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Article

Ela Miljkovic

As in many areas of the world, in Mexico ambient air pollution is a pervasive component of the lived experience. Most conspicuous in large urban centers, air pollution flows across the diverse Mexican terrain, unifying the country’s political geography while also routinely permeating international boundaries. In Mexico’s capital, air pollution is unyieldingly stagnant and often lingers in the valley for days during winter temperature inversions and periods of low wind activity. Although Mexico City has long suffered from seasonal dust pollution, a consequence of the slow, human-engineered desiccation of the lakes that once surrounded the city, as well as from pollution naturally generated by the relatively more sporadic volcanic eruptions known to afflict the city and its environs, the mid-20th century spawned an altogether different, more human pollution problem. Driven by state-sponsored industrialization, population growth, and a rise in the use of motorized transportation, a phase collectively known as the “Mexican Miracle,” from approximately the 1940s to the 1990s, Mexico City transformed into an industrial powerhouse and the most polluted city in the world, the latter status officially recognized by the United Nations during the Earth Summit in 1992. The state, dedicated to carrying out its comprehensive modernization project, had left Mexico City’s air pollution to fester for decades, framing the legal protection of the environment—atmosphere included—as antithetical to economic growth. This rhetoric pervaded the ways that antipollution laws, passed in the 1970s and 1980s, were enforced. Though they set into motion important classification and monitoring efforts, for the most part air pollution control laws were poorly executed due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and the collapse of the economy, which halted spending on environmental protection programs. Other spheres such as science and environmental activism were also important in the history of Mexico City’s experience with air pollution, as actors within these realms contributed to the creation of air pollution knowledge throughout the second half of the 20th century. In their own ways, scientists and activists discursively rendered air pollution a threat to human life and the ecological future of Mexico City. From the 1940s to the 1990s, then, dirty air connected politics, science, and environmentally minded citizens in important and intriguing ways.

Article

Although it has received less scholarly attention than firearms, microbes, domestic animals and plants, market economy, and statecraft, alphabetic reading and writing was crucial in the European conquest and colonization of the Americas from the late 15th century on. Unlike the agrarian empires the Spaniards encountered in the Andes and the Mexican highlands, the Portuguese frontier advanced upon tribal peoples who relied exclusively on oral language, such as the Tupi of Atlantic Brazil. These were semi-sedentary horticultural villagers whose entire socio-ecology (myths and knowledge, territoriality, subsistence strategies, etc.) was conditioned by the face-to-faceness and fugacity of spoken words. In turn, their Portuguese colonizers—for a while rivaled by the French, who enjoyed short periods of stable settlement through the early 17th century—were urban-based, oceangoing merchants, bureaucrats, soldiers, and religious missionaries whose organization strictly depended on the durability and transferability of written texts. Even if most of the Portuguese who came to Brazil in the 16th century were themselves illiterate, colonization as a social enterprise framed their actions according to prescribed roles set down in writing (both handwriting and printed script). Thus, the Portuguese colonization of Brazilian native lands and human populations can be interpreted from the point of view of the imposition of an alphabetically organized way of life. Two major dimensions of this “letterscaping” can be discerned as to its impact on Amerindian bodies (human and nonhuman) and modes of understanding. Although the 16th century was only the introductory act in that drama, its historical record shows the basic outlines of the alphabetic colonization that would play out through the early 19th century: native decimation and enslavement, territory usurpation by sesmaria grants, forest recovery in former native croplands (then resignified as “virgin forest”), loss of native ecological knowledge not recorded in writing, disempowerment of native cultural attunement to the wild soundscape, among other processes.

Article

Antoine Acker

While historically “Amazon” could refer to a river, a basin, and later a forest, it has been shaped into a coherent regional space by the development politics of governments, companies, and nongovernmental organizations throughout the 20th century, concealing a more complex cultural and ecological reality. Development discourses ignored the human technologies existing prior to the 16th century and drew on the imaginary of a “pristine” jungle, which actually resulted from the human depopulation that occurred in the Amazon during colonization. Colonialism (17th–19th centuries), nonetheless, connected the region to the global economy, indirectly leading to the “rubber boom” (1880–1920), when the Amazon became indispensable to the second industrial revolution. After state and business actors led different operations meant to “modernize” the region in the first half of the 20th century, “developing” the Amazon became a major target of the Brazilian government in the decades following World War II. The politics of the military regime that ruled from 1964 to 1984 in particular drove the expansion of roadways, cattle-ranching, mining, and dams. While statistically creating economic growth, this trend had disastrous consequences for nature, Indigenous livelihoods, and labor relations, which mobilized scientists, activists, and local communities against it. Yet, although by the 1990s the developmentalist model was highly contested, social and environmental movements did not manage to gather society behind a new consensus for the Amazon. Attempts to put development at the service of reducing inequalities and to reinforce environmental legislation achieved certain (mitigated) success in the early 21st century, but they did not prevent deforestation and land conflicts from trending upwards after 2015, threatening the Amazon’s very existence.

Article

The evolutionary history of vertebrate nonhuman animals such as mammals in what is now Latin America extends back tens of millions of years. Given that anatomically modern humans first appeared in Africa a mere 200,000 years ago and would not reach Latin America until some 12,000 years ago, nonhuman animals in the region evolved for most of their history without interference from human activities. Once they appeared, humans began to shape the history of the region’s animals in profound ways. In fact, one could argue that animal history in Latin America has been a story of increasing human impact; from the Paleo-Indians, who may have driven countless species of megafauna to extinction; to the agrarian societies that domesticated species such as dogs, turkeys, and llamas (or tolerated the animals’ self-domestication); to the radical transformations brought about by the Columbian Exchange; to the industrialization process of the last two centuries. But animal history in the region is also marked by adaptation and agency on the part of animals, who have influenced the course of human history. This dynamic and adaptive human–animal relationship has been pushed to the limit during extinction pulses, manifest in the currently accelerating biodiversity crisis. Environmental history makes the convincing case that any historical account that neglects the environment offers an inaccurate depiction of the past. By the same token, animal historians suggest that a more complete understanding of history requires redefining its boundaries to include the often underappreciated story of nonhuman species and their interrelationships with human societies.

Article

Fernando Luiz Lara

Brazilian modern architecture was widely celebrated in the 1940s and 1950s as a tropical branch of Corbusian architecture. While there is truth and depth to the influence of Le Corbusier in Brazil, the architecture of this country is much more than simply an application of his principles to a warmer climate. Moreover, Brazilian 20th-century architecture cannot be defined only by a few decades in which their buildings coincided with and reinforce northern expectations. Many contemporary authors have explored the pervasive nature of such ethnocentrism in architectural history, which denies agency and initiative to anyone outside its intellectual borders. A more adequate analysis must give proper emphasis to Brazilian architects’ motivations and agency, exploring in their main buildings how they struggled to express themselves and their societal aspirations by skillfully manipulating a formal and spatial vocabulary of international modernity. A contemporary study of Brazilian 20th-century architecture would not be worthy of its title if it did not address similar double standards that have been applied domestically. It is paramount to understand that the influence of modernism in the built environment reached way beyond the well-known centers of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and its manifestations go way beyond the high modernism of the 1940s and 50s. The ethnocentrism of the global North Atlantic repeats itself in Brazil, with the architectures of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo overshadowing all others. If Brazilian architecture in general is not well known, notwithstanding its extraordinary achievements, still less known are the buildings erected in Recife, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and Salvador, to mention only four other major urban centers, or the hundreds of buildings in medium-size cities with as much quality and intentionality as those of Rio and São Paulo.

Article

From the earliest days of Spanish and Portuguese colonial rule up until the late 19th century, banana cultivation in the Americas was carried out mostly by smallholders. That changed around 1880, when schooner captains based in Boston and New Orleans began to buy bananas in the Caribbean and sell them in the United States. In the geographically small countries of Central America, a couple of US-based banana companies have wielded enormous influence. The United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita) acquired so much power in Guatemala and Honduras that it came to function as a state within a state, giving rise to the notion of “banana republics.” The company consolidated its power through various means: it installed authoritarian civilian and military governments that gave concessions to land, railroads, and ports; it divided its labor force along ethnic and racial lines; it built hospitals, schools, workers’ barracks, and houses for its management; and it used massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides in a capital intensive effort to cultivate varieties of the fruit that North American consumers came to expect but which were susceptible to Panama disease and Black Sigatoka. Bananas and plantains are a dietary staple throughout the tropics, and the diseases that beset the Gros Michel and Cavendish varieties that are grown on monocrop plantations threaten a vital source of healthy and relatively cheap calories that much of the world has come to rely upon. In recent years, consumers and civil society groups have organized to demand more socially and environmentally responsible bananas, creating organic and “fair trade” alternatives to conventional “free trade” bananas.

Article

José Luiz de Andrade Franco and José Augusto Drummond

The rich variety of the tropical ecosystems and wildlife native to the current territory of Brazil has captured the attention of several groups of observers since the early 1800s. Wildlife and landscapes in particular generated a continuous stream of appreciation of their uniqueness and concern about their integrity. This perception affected government officials and foreign traveling naturalists of the 19th century, when dozens of French, German, Austrian, English, Belgians and North American naturalists traversed the immense territory of the former Portuguese colony that had been virtually closed to trained scientists. Throughout the 20th century, newly trained Brazilian scientists and again foreign scientists, besides government officials and activist citizens, continued to explore species, ecosystems, and landscapes of what now recognized as the largest tropical country of the world. More recently, the growing amount of information about the global distribution of biodiversity placed Brazil at the top of the ranking, as a truly “megadiverse” country. As a consequence, Brazil has engaged, through environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, and foreign and locally trained scientists, in a remarkable series of successful projects aimed at the identification and protection of endangered species. The country has only recently built a cadre of wildlife and ecological scientists trained to initiate and manage these types of projects. Despite the fact that these efforts are still far from being a priority in terms of its national environmental policies, Brazil has been quite active and successful in the protection of some of its most endangered animal species and their habitats.

Article

César Moscoso Carrasco (1904–1966), a central figure in Bolivia’s mid-20th-century public health system, wanted to liberate Bolivia from malaria. In a career that spanned three decades, he came close to achieving this goal, but ultimately did not live to see successful eradication. Moscoso was one of the first Bolivian public health specialists in malariology, and was recognized by the World Health Organization for his contributions to the field in 1963. At all stages of his career, he fortuitously aligned himself with the individual or organization that could help him accomplish his professional ambitions and his mission of eradicating malaria in Bolivia. He was the founder and director of the National Anti-Malaria Service in 1929, where he made a name for himself working to halt the spread of malaria in Mizque, in the Cochabamba region. In the 1940s, he secured a position with the Rockefeller Foundation, where he had access to resources beyond the scope of the Bolivian government and an international network of public health specialists. Finally, in the 1950s, he headed the newly formed National Service for Malaria Eradication, which was a Bolivian government initiative supported by international organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau. In the 1950s and 1960s, he came the closest to achieving his goal. Unfortunately, he died the same way he lived: fighting a disease, possibly malaria, which he contracted on a visit to Ceylon as a malaria expert and consultant. Moscoso’s life is a window into many aspects of Bolivia’s 20th-century history. First, his life story illustrates both the potential and limitations of the Bolivian healthcare system. Indeed, Moscoso often had to work with international or binational organizations to accomplish the work that he saw as necessary and important. Second, his career shows how political changes in Bolivia impacted healthcare. Since his career spans the Chaco War of 1932–1935, the politically tumultuous 1940s, and the 1952 National Revolution, it provides a personal account of how these events changed healthcare in Bolivia. His story demonstrates the hardships that Bolivian doctors faced as they worked to improve their healthcare system, including low pay, few resources, and little respect from their foreign colleagues.

Article

Edward D. Melillo

Since the early 1800s, Chileans have imagined their nation’s history and destiny through an ever-changing array of transoceanic connections with the rest of the planet. At a deeper level, Chile’s relationship with the Pacific Ocean is built upon myriad collective memories and aspirational identities. The long arc of Chile’s linkages with the Pacific World—or the peoples and ecosystems in and around the Pacific Ocean—has yet to be fully explored by historians. This article fills this lacuna by analyzing five diverse historical episodes that span more than two centuries: first, Valparaíso’s growth into a Pacific commercial hub during the early 1800s; second, Chile’s role in the Californian and Australian gold rushes of the mid-1800s; third, the Chilean victory in the late-19th-century War of the Pacific; fourth, Chile’s burgeoning commercial relationship with China, which began in the years following the Second World War; and, finally, the emergence of a Chilean-Pacific variant of neoliberal ideology in the final decades of the 20th century. These five developments reveal a litany of ambiguities and antagonisms in Chile’s complicated, ongoing association with its western ocean.

Article

The coffee economy was decisive for the construction of independent Brazil. By the middle of the 19th century, the country was responsible for about half of the coffee global supply; in 1900, that number had increased to about three-quarters of the world’s production. In the Brazilian monarchical period (1822–1889) the center of the activity was located in the valley of the Paraiba do Sul river. Brazilian coffee production from its very beginnings demonstrated an inherent spatial mobility and a great demand for workers. Before 1850, labor supply was guaranteed by the transatlantic slave trade; after that, by an internal slave trade. The two basic characteristics of the coffee economy created during the era of slavery (the intensive exploitation of workers through the extensive exploitation of natural resources) were maintained after the crisis and the abolition of the institution (1888), when the center of the coffee economy moved to the West of São Paulo. Now counting on a new arrangement of free labor (the colonato) and on the subsidized immigration of European peasants, the São Paulo coffee economy in the new republican regime (founded in 1889) underwent a huge productive leap. Overproduction and falling prices became the new problem. The coffee valorization policy adopted by the State of São Paulo after 1906 and then the federal government indicates the reconfiguration of the class relations experienced in the new republican era, which nevertheless kept many of the historical structures of the slave legacy intact.

Article

Matthew Butler and David A. Bliss

The Hijuelas project is a multi-domain international collaboration that makes available in digital form a large and valuable source on nineteenth-century indigenous history––the so-called libros de hijuelas or deed books recording the statewide privatization of indigenous lands in Michoacán, Mexico. These deed books, 194 in total, have been digitized and described over a two-year period by a team of History students from Michoacán’s state university, the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás Hidalgo (UMSNH), trained by and working under the supervision of archivists of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies-Benson Latin American Collection of (LLILAS Benson) of the University of Texas at Austin. Additional logistical support has been provided by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) as a partner institution in Mexico of the University of Texas at Austin and by the state government of Michoacán via the Archivo General e Histórico del Poder Ejecutivo de Michoacán (AGHPEM), which is custodian of the hijuelas books. The project was generously funded by the British Library through its Endangered Archives Programme (EAP 931, “Conserving Indigenous Memories of Land Privatization in Mexico: Michoacán’s Libros de Hijuelas, 1719–1929”). The project seeks to be innovative in two ways. As a post-custodial archiving project, first and foremost, it uses digital methods to make easily accessible to historians, anthropologists, and indigenous communities the only consolidated state-level record of the land privatizations (reparto de tierras) affecting Mexican indigenous communities in the 19th century. It therefore projects digitally a key source for historians and one that possesses clear identitarian and agrarian importance for indigenous communities. It also makes widely available a source that is becoming physically unstable and inaccessible because of the difficult public security conditions affecting Michoacán. As a collaboration involving diverse institutional actors, furthermore, the project brings together institutions from three different countries and is an example of what may be achieved through equitable international collaborations.

Article

Bradley Skopyk and Elinor G. K. Melville

The onset of Spanish imperial rule in Mexico in 1521 had profound consequences well beyond the political and cultural spheres. It also altered Mexico’s environment, reconstituting the region’s ecology as new fauna, flora, and microorganisms were added and as the population dynamics of native Mexican biota fluctuated in response to Old World arrivals. While the consequences of myriad interactions between native and non-native species were vast and complex, it was the decimation of indigenous persons by pathogens that was one of the first biological consequences of colonization (in fact, occurring first in 1520, one year before the fall of the Aztec state) and one of the most important. Mexican human populations were reduced by 80 to 90 percent, effecting cascading ecological consequences across the physical and biological geography of Mexico. Forests regenerated, terraced slopes degraded, and much of the Mexican landscape lost its anthropogenic aspect. Simultaneously, ungulate introductions transformed Mexican flora and likely initiated soil erosion in some regions that, when transported to fluvial environments, disrupted the flow of rivers. On the other hand, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, and other ungulates altered plant communities through selective seed dispersion. New economic pursuits such as brick making and silver mining increased demand for heat energy that, in an unprecedented manner, encouraged intensive forest usage and, probably, regional deforestation, although empirical data on historical forest cover are still lacking. Severe climate variability, of a scale not experienced for at least five hundred years and perhaps many millennia, occurred simultaneously with colonial-induced ecological change. A significant conquest-era drought was followed by one of the coolest and wettest periods of the Holocene; a strong pluvial in the Mexican context lasted from 1540 to around 1620. Subsequent anomalies of both temperature (cold) and precipitation (either wet or dry) occurred in the 1640s and 1650s, and from the 1690s until about 1705. Together, these climate anomalies are known as the core Little Ice Age, and initiated agrarian transitions, hazardous flooding, prolonged droughts, epidemics, epizootics, and recurring agrarian crises that destabilized human health and spurred high rates of mortality. Soil degradation and suppressed forest cover are also likely outcomes of this process. Although debate abounds regarding the timing, extent, and causes of soil and water degradation, there is little doubt that extensive degradation occurred and destabilized late-colonial and early-Republic societies.

Article

The semi-arid interior of Brazil’s northeast region, known as the sertão, has long been subject to droughts. These can devastate the agricultural and ranching economy and cause serious hardship for the area’s inhabitants, particularly those who labor on farms and ranches belonging to the landowning elite. A prolonged drought in the late 1870s led the Brazilian government to begin soliciting advice from engineers about how to redress the periodic crisis. In 1909 the federal government established a permanent federal agency, the Inspectorate for Works to Combat Drought, to undertake reservoir construction throughout the sertão along with other measures that would alleviate future droughts. In subsequent decades the activities of the drought agency expanded to include constructing irrigation networks around reservoirs and establishing agricultural experiment stations to teach sertanejo farmers improved methods of farming in semi-arid conditions. Although powerful landowners lobbied for federal aid to construct reservoirs, which helped to sustain their own cattle herds through drought years, they were often opposed to initiatives like the establishment of irrigated smallholder colonies around reservoirs, which threatened to alter the social order in the sertão. Support for the federal drought agency’s work waxed and waned during the 20th century under different presidential administrations. Often it would rise in response to a period of damaging drought, then diminish once the crisis abated. Droughts have affected the sertão at irregular intervals since at least the colonial era. They vary in temporal duration and geographic expanse. Their impact on human populations depends on how the area of reduced rainfall overlaps with human settlement patterns and land use. Over the 20th century the years in which drought most severely impacted human communities (including crops and livestock) in the sertão included 1915, 1919–1920, 1931–1932, 1942, 1951–1953, 1958, 1970, 1979–1983, and 1998–1999. These are the periods when local, state, and federal governments received the most persistent pleas for assistance from affected populations. The precise cause of droughts in the region is debated, but they are thought to be triggered by changes in major wind patterns, particularly the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), that prevent Atlantic Ocean precipitation from reaching the sertão.

Article

What role did drought play in the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution of 1910? Although historians of the Mexican Revolution acknowledge that the effects of drought helped catalyze it, they have not explored in any depth what connects drought to revolution. Instead, they usually subsume it within a more general discussion of agricultural cycles to explain the conduct and fortunes of popular revolutionary armies. In particular, they reference the onset of drought between 1907 and 1909 as exacerbating an economic downturn induced by severe recession in the United States. By then, Mexico had become economically integrated with its northern neighbor through rapidly growing foreign investment, trade, and cross-border migration facilitated by the railroad transportation revolution. These socioeconomic and ecological factors together led to steep declines in wages and earnings, devastating crop failures, spikes in food prices (principally corn and beans), and even famine in the lower and middle classes. Although suggestive, such passing references to drought in the historiography of the revolution do not furnish a clear picture of its effects and how they may have contributed to social and political conflict. In the 21st century, new technologies, methods, and sources—from historical meteorological reports and climate-related accounts gleaned from archival sources to modern historical climatological data reconstructions—facilitate doing more rigorous climate history. This article provides a sampling of these methods and sources on the role of drought in late 19th- and early 20th-century Mexico that can supplement, elucidate, and even revise our understanding of the origins of the Mexican Revolution.

Article

Judith Mansilla

Natural events have afflicted human societies periodically. They become disasters when their effects drastically alter and disrupt people’s quotidian patterns of life and political-economic organization. The chaos and distress natural disasters produce require people to react immediately, taking essential measures to cope with post-disaster conditions. While in the early 21st century, technological and scientific tools permit human communities to prepare for certain forecastable natural events, or to expedite responses to sudden and unforeseen disasters, such resources were lacking in early modern times. The viceroyalty of Peru was one of the most valuable colonial territories of the Spanish monarchy. Located over a telluric region, most of this colonial area was prone to earthquakes. However, colonial society’s understanding of earthquakes, and other natural events, influenced its reactions and how authorities responded to disaster. Learning about earthquakes in colonial Peru unveils early modern strategies of crisis management, which included both material and spiritual assistance. Furthermore, it reminds us of human communities’ vulnerability, which may increase when faced with monumental challenges during post-disaster periods.

Article

Brazil’s environmental history is often told as a tale of irresponsible exploitation and societal indifference. However, a broader perspective must consider the country’s diverging traditions of environmental thought and practice. During the 19th century, several naturalists wrote about the need for the rational use of natural resources, founding a conservationist cultural tradition. In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of naturalists from the National Museum produced various initiatives related to biological research and conservationism. In the 1950s, another group of scientists, agronomists, and journalists founded the National Foundation for the Protection of Nature, active until the 1980s. Although none of these initiatives led to a continuous environmental mobilization, they shaped public policies and cultural sensibilities toward the environment. Beginning in the 1970s, a new wave of environmentalism emerged in several cities—with protests against pollution, nuclear energy, and deforestation—but also in rural areas and forests, with demands from traditional peoples. Over the years, several conservation units and federal institutions were founded to implement environmental policies. Finally, the 1992 Earth Summit gave a special boost to these movements in an era of growing NGO activism. All of these fueled the feeling that environmental activism in Brazil had entered a golden age of dialogue and negotiation. Contrary to this view, some activists claimed that major political advances were still needed. Through the lens of socio-environmentalism and environmental justice, they denounced the displacement of communities by mining companies and the construction of hydroelectric plants, as well as the unhealthy and violent conditions faced by inhabitants of urban peripheries and areas where agribusiness was expanding. Skepticism toward gradual advances was warranted following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration threatened environmental legislation and institutions and prior achievements. To confront these perils, environmental activism must become a political, scientific, and cultural movement.

Article

Small fishermen have lost their ability to make use of the maritime and coastal environments at the same time that the Chilean state has facilitated the introduction of capital and the privatization of the sea, impacting ecosystems and ancestral productive activities alike. However, faced with the industrialization of maritime spaces, artisanal fishermen developed mechanisms and strategies that allowed them to dispute the privatization of the sea and exercise their rights to occupy coastal areas.

Article

An environmental crisis is neither the result of a single factor nor of a combination of such. On the contrary, it results from a complex combination of modes of interaction between natural and social systems, operating for periods in time and space. This holds true for the environmental crisis in Latin America, understood within the context of the first global environmental crisis in the history of our species. The combination of facts and processes with respect to the crisis in Latin America is associated with three distinct and interdependent historical periods: (1) The first period, one of long duration, marks the interaction with the natural world of the first humans to occupy the Americas and encompasses a timespan of at least 15,000 years before the European conquest of 1500–1550. (2) The second period, one of medium duration, corresponds to European control of the region between the 16th and 19th centuries, a timespan that witnessed the creation of tributary societies grounded in noncapitalist forms of organization, such as the indigenous commune, feudal primogeniture, and the great ecclesiastical properties, which were characteristics of peripheral economies that existed within the wider framework of the emerging modern global economic system. (3) The third period, one of shorter duration, extended from 1870 to 1970 during which capitalist forms of relationships between social systems and natural systems in the region developed. This period was succeeded, beginning about 1980, by decades of transition and crisis, a process that is still ongoing. In this transition, old and unresolved conflicts reemerge in a new context, which combines indigenous and peasant resistance to incorporation into a market economy with the fight of urban dwellers for access to the basic environmental conditions for life, such as safe drinking water, waste disposal, energy, and clean air. In this scenario, a culture of nature is taking shape, which combines general democratic demands with values and visions from indigenous and African American cultures and those of a middle-class intellectuality increasingly linked to global environmentalism. This culture faces state policies often associated with the interests of transnational corporations and complex negotiation processes for agreements on global environmental problems. In this process, the actions of the past have led to the emergence of a great diversity of development options, all of which are centered in one basic fact: that, in Latin America as elsewhere around the word, if we want a different environment we need to create different societies.

Article

Coffee has played complex and diverse roles in shaping livelihoods and landscapes in Latin America. This tropical understory tree has been profitably cultivated on large estates, on peasant smallholdings, and at many scales in between. Coffee exports have fueled the economies of many parts of Latin America. At first, coffee farmers cleared and burned tropical forests to make way for their farms and increase production. Early farms benefited from the humus accumulated over centuries. In Brazil, farmers treated these tropical soils as nonrenewable resources and abandoned their farms once the soils were exhausted. In smaller coffee farms along the Cordillera—from Peru up to Mexico—coffee farming was not quite as wasteful of forests and soils. In the mid-20th century, scientific innovation in coffee farming became more widespread, especially in established coffee zones that were struggling with decreasing soil fertility, increasing soil erosion, and new diseases and pests. In the 1970s, national and international organizations promoted large-scale programs to “renovate” coffee production. These programs sought to dramatically increase productivity on coffee farms by eliminating shade, cultivating high-yielding coffee cultivars, and using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Renovation brought tremendous gains in productivity over the short term, but at the cost of added economic and environmental vulnerability over the longer term. Since the end of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, the global coffee market has become much more volatile. New coffee pioneer fronts are opening up in Brazil, Peru, and Honduras, while elsewhere coffee production is shrinking. NGOs and coffee farmers have promoted new forms of coffee production, especially Fair Trade and certified organic coffee. Still, most coffee farms in Latin America remain “conventional” farms, using a hybrid of modern and traditional tools. Economic and environmental sustainability remain elusive goals for many coffee farmers, and the threat is likely to increase as they grapple with the effects of climate change.

Article

Anthony Goebel and Andrea Montero

One way of approaching the environmental history of Central America is through the analysis of the evolution of the main agricultural commodities. Until the present day, the economy of the isthmus still depends on agri-exports, while agriculture (whether extensive or intensive) continues to transform landscapes, fragment territories, and alter ecosystems. Agriculture has been an important agent of change in the Central American space from the time of pre-Columbian societies to the present. However, the way human societies have appropriated natural resources and services allows explanation of the socio-historic transitions that the different agri-ecosystems in the region have gone through, ranging from organic production systems to semi-industrial or industrialized production systems. This transition responds to a series of institutional factors linked to the international dynamic of tropical commodities and agricultural decisions taken in the region. Commercial agriculture has had an environmental impact in the area through distinct productive activities such as the production of coffee, banana, sugar cane, and cotton, and extractive activities such as forestry and cattle ranching.