As little as two centuries ago, the northern edge of the island of Borneo, home to Malaysia’s Sarawak state, was covered in a verdant canopy that stretched, uninterrupted, from shore to shore. It was a forest that had persisted for more than 100 million years, sheltering a dizzying abundance of plants, animals, and fungi that were found nowhere else on Earth. It survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and countless cycles of glaciation. It housed humans for 40,000 years while our species grew and grew around the world.
Then, over the past few decades, the forests of Sarawak faced threats unlike any before. The canopy began to recoil, its edges assaulted by the expansion of hydroelectric power, logging, and, most impactful of all, palm oil plantations. To many people, these changes look like the necessary costs of progress. Development has consumed almost a third of the forest, but it has also lifted millions out of poverty. The first wave of palm oil plantations, from the 1970s to the 1990s, provided farmers with seven times the income of subsistence-food croppers in the same regions. Industry has brought paved roads, better schools, and modern information infrastructure.
It's expensive to produce the kind of high quality, in-depth journalism you've come to expect from Nautilus. In order to keep telling those stories, we need your support. Join Prime today, and help us keep science journalism alive.
Prime gets you unlimited, ad-free reading, tablet editions of our award-winning print magazine, and eBooks of all our online editions.