Book Review: Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith

Amazon Buring coverThis is a debut novel by Victoria Griffith. I look forward to other novels by this author.

Synopsis from the publisher:

When 22-year-old aspiring journalist, Emma Cohen, is forced to flee the comforts of her NYU student life, she maneuvers an internship from her father at his newspaper in Rio de Janeiro. There, Emma is immediately swept into a major news story–and a life-threatening situation–when a famous jungle environmentalist, Milton Silva, is mysteriously murdered.

Emma must now enter the Amazon rainforest with her father to investigate; both awed by the enormity and beauty of the Amazon, and appalled by its reckless destruction. Not only will Emma have to brave the primal world of the Amazon, she must fight to survive the kidnappers, villains, corrupt activists, and indigenous tribes that lay in wait along the ever-twisting trail of the murder case. Stretched to the brink, it’s up to Emma, her father and the dreamy news photographer, Jimmy, to unravel the mystery and live to tell the tale.

I read the whole book in one day, that’s how interesting it was. Amazon Burning is a compelling, entertaining story. The plot line is solid and the main characters are well-developed. And, as for who killed Milton Silva, there is an ironic twist at the end, reminiscent of a good noir-style story. Griffith did a good job spinning her tale.

The book is being promoted as a “Young Adult” suspense story. I was not familiar with that terminology, but it worked for me and I’m only 70 years young.

I looked up the term “Young Adult Fiction” on Wikipedia and was surprised to find this genre is nothing new. It includes such works as The Swiss Family Robinson (1812), Oliver Twist (1838), The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), Great Expectations (1860), Alice in Wonderland (1865), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), The Catcher in the Rye (1951, has it really been that long ago?); and Lord of the Flies (1954).

The book is available at Amazon, no pun intended.

IPCC and Peer Review

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that all of its reports and predictions are based on strictly peer-reviewed scientific papers. Well, not exactly. Recent investigations have shown that many IPCC reports were based on everything from magazine articles, telephone conversations, and propaganda from radical environmental groups.

Mountain Ice

In its most recent report (the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, aka 4AR), the IPCC stated that observed reductions in mountain ice in the Andes, Alps and Africa was being caused by global warming, citing two papers as the source of the information. However, one of the sources quoted was a feature article published in a popular magazine for climbers which was based on anecdotal evidence from mountaineers about the changes they were witnessing on the mountainsides around them. The other was a dissertation written by a geography student, studying for the equivalent of a master’s degree, at the University of Berne in Switzerland that quoted interviews with mountain guides in the Alps. See story in London Telegraph:

Himalayan glaciers

The IPCC claim that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 was based on an unverified magazine article and the IPCC knew it. Nevertheless, the IPCC let the statement stand for purely political purposes.

The claim that Himalayan glaciers are set to disappear by 2035 rests on two 1999 magazine interviews with glaciologist Syed Hasnain, which were then recycled without any further investigation in a 2005 report by the environmental campaign group World Wildlife Fund. This fact was brought to the attention of the IPCC before they published their 2007 report, but the IPCC let the statement stand. The original article was based on a short telephone interview with scientist Syed Hasnain, then based in Delhi, who has since said his views were “speculation”. The lead author of the IPCC chapter said, “We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.” This alone shows that the IPCC is a political body rather than a scientific one.


The IPCC also made false predictions on the Amazon rain forests, referenced to a non peer-reviewed paper produced by an advocacy group working with the World Wildlife Fund. This time though, the claim made is not even supported by the report and seems to be a complete fabrication. See story at

Floods and Hurricanes

The IPCC report wrongly linked global warming to an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. The claims were based on an unpublished report that had not been subjected to routine scientific scrutiny – and ignored warnings from scientific advisers that the evidence supporting the link was too weak. The report’s own authors later withdrew the claim because they felt the evidence was not strong enough. The IPCC’s 2007 report contained a separate section that warned the world had “suffered rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather-related events since the 1970s”. This claim was touted by Obama last fall: “More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent.”

Coral Degradation

In Chapter 6 of 4AR, the IPCC claims that coral degradation is caused by global warming. The source for this claim is promotional literature by Greenpeace. The IPCC also based reports on solar and wind power on Greenpeace documents.

See report:

Implications for US climate policy:

The EPA based its carbon dioxide endangerment finding on the IPCC. The EPA is supposed to vet the peer-review process from outside sources of information, something it did not do, so the EPA did not comply with the law. See ClimateAudit analysis:

The Pristine Myth

Pristine: “belonging to the earliest period or state; uncorrupted by civilization.”

We often hear the plea from preservationists that we must save the pristine desert, or stream, or forest, or jungle, or whatever, because these are the “last best places” untrammeled by man. But are they really so pristine?

Archaeological and anthropological research during the last 15 years or so, shows that much of what we thought was pristine in the Western Hemisphere, even the Amazon rain forest, is actually human-formed landscape created by the first New World inhabitants, the Indians. It seems that American Indians, from North America, Mexico and South America, were the ultimate land managers, and they transformed the land to suit their needs. They constructed the world’s largest gardens.

The quest of some preservationists to return the land to pre-Columbian times, to its state prior to 1492, is a quest in pursuit of a myth. “The pristine view is to a large extent an invention of nineteenth-century romanticist and primitivist writers such as W.H. Hudson, Cooper, Thoreau, Longfellow, and Parkman, and painters such as Catlin and Church.”1 Reality, according to the new research, is quite different.

The Amazon forest in the Beni region of Bolivia consists of “an archipelago of forest islands, many of them startlingly round and hundreds of acres across. Each island rose ten or thirty or sixty feet above the floodplain, allowing trees to grow that would otherwise never survive the water. The forests were linked by raised berms, as straight as a rifle shot and up to three miles long.”2 Researcher Clark Erickson of the University of Pennsylvania believes “that the entire landscape, 30,000 square miles of forest mounds surrounded by raised fields and linked by causeways, was constructed by a complex, populous society more than 2,000 years ago.”2 “A growing number of researchers have come to believe that Indian societies had an enormous environmental impact on the jungle. Indeed, some anthropologists have called the Amazon forest itself a cultural artifact, that is, an artificial object.”2The 1539 expedition of Hernando de Soto across what is now the southeastern U.S. encountered not some primeval forest, but “thickly settled land, very well peopled by large towns.”2 In 1519, Hernan Cortes saw that the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was bigger than Paris and contained “wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away.”2 Even the first settlers in the northeastern U.S. found that forests were open and park-like, not the dense grow romanticized by writers hundreds of years later.

Many researchers estimate that the Americas were well-populated before the arrival of Columbus, with a population of between 40- to 80 million, greater than the population of Europe at the time. “Moreover, the native impact on the landscape of 1492 reflected not only the population then but the cumulative effects of a growing population over the previous 15,000 years or more.”1American Indians built cities and civilizations, cultivated forests and farms, and developed more than half of the crops grown worldwide today. Indians, rather than subsist passively on what wild nature provided, instead “survived by cleverly exploiting their environment.”2 Their principal tool was fire.3 They did not domesticate animals for meat, but instead used fire to change whole ecosystems to raise deer, elk, and bison. “Millennia of exuberant burning shaped the plains into vast buffalo farms.”2

But then the Europeans came and unintentionally brought with them smallpox, typhus, influenza, diphtheria and measles, (and later on cholera, malaria, and scarlet fever). Within about 130 years after first contact, 95% of the native population was wiped out by disease.2 By 1682, when French explorers retraced de Soto’s journey, they found the land nearly deserted. Because the hunters were gone, buffalo, elk, and deer populations exploded. Because the fire-using land managers were gone, dense forests, romanticized by 19th century writers had taken over the carefully managed forest parks. In one sense, Europeans did not destroy pristine wilderness, but recreated it.

By “1492, Indian activity had modified vegetation and wildlife, caused erosion, and created earthworks, roads, and settlements throughout the Americas. This may be obvious, but the human imprint was much more ubiquitous and enduring than is usually realized. The historical evidence is ample, as are data from surviving earthworks and archaeology. And much can be inferred from present human impacts. The weight of evidence suggests that Indian populations were large, not only in Mexico and the Andes, but also in seemingly unattractive habitats such as the rainforests of Amazonia, the swamps of Mojos (Bolivia), and the deserts of Arizona.”1

I would argue that humans have enriched the land by making it produce more, and have increased diversity by creating more habitats than would otherwise occur. When preservationists whine about losing our “pristine” desert, and pine for a return to Walden, when the “vision” statements of federal land management agencies speak grandiosely of ecosystem management in search of the pristine myth, remind them that nature is not so pristine. It is always changing. The “forest primeval” doesn’t exist.



1: Denevan, William M., ca. 1992, The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin.

2: Mann, Charles C., 2002, 1491, The Atlantic Monthly, March 2002.


3:Krech, Shepard, 1999, The Ecological Indian, W.W. Norton & Co.