THE GREEN CATHEDRAL: Sustainable Development of Amazonia by Juan de Onis (Oxford : $24.95 ; 228 pp.) The last few years have produced a landslide of books about Amazonia. Some of them are pretty good, some are awful, but they’re nearly all preoccupied with the destruction of the neotropical rain forest. Juan de Onis, who was for a number of years foreign correspondent and bureau chief for the New York Times in Brazil, offers a different assessment and some impressive research based on his years there.
De Onis is no ecologist; he is a better observer of social systems than of ecosystems. He begins his exploration with that provocative line by Rene Dubos that unequivocally separates humanists from biocentrists: “There is no ‘natural’ ecology. Man has changed everything in nature. There are no resources, only human resourcefulness.” Curiously, he reports the same mass destruction as do the multitudes of doomsayers, but he finds, in the social and economic interstices of Amazonia, an awakening change toward sustainable forest management and economic survival. In “The Green Cathedral,” De Onis reports on small experiments and local trends that hold the promise of forestalling disaster. No ideologue, he discards both the Marxist and free-market analyses of tropical development in favor of a pragmatic, use-what-works approach.
Despite his anthropocentric viewpoint, De Onis closes by saying, “If ecology is a new religion, as some say, what better place to build a ‘Green Cathedral’ than Amazonia, the greenest part of earth?” De Onis writes with the force and clarity of top-drawer journalism, and he has done his homework. This well-supported and hopeful thesis deserves international consideration.