In This Review

A Land on Fire: The Environmental Consequences of the Southeast Asian Boom
A Land on Fire: The Environmental Consequences of the Southeast Asian Boom
By James David Fahn
Westview Press, 2003, 384 pp.

In sharp contrast to the usual blend of science and moralizing in books about the world's impending environmental catastrophe, Fahn has written a personal, firsthand account of the destruction of nature he has observed over years of living in Thailand and traveling around Southeast Asia. Starting with how the megacities, such as Bangkok, have been losing their last bits of green space, he takes the reader to the countryside where logging is destroying the forests, dam building has raced ahead without regard for the social and environmental costs, and farmers are left without their traditional sources for irrigation. And, of course, there is the unchecked pollution of newly booming industries. Fahn does tuck in the essential statistics, but his focus is on what he has observed, especially as a result of the boom years of rapid economic development. He notes that in the West environmentalism is a middle-class preoccupation, but in Asia it is the poor, and hence the politically weak, who are the most environmentally conscious. In spite of all the destruction he describes, Fahn does find some basis for optimism in the growing network of activists who have brought pressure to bear on politicians and have even moved the Thai king to action. It appears Southeast Asians are discovering that to be environmentally sensitive is to be modern.