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Latin America Shawn Dispatch


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Losing 137 Species a Day (and Counting)

Beads of sweat form on my forehead as I look out over the vast expanse of the mighty Amazon River. The sun glares down and the thick wet air is a bit stifling as I lounge on the riverbank watching large cargo boats tug along and smaller canoes skim across the serene waters of this flowing ocean. Behind me, I hear the roar of the jungle city, Iquitos, motorcycle capital of the world. On my other side is an impenetrable green wall of life which seems as if it might tangle and knot its way into eternity. Sadly, I know that this is not the case because the Amazon Jungle, one of the last great frontiers of wilderness, is facing an unprecedented onslaught of development and resource extraction.

Life in the motorcycle capital of the world.
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This jeopardizes not only the existence of hundreds of thousands of rare species that live here, but also the way of life of the indigenous people who have called this place home for eons. Iquitos, which is probably the largest continental city in the world, can only be reached by boat or plane. The city sits just below where the Rio Maranon and the Rio Ucayali meet to form the beginning of the Amazon. More than 400,000 people live here and since no roads connect it to the rest of Peru, almost everyone gets around on motorcycles. During peak traffic the streets become so noisy that it's impossible to hear the person standing next to you. Not to mention, the black fumes that the vehicles emit are choking.

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During the dry seasons, tourists flock to Iquitos and use it as a starting point for excursions into the jungle, hoping to get a glimpse of nature in its most diverse and undisturbed form. Meanwhile, timber, oil and mining companies flock here all year round, bit by bit, removing abundant precious resources. They leave behind roads where there were none, poisons where there was only purity, poverty where there was no need for money, and the dilemma which faces us all: How can civilization continue to survive without destroying nature, the very foundation of our existence?

Ashaninka, Huambisa, Machiguegna. These are the names of some of the tribes who live here. Many of these people live deep in the wild, almost never having contact with people from the outside; they do not know Coca-Cola or the Internet. Perhaps they can answer this pressing question since they have lived and prospered for so long in harmony with the jungle, content without most of the things that we consider essential. For them, contact with the outside world often means death. Miners and loggers bring more than machines and technology. Guns, alcohol and diseases from distant lands, are disastrous to these isolated people, for they have no defenses against these foreign items. And what voice do they have to object? Without radio, television, newspapers- without even the ability to speak Spanish or English- how can these simple people make their plight known to the rest of the world?

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Where the amazon used to be.
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Shell, Occidental, Mitsubishi. These are the names of some of the corporations who have come here seeking the spoils of this fragile land. For them, this place is not a forest teeming with life and diversity. Instead, it is simply a series of points to be exploited on a resource map. Concerns of habitat and the rights of indigenous people are, at best, secondary. There is a "modern" world that requires fuel, wood, and land for raising cattle, and for these companies, these things mean profit. Furthermore, with so much poverty and corruption in this part of the world, there is very little accountability for corporations who "work" here, and usually very little is done to preserve the land. As these destructive operations take place, the creatures and people who live here are left with an inhospitable wasteland.

Visit www.ran.org to find out what you can do.
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Although rain forests cover less than two percent of the Earth's surface, they contain nearly fifty percent of all life forms on our planet. It is estimated that nearly 214,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed each day, which is an area larger than New York City. This equates to 78 million acres a year of habitat for animals, plants and insects that simply disappear into grazing land, clear-cuts, and farms. Habitat loss is the leading cause of extinction and today, while you went about your daily routine, over 137 SPECIES disappeared forever from the face of the earth. This rate of extinction is faster than that which killed the dinosaurs, and while that great extinction mainly effected large reptiles, this one effects the entire food chain from micro-organisms to large mammals. Keep in mind that humans are almost entirely responsible for these abuses of the earth.

You and I. These are the names of the people who can make a difference. It is you and I that burn fossil fuels, use wood products and consume things like bananas and meat, which require so much of this precious land to produce. The first step towards making a difference is wanting to make a difference. The next step is knowing how to make a difference. Next time you buy a product, or get into your car, ask yourself if you know where what you are using came from. The things we consume do not appear at the store in the morning and the costs of creating them do not disappear when we throw away the wrapper. At the current rate of destruction, the world's rain forests will be a memory by the year 2030. Unless you and I do everything we can to make a difference, we will not only witness the destruction of this incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem within our lifetimes, we will see first hand our own species, human beings, join the list we have played such a part in creating: extinction.

Shawn
 

Kevin - Visiting a Canyon...No Longer a Void in my Life
Monica - Coricancha: The Temple in the Center of the Inca Universe
Team - Lifestyles of the Poor and Famous
Monica - Viva la Lucha de los Trabajadres y del Pueblo!
Making a Difference - Save the Rainforest from Your Own Backyard!
 
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