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The Earth is Not Ours, We Merely Borrow it From Our Children: Lessons from the Maya Q’eqchi

Written by Saul Paau Maaz for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.


This fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines population and environmental change from various perspectives and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes. Here, Saúl Paau Maaz explains how his people, the ancient Mayans—and their indigenous descendants in Guatemala—saw the profound interconnectedness of human reproduction and stewardship of natural resources, and practiced respectful restraint. But traditional ways are being destroyed, and new solutions are needed. All of the articles in this series, Seven Billion People, can be found here.
Growing up in the deep, lush jungle of Petén, under an endless green canopy, I learned that human life and the natural world are inseparable. My parents and grandparents taught me that people are just one element of Mother Nature; her protection and care is our responsibility. For generations, my people, the Maya Q'eqchi’, have inhabited the Petén, which has always been sacred for its forests, which shelter a diverse array of animals and plants. The wealth of those forests extends well beyond Guatemala’s borders: in fact, researchers describe them as the Americas’ “third lung” because of their oxygen production. But today, my homeland is in trouble. Its biological wealth is threatened by drug farms, road building, cattle ranching, forest fires, and rapid population growth. Multinational companies are destroying the forests, as are sprawling human settlements. The jungle where I was born is now a disaster area, plundered and exploited.  Every year, 100 to 150 square miles of forest are lost. In less than three and a half decades, Petén's forest cover has shrunk from 90 percent to 50 percent of the land mass. It Hasn’t Always Been this Way.... Continue reading....