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close this bookDiversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature (IDRC, 1995, 234 p.)
close this folder11. Latin America and the Caribbean: A history of environmental degradation
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIndigenous cultures
View the documentThe colonial period
View the documentExploitation of natural resources after independence
View the documentEffects of globalization on the environment
View the documentThe maquiladora phenomenon


Environmental changes in Latin America and the Caribbean during the last few centuries are probably unparalleled in other parts of the world. During this period, the continent has experienced widespread and increasingly dense human occupation of formerly sparsely populated areas and a general process of urbanization that catapulted provincialsized cities into huge megalopolises of many millions.

As a result of these changes, most indigenous ecosystems were profoundly transformed: forests became savannas and farmlands; grasslands became crops or forests; deserts were irrigated; aquifers were depleted; rivers, lakes, and coastal waters were contaminated; biodiversity has been under constant attack; and quality of life has deteriorated or is under threat. Thus, one of the richest continents in natural and cultural diversities, with the strongest resource base, has been losing all of it at an alarming rate. The most serious concern is that the process is not slowing; on the contrary, it seems to be accelerating daily.

What caused this situation? Where are the problems most acute? What are the effects of globalization? What can be done to prevent fur’ ther degradation? The answers to these questions are not simple or straightforward; they are the result of a peculiar historical evolution and a unique natural geography.