I did not expect to like Porto Velho, a small, underdeveloped city at the Western edge of the Amazon rainforest, but I do.
Dusty with the same red earth as my childhood home in Georgia, this city has started down the path toward rapid expansion that Atlanta once felt. Upon first glance, there seems to be something gentle and sweet about this city unlike Manaus, the city one hour north by plane, that I just arrived from. Manaus began industrializing decades prior. Lights and cars, roads and malls now dominate that city even though it is in the middle of rainforest. Porto Velho has is just beginning to face a rising tide of development. Like other seeds of urbanity in the region, it is a new type of flourishing spreading across the Amazon.
Like these two cities, populations across the forest are connected by something ephemeral, swift and critically important – water. Two months ago, Manaus faced the worst drought in the history of the Amazon. Today, Porto Velho is witness to the construction of the first large hydroelectric dam since the termination of the country’s military dictatorship. Manaus was bereft of water. Porto Velho now flaunts its abundance.
Both of these events have been almost invisible to the American public, as though meaningless. Yet, what happens in the Amazon carries immense meaning for other parts of the world. Some recent research even shows that through a system of ‘teleconnections’ American agriculture in the Midwest may hinge on the habits of the forest. The actions of people outside of the Amazon also directly impact its viability. Greenhouse gases from other countries float into the microclimate of the Amazon, determining whether it is drought-ridden or flush with rain. Much like the interdependency of the food web, the Amazon sits powerless in the midst of a cycle of human actions, waiting to see what its future holds.
I am in the Amazon doing research about new megadevelopments that are shaping its future. As a sociologist, I am fascinated by how people make decisions to exploit such delicate ecosystems, and what happens to those whose lives hang in the balance. I am filming this research to capture these rapid changes that move as quickly as Amazonian rivers. My series of Amazonian Journal posts tell the story of my recent trip there. These posts are the beginning of a film project that EBM is developing.
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