For the Ancients, and for Us, Sustainability Could Be a Civic Virtue

Past Civilizations Knew Their Natural Limits—and the Perils of Abusing the Planet for Personal Gain

The Romans built aqueducts to carry water across continents, the Aztecs perfected aqua-culture gardening, and the 6th-century cisterns of Byzantium still flow beneath the streets of modern-day Istanbul.

Some antique civilizations knew quite a lot about how to manage and sustain their environments. But what can 21st-century humans learn from their example about how to treat our imperiled planet? That was the central question during a Zócalo/Getty Villa panel discussion titled “What Can the Ancient World Teach Us About Living Sustainably?”

Moderator Scott Tong, sustainability correspondent for public radio’s Marketplace, started the …