THE PRIMARY SOURCE: Tropical Forests and Our Future by Norman Myers

THE PRIMARY SOURCE: Tropical Forests and Our Future

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Environmental biologist Myers (The Sinking Ark, 1979) is a dogged, painstaking polemicist with important axes to grind (by contrast with Forsyth and Miyata, above). He provides nothing less than 1) a general statistical review of probable rates of worldwide tropical forest depletion and 2) a large arsenal of proposed countermeasures founded on Third World economic realities (such as inequities of land distribution). The chief pressures on the forest ecology, as Myers identifies them, are all economically based: the demand of impoverished countries for an export crop in the form of fine tropical hardwoods; the need for firewood in nearby deforested areas; the short-term profits of cattle-ranching in newly cleared land; and--again and again--the distress of the landless and starving to whom a few feet of cleared forest can mean another year or so of subsistence crops. Any solution must offer something better than large hunks of protected parkland closed off to profitable endeavor. Myers points to traditional multicrop patterns of tribal agriculture as ""a sound way for a subsistence farmer to make out with meager resources,"" and a potential model for larger-scale planning. Like Forsyth-Miyata and others, he stresses the sheer genetic diversity of rain forests (even today, many hundreds of tropical species probably remain to be discovered). But his treatment also emphasizes the potential dollars-and-cents contribution of the tropical genetic reservoir to future agriculture, industrial chemistry, energy needs, and medicine. (As many as 8,000 tropical plant species may demonstrate some degree of anti-cancer activity; others offer promise as renewable sources of raw materials for plastics.) This is not an orderly book, or a unified program of practical measures; it's a sort of hand grenade of ideas, full of bracing but not simple-minded optimism.

Publisher: Norton