The book Best Science and Nature Writing: 2006 presented two contrasting views of the relationship of conservation groups to indigenous peoples. I see problems with both perspectives. A list of all the articles in the books appears after these comments.
It’s no secret that millions of native peoples around the world have been pushed off their land to make room for big oil, big metal, big timber, and big agriculture. But few people realize that the same thing has happened for a much nobler cause: land and wildlife conservation. Today the list of culture-wrecking institutions put forth by tribal leaders on almost every continent includes not only Shell, Texaco, Freeport, and Bechtel, but also more surprising names like Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Even the more culturally sensitive World Conservation Union (IUCN) might get a mention. – “Conservation Refugees,” Mark Dowie
Mark Dowie partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005 to conduct the research that led to his article “Conservation Refugees” which originally appeared in Orion. He brought to this enterprise a wealth of experiences gained by writing over 200 articles, which won him eighteen journalism awards. He is a former editor of Mother Jones magazine and a seasoned investigative reporter.
As The World Bank and its Global Environmental Facility encourage countries on every continent to set land aside for conservation through such programs as the debt for nature swap, Dowie is adamant that conservation organizations must begin to respond to the challenge of including indigenous people in the planning process. He quotes Masai Leader Martin Saning’o, who makes the claim, “We are the original conservationists.”
Dowie traces the history of evicting native people from their lands for conservation as far back as the creation of Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks in the United States and challenges conservationists to find a better way. He mentions India’s official figure of 1.6 million conservation refugees in that nation alone.
“Conservation Refugees” is only one article appearing in The Best American Science and Nature Writing: 2006. His arguments are balanced by a later article in the volume “Out of Time” by Paul Raffaele. This second author took readers of Smithsonian on a narrated journey to the land of the Batwa people in Brazil’s Javari Valley, a well protected “exclusion zone” in the Amazon region.
Raffaele introduces the readers to Sidney Possuelo, South America’s leading expert on remote Indian tribes. Possuelo researches by helicopter and airplane, and rarely makes contact with the groups he is sworn to protect as a government agent. He interprets the term protect to mean interfere as little as possible with the native culture and allow the people to continue their traditional ways.
Possuelo has been threatened, and his camp surrounded by those who would enter the exclusion zone for profit or missionary work. Loggers, miners and other entrepreneurs would conduct commerce with the Indians, or displace them to carry out extractive industry. Church leaders are especially interested in contacting these indigenous people for the purpose of winning new converts. Interestingly enough, these twin motivations of commerce and conversion also first brought Europeans to the American continents.
Possuelo would only allow Raffaele to visit one village of people with a nearly stone age culture. This group had wondered so close to the edge of the exclusion zone, that contact was inevitable. This gave Raffaele an opportunity to meet and investigate this one small sample of the Batwa before they rejoined the more isolated main village of their tribe.
This pair of articles offers only a slight sample of the many topics addressed in Best Science and Nature Writing: 2006. The editors looked at hundreds of articles to select the best for this volume. Topics range from a description of the Chandra orbiting X-Ray telescope to the source of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Computer aficionados will especially like “The Blogs of War” from Wired and “Torrential Reign” from Fortune. The second of these articles describes the development of Bit Torrent software – the first software for transfer of large files on the internet.
Two articles even unmask the pseudo-science intelligent design. In “Show me the Science,” from the New York Times, Daniel C. Dennett quotes intelligent design proponent and affiliate of the Discovery Institute, George Gilder, “Intelligent Design itself does not have any content.” He also proposes a few steps the intelligent design proponents could take to legitimize their claims, including the publication of a peer reviewed journal, conducting experiments with testable hypotheses, and investigating genomes and the fossil record.
Each of the articles in Best Science and Nature Writing: 2006 is both informative and enjoyable. A few articles on physics and astrophysics are highly technical, but most articles in the volume are an easy read.
Articles and Contributors
Brian Greene, Guest Editor, is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. He has published two books, The Elegant Universe, and The Fabric of the Cosmos.
Tim Folger, Series Editor, is a contributing editor at Discover and writes science articles for several magazines.
“Almost Before we Spoke, We Swore” by Natalie Angier appeared in The New York Times.
“Dr. Ecstasy” by Drake Bennett appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
“His Brian, Her Brain” by Larry Cahill appeared in Scientific American.
“My Bionic Quest for Bolero” by Michael Chorost appeared in Wired.
”Show me the Science” by Daniel C. Dennett appeared in The New York Times.
”How Animals do Business” by Frans B. M. De Wall appeared in Scientific American.
“Buried Answers” by David Dobbs appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
“Conservation Refugees” by Mark Dowie appeared in Orion.
“The Blogs of War” by John Hockenberry appeared in Wired.
“The Forgotten Era of Brain Chips” by John Horgan first appeared in Scientific American.
“The Mysteries of Mass” by Gordon Kane first appeared in Scientific American.
“Future Shocks” by Kevin Krajick first appeared in Smithsonian.
“The Mummy Doctor” by Kevin Krajick first appeared in The New Yorker.
“X-Ray Vision” by Robert Kunzig first appeared in Discover.
“The Illusion of Gravity” by Juan Maldacena first appeared in Scientific American.
“The Coming Death Shortage” by Charles C. Mann first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly.
“The Dover Monkey Trial” by Chris Mooney first appeared in Seed.
“Remembrance of Things Future” by Dennis Overbye first appeared in The New York Times.
“Out of Time” by Paul Raffaele first appeared in Smithsonian.
“Torrential Reign” by Daniel Roth first appeared in Fortune.
“Are Antibiotics Killing Us” by Jessica Snyder Sachs first appeared in Discover.
“Remembering Francis Crick” by Oliver Sachs first appeared in The New York Times Review of Books.
“Buried Suns” by David Samuels first appeared in Harpers Magazine.
“Lights, Camera, Armageddon” by John Schmollmeyer first appeared in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
”Taming Lupus” by Moncef Zouali first appeared in Scientific American.
By Ray Zimmerman