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In this captivating and original exploration of the state of the global ecosystem, journalist and novelist Reiss (Flamingo, 1989, Saltmaker, 1988) travels between New York and the Amazon rain forest, the better to underscore the critical interdependency between the two worlds. Brazil's highway BR-364, linking the towns of Porto Velho and Rio Branco, has been called the ""most controversial road in Latin America,"" praised in Brazil for enabling poor migrants to settle previously undeveloped forests but reviled in the States as ""a straw sucking up the Amazon."" In traveling this road to determine the effects of ten years of development, Reiss makes it clear that the damage is real. Cattle ranches have transformed forests into infertile wasteland; poorly planned dams have put hundreds of acres of trees under water; Indian tribes have been decimated by disease; immigrant populations are overflowing Porto Velho's slums; and families of rubber-tappers are being crowded out of the forests by landowners. Reiss's interspersed reports on how Brazilian disasters affect life in the States literally brings these issues home: a New York teenager is cured of Hodgkin's disease by a drug distilled from an Amazonian plant even as US researchers work to keep thousands of other species of Amazonian flora from being obliterated; senior citizens are rescued from overheated, apartments as North American summers grow hotter, possibly from the greenhouse effect; discussions proliferate concerning increased war and poverty in Third World countries as natural resources are exhausted. Reiss concludes that effective corrective actions by developed countries should include more ""debt-for-nature swaps""; conservation programs that take into account the needs of poor Brazilian settlers; pressure on the Brazilian government to enforce forest zoning and monitor hank-funded development; and increased individual activism. The rain forests will inevitably continue to shrink, Reiss points out. The question is, will we learn in time to preserve and cultivate nature, or face more plunder, extinction, and death? Lively, informative journalism.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster