012! So what’s the big deal here? That is the subject of today’s blog entry…
Recently, a friend of mine who learnt about my blogging attempts sent me an email with a link that took me to a cnet article ‘Archaeologists: Mayans were green builders‘ Initiallly, I thought this was an April fool’s joke. The article was dated May 2010. Why would he send me something a few months old. But upon a closer look, and some more googling to research I discovered to my amazement that he was right. The damn Mayans knew what it was to respect our spot on this planet. This planet we fondly call the third rock from the sun and which goes around it at a whopping speed of some 67,000 miles/hour. You got it. Those damn Mayan’s knew what it was respect our spot on this planet. Bears repeating especially when our existence falls into perspective.
So what was special about their building one wonders… According to the cnet article, NASA scientists and archaeologists have unearthed an ancient Mayan city that employed a system of urban architecture. The Caracol project team of Dr. Diane Chase and Arlen Chase from the University of North Carolina have mapped about 77 miles of the ancient Mayan city of Caracol. This city supposedly supported upwards of 100,000 people from 250 to 900 AD. Aerial inspection using NASA satellites showed that the Mayans employed terraced roofs for agriculture and maintained sustainable dwellings long before ‘green’ was an operative word. Elsewhere it has also been reported that the Mayan architecture called for concentration of people into smaller areas by interlacing work and living places. Now whether this was due to other societal reasons, maybe borne out of the ‘power in numbers’ syndrome in those days of internecine warfare, I do not know. However, compare that to today’s generation wanting to ditch that 30 minute/20 mile commute and move to the city or to live near their place of work. There seems to be something to it huh?
So, have we learnt anything from this. Well, its heartening to report that we are not just reading about it and feeling good. There are some folks out there who are trying to emulate (atleast in theory) some of what the Mayans did. Take for example the Laboratory For Architecture that as recent as Nov of last year presented a design of a sustainable building that resembles the famous Mayan pyramids. According to this articlethe structure includes both office and residential spaces. Hmmm… It only gets more interesting. The structure located in Merida, Mexico has a number of green features that lets it reduce its overall power consumption drastically. For example, stepped back terraces allow sunlight to reach the vegetation from the highest to the lowest floors. Water consumption and energy use are reduced thanks to rainwater capture and solar panels lining the exterior facade.
A second heartwarming example is the Tecnico Maya school. Its a green construction project by Long Way Home Built in Guatemala, the building materials consist of recycled tires and trash bottles. Along with other education, the school will also focus on green vocational skills for students 10 years and older, and equip them with the skills to break the cycle of poverty, but in a sustainable fashion. Talk about history repeating itself in modern day Mayan areas.
In closing, I would say when your pops tells you something, listen to him carefully. For he may be passing along a gem, that nugget of wisdom that if you pay attention to you will be well served. Equally important (and in this case) we have the choice to listen to the collective human voice. That of our forefathers who roamed these lands. From tree worshipers, to star gazers, from taking care of their farm, their animals and their lands, to ensuring that they took only that which the needed from earth, these folks might provide a valuable lesson as we careen towards a future of increased stress on our resources compared with its decreased overall availability. What we should do is peer back into the annals of history occasionally.
While 2012 would make for a great movie plot, the Mayans and others like them, before and after them, also had a lot of positives to teach us. Respect for the earth certainly was there – somewhere in there. All you have to do is look!