Many nations have turned their natural resources into riches. Canada and the US liquidated their old-growth forests and plowed their prairies to build themselves into global economic powers. Brazil wants to do the same. Its massive Amazon basin is the world’s last terrestrial frontier. Its tropical rainforests contain 15% of the earth’s species, filter one-fifth of the planet’s rainfall and so much carbon that they play a key role in regulating the earth’s climate. They also offer enormous opportunities for logging, ranching and agricultural development, so how can Brazil serve these contradictory ambitions to develop and protect the Amazon?

For The Globe & Mail, journalist Stephanie Nolen and photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim drove 1,200 miles on a single road, BR-163, to talk to the people who live in the Amazon, the police who chase its illegal loggers and miners, a politician fined for cattle grazing, and the villagers caught…

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