In preparation for my wife’s and my just-concluded trip to the headwaters of the Amazon River in Peru, I read the book Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon by John Hemming (Thames & Hudson, 2008). This book told forcefully about the good, the bad and the ugly in the history of the Amazon, both from a human standpoint as well as from an environmental one, since the Amazon areas really are the lungs of the world. Of course, before the colonists came to the Amazon from Europe the Indigenous people often fought amongst themselves, but when the Spanish and the Portuguese came, what they did to these “non-Christian people,” accordingly to this scholarly book, was mostly genuinely and deeply evil. They routinely raped the women and whipped, enslaved and killed the men. And that was in addition to them spreading many diseases to the natives for which they had no anti-bodies. This happened to such a degree that one chapter of the book was simply entitled “The Empty River,” because in some areas virtually all of the native villages were deserted. In addition, with the colonization of the Amazon forests came new highways, which then directly enabled the deforestation of the land so that rubber could be harvested, new crops could be grown and cattle could be grazed. But the problems were that, surprisingly, the topsoil in the area was poor, and even that was quite shallow. As a result most of the new plants did not grow well. And since the large native trees had shallow roots that were intermingled with other trees, when one tree was felled it would take down another ten to twelve. So this biological engine of unimaginable intricacy was disappearing. In fact, this became so devastating that at one point in the 1980s and 1990s the Amazon region was losing five to ten percent of its foliage every year! And it is nearly impossible to regenerate it once it is gone!

So this is what we saw when we were there. Planes, chainsaws and bulldozers had diminished this starkly beautiful and environmentally friendly land. But we also saw the results of some hopeful developments, which were also discussed in the book. Fortunately many remaining forested regions in Brazil, Peru and Bolivia have now been effectively turned into preserves where mostly only the descendants of the Indigenous people are allowed to live and work (mostly by fishing). In addition, numbers of tourist lodges have been built in the areas, which are both environmentally friendly and a fine source of income for all. Encouragingly, some of these developments have been funded by first-world nations, because people are beginning to realize that, for example, a dollar spent on environmental causes in the Amazon is much more environmentally productive for our planet as a whole than a dollar spent in almost anywhere else in the world. So some good things are beginning to happen, to which we should all take heart.

Quote for the week sent to me from one of my correspondents in a prison in Texas: An archeologist in New York dug down 10 feet and said: “I found copper wire, which means we had telecommunications 100 years ago!” Another archeologist in California dug down 20 feet, found wire and said: “We had telephones 200 years ago!” Then Bubba in Texas dug down 30 feet, found nothing, and said: “We had already gone wireless 300 years ago!”

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.) Superior Court of Orange County, California 2012 Libertarian Candidate for Vice President

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