Revenge effects writ large

Reading this BLDGBLOG summary of a recent NYT piece on China’s long reach into Africa, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this quote from Richard Preston’s 1994 The Hot Zone:

The paving of the Kinshasa Highway affected every person on earth, and turned out to be one of the most important events of the twentieth century. It has already cost at least ten million lives, with the likelihood that the ultimate number of human casualties will vastly exceed the deaths in the Second World War.

This paragraph has and will always send literal shivers down my spine – not so much for what it says about Africa, or even about the abstract act of clearcutting a highway right-of-way through primeval forest, but for what it implies about the downstream and unforseeable consequences of such acts. (Preston is, of course, talking about the emergence of AIDS from its original animal reservoirs in the rainforests of Kenya; I give some context in a v-2 post from 2003, here.) I can only wonder what all those Chinese engineers are even now setting loose, in their own acts, in the logistics and infrastructure set up to support them.

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