China to punch 5,000-kilometer railroad through the Amazon

Environmentalists are howling about China's US$30 billion plan to drive a major railroad right across South America -- cutting through imperiled environments such as the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest, the Cerrado, the southwestern Amazon, and the Andes Mountain Range.

Train trouble dead ahead

Train trouble dead ahead

The railroad, which will be 5,300 kilometers long in total, will begin at Rio de Janeiro on Brazil's Atlantic coast and terminate at the Pacific Ocean.

The trans-Amazonian railway was announced by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is expected to unveil billions in other investments and trade deals during an eight-day South American tour.  In addition to Brazil, China is targeting Peru, Colombia, and Chile during this trip.

The rail line will be designed to increase exports such as soy, iron ore, and timber to China.  Conservationists and scientists are expressing fears about its potential to open up large swaths of virgin forest and indigenous peoples to large-scale development pressures.

"This massive project could be the death knell for a significant fraction of South American biodiversity and a knife to the heart of the Amazon’s hydrological cycle," said ALERT member Thomas Lovejoy, a former environmental advisor to three U.S. presidents.

The route will cut across South America's most biologically diverse environments.

The route will cut across South America's most biologically diverse environments.

China is also promoting other major infrastructure projects in Latin America, including a massive canal through Nicaragua and a railway across Colombia. 

Informed observers expect heated resistance to the Trans-Amazon Railroad from environmental and indigenous-rights advocates. 

Fortunately, not all mega-projects like this come to pass, though many do.  Let's fervently hope this is one that never gets off the drawing board.

Mega-canal project could devastate Nicaragua's ecology

It'd be like watching a slow-motion train wreck.  That's one's impression when reading about the plan to build a vast mega-canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans across Nicaragua.

Like the Panama Canal only bigger... (photo by William Laurance)

Like the Panama Canal only bigger... (photo by William Laurance)

A German ecologist who has long worked in Nicaragua, Axel Meyer, writes to ALERT with a copy of his recent commentary in Nature, highlighting the myriad risks of this proposed $40 billion project.

The project's risks, which would involve not just a 300 kilometer-long waterway but also major associated infrastructure including railroads and pipelines, are enormous.  Just as the Panama Canal and associated developments have cut a swathe of forest destruction across Panama, so too would the mega-canal carve up Nicaragua.

Among the project's likely impacts:

-the destruction of 400,000 square kilometers of rainforest and wetland

-major environmental impacts on Lake Nicaragua, which harbors many endemic fish species

-potentially major degradation of the MesoAmerican Biological Corridor, the vital ecological linkage between the Americas that runs directly across the canal's path

-large effects on several indigenous groups in Nicaragua

Deforestation driver... in the Panama Canal watershed, all but 15% of the original forest has vanished (photo by William Laurance)

Deforestation driver... in the Panama Canal watershed, all but 15% of the original forest has vanished (photo by William Laurance)

Astoundingly, the only environmental assessment that is planned will be commissioned by the Chinese corporation that's been awarded a 50-year concession to build and run the canal.

A coalition of local groups in Nicaragua, led by the president of the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences, is raising serious concerns about the project. 

If they fail, expect to hear thunderous crashing sounds as the mega-project advances...