August 20, 2012

Happy Mon. Gray here.

Not too much to report yokelly. We watched a pretty good Jean-Michel Cousteau special on the Amazon that is suitable for family viewing and interesting if a bit overlong. The Amazon basin is the largest drainage system in the world, covers nearly half of Brazil as well as substantial parts of Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, produces one-fifth of the world’s fresh water (!), and is still about 80 percent intact. As most people have heard, the forest contributes a huge amount of oxygen to the earth’s atmosphere. It is being replaced in many areas at an alarming rate by cattle ranching, which produces major methane, one of the most destructive of the gases that contribute to global warming. Methane is 21 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

One of the messages of the documentary is that deforestation of the Amazon forest will reduce rainfall in the region, disrupt literally countless micro-environments that harbor unique species of plants, insects, fish, and animals, and devastate the Indigenous peoples who still call it home. The Amazon river system has 3,000 identified species of fish, with an estimated 2,000 to go (the water is mostly murky, making it difficult to locate and identify the fish. The rivers are home to 21 species of sting-ray, and the Amazon basin is one of the richest areas of the world for birds and butterflies, and contains literally thousands of unidentified plant species whose properties have not been investigated by science. The Cousteau documentary spends quite a bit of footage on efforts to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples and give them a stake in preserving the forest and wildlife. The area is so vast that policing poaching is nearly impossible. But we have a pretty good idea what may perish if people don’t control deforestation. One Harvard professor who spent 11 years almost continuously in the Amazon in the 40s and 50s identified over 3,000 new species of plants.

And did you know that Manaus, the former center for rubber/latex exports, has over 2 million inhabitants? I thought not. The documentary shows much of the animal life, has good fly-over footage of the meandering rivers, goes underwater to view fish, pink dolphins, caimans, and (yikes!) a huge anaconda swimming and then hauling its long self out onto a beach, shows scenes of Manaus and the smaller city of Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the world not accessible by road (take that, Juneau), at 400,000 inhabitants. Iquitos is 3600 kilometers (almost 2000 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean, and the river there is deep enough to accommodate ocean-going ships.

Incidentally, a cool graphic at the beginning of the documentary shows how the Amazon River used to flow west to the coast of Peru. That was before the Andes rose and created a huge inland sea, and eventually, as we know, the river reversed direction and flowed east. Anyway, good film and worth the two hours of watching time though you may tire a little of the Cousteau family being front and center. Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the inventor of the aqualung, died in 1997. Son Jean-Michel is a boomer with two grown kids who are carrying on the family enterprise. But they do good work.

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