Living in Mexico City - a place that has already suffered a kind of ecological collapse - has convinced me that the most crucial environmental struggle in the coming decades will be providing water, food and clean air, and ensuring basic human health in a world where resources are more and more limited. The most compelling work for environmentalists - and for the planet - should be to develop a dialogue across the economic divide.


* Joel Simon,


Endangered Mexico





Endangered Mexico: An Environment on the Edge takes on an enormous task. Author Joel Simon, a former correspondent to Mexico for Pacific News Service, sets out to cover the past and present of the country's environmental problems, starting with the world of the Aztecs and ending with the aftermath of NAFTA. The result isn't exhaustive - imagine a similar history of the U.S., or even the West, crammed into nine chapters - but he uses well-chosen examples to explore the major threats to Mexico's environment.


The chapters based on Simon's original reporting are the most vivid, including an account of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas and a chapter on the relationship between logging and the drug trade in the Copper Canyon region of northern Mexico. Simon also tackles industrial tourism in Cancun, toxic dumping in Tijuana, and the horrific pollution crisis in Mexico City, managing to communicate the complexity of Mexico's environmental struggles in a few brief sketches. While the Tarahumara Indians resist development, for example, small farmers in Chiapas are demanding access to loans, chemical fertilizer and agricultural land within an international biosphere reserve. Both ends of the spectrum clash with upper-class Mexican environmentalists and international conservation groups. Simon has no solutions, but he sees the pragmatic approach of local activists - those motivated by health and economic problems close to home - as a promising strategy for both Mexico and its neighbor to the north.


Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 275 pages, paperback, 1997. $16. Call 415/977-5600 or find their Web site at www.sierraclub.org/books.


* Michelle Nijhuis