Breakfast of Biodiversity


Breakfast of Biodiversity: The Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto covers a range of environmental and economic issues that many Americans continue to ignore. The main issue of the book is how the first world is exploiting the world’s rain forests to supply their needs, while the rest of the book goes into alternative models and possible solutions to this imbalanced economic interaction. The authors discuss important new developments in our understanding of rain forest biology and they asses the impacts of free trade on the rain forest. This book has really opened my eyes to the exploitation of such biologically diverse and important biomes. Many forests have been clear cut by the gluttonous American mindset that is creating the demands for such destructive ecologic impacts. At the center of the movement to save the tropical environment, we find democracy, sustainable agriculture, and land security for the poor.

A theory that I found interesting was the dependency theory. This theory states that “…the underdevelopment of the Global South is not an accident of history or a product of bad real estate, but an organic outgrowth of the progression of the developed world” (p.73). I have been aware of how the first world perpetuates the third, but I have never considered it on the detail examined in this book. Basically money, in the form of products and resources, is being shipped out of the Global South and inserted into the economy of the developed world. This is secured by social pressures to maintain consumption power in the developed world’s working class. In the Global South Americans do not care about the economic growth of the country being exploited. It is more beneficial to keep economic growth at bay, ensuring the Global North retains control to enjoy the lowest consumer prices. There is no base of development in the third world, and foreign corporations  could care less if their outsourced employees have enough money to buy cotton, bananas, or sugar. Rather they are interested in whether the developed world, specifically their workers, can buy the products produced. Essentially the workers and factory owners of the developed world are the consumers of the less developed world’s products. This submissive relationship has created serious ecologic impacts.

Chapter 6: The Political Ecology of Logging and Related Activities

  • The authors discuss the theory that the destruction of the rain forests does not entirely mean that all biodiversity is lost within the area. The forest , with all of its animals and plants, will often grow back. However, the idea of logging an area of forest and then building roads and parking lots will definitely decrease the biodiversity in the area.
  • Is it possible that there is unnecessary resistance to logging when it isn’t truly known how badly it will effect the forest in the long run? The time scale of regrowth is 40-80 years (small amount of time compared to the rest of the forest).
Chapter 7: Globalization and the New Politics
  • Currently the “developed world” contains 17% of the people now using 70% of the energy resources of the world. This leaves only 30% of the remaining energy resources for the other 83% of the world’s population.
  • The US has only 4% of its original old growth forests left. What right do we have to tell others not to cut down their forests?
Chapter 8: Rain Forest Conservation
  • In Costa Rica there are limited jobs (Banana companies) so people often cut down the forests on their owned lands to make money and feed their families. Most people would think that the forests are cut down by large companies from other countries but in many cases it is the locals who are cutting parts of the remaining rain forests down.
  • The authors point out that ecotourism may protect some parts of forest, but locals are not the primary beneficiaries. It is counterproductive to keep them from using the land that is preserved to make a livelihood if it can be done sustainably. They will instead go out and illegally cut down the “protected” forests anyway.
  • Industrialization may provide relief economically, environmentally, and socially, but only if it comes from the bottom up and is not forced on developing nations by the US. This puts the interest of the native people ahead of foreign investors.
Chapter 9: Biodiversity, Agriculture, and Rain Forests
  • The rain forests play a large role in producing medicines and research for cures to disease and illness. Not only does cutting down the forest possibly give rise to new developments, but it also creates a risk to the overall chances of new research being developed.
  • The authors mention that the tropical rain forests cover only about 7% of the earth’s surface but are home to more than 50% of all the plant and animal species of the world.  They are also home to a large percentage of the plants used to make medicine.
  • This has led to several revolutions around the world when the locals felt they should have been entitled to the same amount (if not more) of the resources as everyone else.  The Vietnamese for example believed they should have the right to their own resources. The Americans and Russians said absolutely not and were willing to fight for it.
Chapter 10: Who Constructs the Rain Forest?
  • In order to save the rain forests, the local people must be first introduced in the strategies of using and preserving their lands.
  • Social justice must be the focus. Environmental preservation, as we know it today, will not save the rain forests.
  • “If we feel the view of nature as something to be appreciated is even partially correct, our promotion of that view needs to take the form of a struggle for social justice” (167).
Chapter 11: Past Causes, Future Models, Present Action
  • The book poses three fundamental questions:
  1. What causes rain forest destruction? Answer: There is a web of causality, no single component of which is truly the cause.
  2. What is a model for the future? Answer: A planned mosaic, based on ecological and egalitarian principles.
  3. What is the political action plan? Answer: Intensify the struggle for social justice.

One Response to Breakfast of Biodiversity

  1. […] Breakfast of Biodiversity « Environmental Geography […]

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