AUDIOBOOKS TODAY) In all your travels and experiences in remote locations, which areas are the most critical in terms of vanishing animal habitats, and what convinced you of this?
EUGENE LINDEN) There are few ecosystems not under imminent threat, but the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are perhaps the most imperiled terrestrial habitats because of their importance to diversity and because of the power of the forces arrayed against them.
AT) The Borneo fires, along with the exploitation, shocked me. Are these still a problem affecting global warming, or was that a limited incident?
EL) Yes, the Borneo fires are still a problem and will likely recur next year as a new El Nino develops.
AT) Logging, oil, plastics...as China and other emerging countries demand more, trying to mimic us, what can we do to save the environment besides turning off the TV and voting in support
of proper legislation?
EL) The world desperately needs a biodegradable substitute for plastics. That will come as a result of research, but also consumer demand. Consumers can also put pressure on China, which seems to be buying logging rights to the world's remaining forests, to get them to harvest in sustainable ways. Such pressure worked before on Japan.
AT) I found the book interesting not just due to what is learned about the environment related to both native population and industrial growth, but also as a travelogue exposing how countries--such as in central Africa--operate. The corruption and opportunism. What indicative or amusing anecdote do you typically relate on this subject?
EL) One of my favorite anecdotes about the degree of corruption in Africa involved a situation at the American Embassy in Kinshasa Zaire (now the Congo). The embassy had contracted for a new phone, but discovered that by the time the phone was installed many tens of thousands of dollars in calls had already been charged to the number.
AT) What percentage of your articles were your original queries...and what you'd like an assignment to cover next.
EL) Most of my articles derived from my ideas, though a notable exception was the Apes and Humans piece for the National Geographic. A huge gap in my travels is that I've never been to the Galapagos.
AT) You have a fondness for Tahiti and the culture there. My memory of Moorea was meeting a lawyer with a thatched hut in the woods, selling tee shirts to tourists. He said he'd come on vacation and ten years prior and never returned to his $90G job in Chicago. "Happier than I ever was," he said. Never forgot that. What's different about Tahiti, do you think, as opposed to the Caribbean?
EL) Tahiti is changing too, but it is still sufficiently removed from weekend travelers, etc., that it's remoteness -- and expensiveness -- mutes the pace of change. It is not constantly over-run with visitors.
AT) Cuba---are they preparing for a future American tourist invasion, and if so, how do you think that will turn out?
EL) The tourist invasion of Cuba has already begun -- though the visitors are from Europe and elsewhere. My hope is that whoever ends up in charge of Cuba will have the fortitude and popular mandate to resist corruption and also the smarts to learn from the egregious development mistakes of the rest of the Caribbean.
AT) This lifelong journey and fascination with lost tribes, endangered animals, and adventurous travel...what has intrigued and inspired you most, and what's next on your horizon, so long after Vietnam?
EL) The most inspiring thing for me has been the discovery that there are still natural refuges on the planet -- the Ndoki, the Guyana Shield -- where animals can live their lives without direct contact with humans, though our indirect impacts are ubiquitous. I also take hope from the passion of those who want to protect those places and other healthy remnants of the wild that I have yet to come across. Going forward, I plan to continue to try and figure out how it was that our species, an evolutionary accident, has come to the point where it impacts the destiny of every living thing on the planet, and how we can find a way to live on this emerald planet without destroying ourselves and everything around us. I'm also still exploring the question of animal intelligence, a quest that has been a theme of my career since I began writing decades back.