Latin American Research Review 40.3 (2005) 457-468
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Nature's Role in Latin American Governance and History
Kenneth R. Young
The natural resource endowment of countries shapes choices that are made at national and local levels in regards to economic and social development. This legacy from nature includes the types of natural ecosystems present, the soil and climatic constraints that act upon those ecosystems, and the native plants and animals to be found. People occupy the land, installing homes and settlements and importing, inventing or adapting landuse systems for agricultural, pastoral, and [End Page 457] silvicultural production. Natural environments are modified, converted, or enriched, depending on the perspective(s) of the observer and what criteria are utilized to evaluate the kind and degree of change. For example, agricultural systems utilize a set of domesticated plant and animals species now introduced around the world, a process of globalization that began with the first dispersals of humans and cultural artifacts. Often the extraction of forest resources or the need to establish pastures or fields in place of original forest results in deforestation or conversion to another type or phase of forest. In evaluations of these kinds of landuse and landcover change, sensitivity towards and knowledge of history and ethnicity is critically important, because most of these landscape conversions have played out sequentially or interactively beginning millennia ago, accelerated by the far-reaching effects of colonization, and further interwoven with national agendas and global interventions to the present time.
The authors of the books reviewed here explore these topics from disciplinary viewpoints of anthropology, geography, and history. Some of the authors look at climatic norms and extremes in relation to societal preparations for natural resource production and for the effects of inevitable natural disasters. Others evaluate the uses of native or introduced plants and animals, and the effects on plants and animals of that usage. Others take the history of colonization and/or globalization and apply its lessons to natural resource use, landcover change, and changing socioeconomic systems. Collectively, these works provide an insightful set of examples of differing approaches for evaluating nature-society interactions in Latin America.
César Caviedes takes a global perspective, but with considerable detail provided on implications for Latin America, on the El Niño Southern Oscillation (popularly shortened to El Niño) in his book entitled El Niño in History: Storming through the Ages. The tale begins with descriptions of the fundamental linkages initiated with energy balance in the world's tropics and in particular how it affects temperatures in the Pacific ocean leading to a repeated shift (or "oscillation") every several years in air pressures, wind directions, and ocean currents. Both atmospheric and oceanic circulations are altered, not only in the Pacific basin, but globally due to connections that link climatic changes in one place to...