Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712, USA. email@example.com
Historical collapse of ancient states or civilizations has raised new awareness about its possible relevance to current issues of sustainability, in the context of global change. This Special Feature examines 12 case studies of societies under stress, of which seven suffered severe transformation. Outcomes were complex and unpredictable. Five others overcame breakdown through environmental, political, or socio-cultural resilience, which deserves as much attention as the identification of stressors. Response to environmental crises of the last millennium varied greatly according to place and time but drew from traditional knowledge to evaluate new information or experiment with increasing flexibility, even if modernization or intensification were decentralized and protracted. Longer-term diachronic experience offers insight into how societies have dealt with acute stress, a more instructive perspective for the future than is offered by apocalyptic scenarios.