An overview of the vast and much-transformed region where more than 20 million people now live: an opportunity-filled frontier akin to the American West.
Twenty-five years after their first extensive visits (chronicled in Amazon, 1983), the authors returned to find that the once-“untouchable” area, which contains half of Earth’s remaining forest, is changing rapidly. In the early 1980s, three percent of the Amazon’s 2.5 million square miles of forest had been destroyed to make way for logging, farming and cattle ranching. Today, 20 percent of the land is deforested, despite efforts by environmentalists to save its unparalleled biological riches. London, an attorney, and Kelly, executive editor of U.S. News & World Report, draw on months of travel, interviews and other research, including recent scholarly findings showing that humans lived in the Amazon 10,000 years ago, apparently in harmony with the environment. With its endless supply of heat, sun, rainfall and usable land, the Amazon has attracted more and more pioneers (including many young professionals) since the founding of Brasilia in 1960, they write. And access to information and technology is spurring still more development: At Grupo Maggi, a huge agribusiness, employees communicate by cellphone and Internet with port managers, barge captains, Chicago grain dealers and shipping companies in Rotterdam and Shanghai. Like it or not, “the Amazon is occupied and will remain so.” The book brims with anecdotes about efforts to exploit the environment, from gold-mining and illegal logging of mahogany (“green gold”) to the efforts of responsible farmers like Jaime Luiz Demarchi, who, rather than pursue slash-and-burn agriculture, has spent years mastering the soil and crop rotation needed to make a success of three farms. The authors note that the TransPacific Highway and other new roads will bring still more change, since most deforestation occurs near roads. Any effort to “save” the species-rich Amazon, they conclude, must now take into account human populations.
An incisive, information-packed update on man and nature in our greatest rainforest.