I used to worry that all the trees in the jungle would be cut down to make paper for their reports on how to save the rainforest!
Nick Birch, Forester in Rondonia (Breton 1993, p. 26)
It could be argued that there is no one single region in the tropics that has received so much attention from naturalists, scientists, and explorers the world over than the Amazon. It represents about 40 percent of the world's remaining rainforests and holds by far the largest intact section of diverse tropical wildlife. To many people the Amazon has become the quintessential symbolic last stand of a major wild, natural environment against the encroachment of civilization. Undoubtedly the Amazon has captured the imaginations of millions; but the future of this region should not be left to imagination, but rather to studied analyses based on the facts as we can best ascertain them. There has been remarkable progress over the past decades in conducting hard, scientific studies of the ecology, biology, and economics of the Amazon rainforest. Nevertheless the region is still the subject of many popular myths.
Indeed, the ongoing public and governmental struggle over the Amazon's future mirrors broader current discourses on “the environment. ” While opinions among experts and laypersons alike vary widely along a continuum of perspectives, the two poles between which most of the discourse lies can broadly be thought of as (1) the school of defenders of global ecological services (“conservationists”) and (2) the school of development interests in the countries hosting these forests (“developmentalists”). Both conservationists and developmentalists make a number of valid points and sport very good arguments. Developmentalists note that countries in the North cut down their own forests centuries ago and benefitted greatly from the land uses that replaced those forests. They find it hypocritical that these developed countries now try to deny developing countries the same opportunities, and they fail to see justice in the insistence that the poor bear the costs of preserving forests whose benefits primarily accrue to wealthy foreigners and future generations.