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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

Effects of globalization on the environment

Recent globalization processes have intensified the widespread degradation. The largest cities hold 10 to 20 million people; industrial activities, previously confined to the agro-exporting sector, have already expanded or are now expanding to other sectors, such as automobile and chemical production. A large-scale invasion of maquiladora-type industries is taking place in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, with deleterious effects on the environment because of the lack of standards in these countries or their inadequate enforcement.

Macroeconomic trends are promoting deforestation in Mato Grosso, Santa Cruz (Bolivia), and Paraguay to make way for soybean plantations. Chilean native forests are being eliminated to plant exotic trees for production of timber or paper pulp. These new monospecific plantations are responsible for a large number of side effects on native ecosystems and hydrological regimes, resulting in loss of diversity and significant social upheaval.

Grassland ecosystems and associated farmlands are being taken over by huge forestry investments in exotic tree species, which are promoting the spread of new plagues, reducing agricultural competitiveness, and damaging the future potential of prairie soils. Rivers are becoming loaded with sediments as a result of the destruction of ecosystems in their headwaters.

These environmental problems are taking their toll on the quality of life of the populations. Old waterborne diseases, such as cholera, that had disappeared or were largely unknown, have made a startling comeback almost everywhere. The poor air quality in the main metropolitan areas is increasing the incidence of respiratory diseases. Geological hazards, such as landslides and floods, are becoming more frequent because of the encroachment of settlements in hazardous areas.

Models of development in Latin America and the Caribbean have proved to be unsustainable. Alternatives must ensure that economic activities and populations are decentralized, the, only sustainable production systems are adopted, and that these systems are based, as much as possible, on indigenous plants and animals.

The exploitation of natural resources should not continue indiscriminately; the biological diversity of native ecosystems must be protected. Adequate policies defining strict environmental standards for the disposal of solid wastes and effluent and gaseous emissions must be formulated and enforced. Overall, everyone must be made aware that other development alternatives, more sustainable, more diverse, and more indigenous, can be successfully defined and implemented.