Environmental Degradation in Mexico City

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Most people who find themselves concerned with the history of Mexico relate to famous figures, monumental events, tide turning battles, or topics about a class and time period, but what concerns me is what Mexico City’s future will be like due to the environmental degradation around the Basin of Mexico. There is an important interrelationship between the city and its environment here. Environmental Degradation in post-conquest Mexico, around the Basin of Mexico, has been often ignored by scholars. In this paper, I will try to show that Mexico’s history concerning the nation’s attitude and relationship with the environment shall continuously shape Mexico City. Mexico has been a land plentiful in resources, but with rapid economic eras such as in Diaz’ presidency capitalizing with the exploitation of natural resources, permanent natural losses such as the complete depletion of Lake Texcoco, and other natural resources have taken place thus creating environmentally hazardous conditions that permeate until today in Mexico and especially in Mexico City.

Mexico five-hundred years ago was a scene that was recorded to be so remarkable and majestic with a sense of a pure and lush landscape however we must first consider if this Eurocentric myth of a “pristine landscape” was indeed the case for pre-Columbian Mexico. There is evidence suggesting the environment was already modified to a degree. Environmental effects from the neolithic age spanning across Central and South America included settled populations such as the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan had an estimated population of over 200,000 inhabitants at its peak and the Basin of Mexico supported this city with natural resources harvested from the lake and the forests around the mountain sides. After the arrival of the Old World epidemics and the decline in the population of indigenous people there was an era of environmental recovery up until 1750. This is when more Europeans were exposed to the Americas and the natural romantics began in works of arts and novels. “The pristine image of 1492 seems to be a myth, then, an image more applicable to 1750, following Indian decline, although recovery had only been partial by that date. There is some substance to this argument, and it should hold up under the scrutiny of further investigation of the considerable evidence available, both written and in the ground” (Denevan). It can be understood that with Denevan’s argument there has always been a degenerating environment since the arrival of man in Mexico and that the land portrayed in the natural romantics would find itself right for the pickings yet again.

The continued behavior of resource exploitation of the lands of Mexico carries heavily over into the Porfiriato with nearly ninety percent of the economy relying on exported precious minerals, ore, and raw materials. During the Porfiriato there was a series of foreign investment and capital exchanged with Mexico for these natural resources which allowed Mexico to have a rapid period of economic growth. This unearthing of non-renewable resources left environmental casualties across Mexico particularly with the forests. The “...local fuel-wood demand must have been quite intense, leading to the repeated of cutting of oak for firewood and charcoal, especially near the larger mines” (Mathews). In addition the mule and donkey trains during this time required pasteurized land to travel on and graze upon leading to further deforestation. Mexico never developed a second industrial revolution and lacked the technology to create capital goods which later deprived Mexico from domestic investments. This inability to become a sustainable country is what ultimately devastated the environment and is a characteristic I believe you can see until this day especially in Mexico City.

What I found so fascinating when I began storming up a topic for this paper was the clever system in which the Aztec People of Tenochtitlan thrived on. A...
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