Sunset in the Amazon – Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
Oil companies have recently discovered more than 900 million barrels of crude oil under this pristine rainforest.
If this post makes me sound like a San Francisco tree hugger, I can live with it. It’s not just that my tourist sensibilities were disturbed by reminders that we live in a world dependent on oil on a recent trip to Ecuador where I wanted to observe exotic animals and lush tropical rainforest and not the encroachment of big oil. It’s that, with a little more care, things don’t have to be the way they are.
Because, if big oil isn’t checked, another kind of sunset is coming for the Amazon.
I was more than dismayed to witness the ongoing devastation caused by oil exploration in one of the last primeval areas of rainforest that once covered much of a continent.
Not even capped, natural gas from oil drilling is simply left to burn off. This flare, along the Napo River, has been burning for eight YEARS. Millions of insects perish every night, drawn to flames like these, of which there are many, impacting the delicate balance of the rainforest.
Where to start? Open natural gas flares? The illegal hunting of monkeys and other endangered animals to feed the tastes of imported oil workers flush with cash? Illegal logging? Or the legal oil road cutting a swath through once-unspoiled jungle and spreading erosion and internal combustion where they have no business being?
I know I’m not the first to point out environmental threats to the Amazon. And others have said it much better. But if you’ve been to the Amazon then you know how beautiful and stunning the jungle is—what’s left of it.
The view as you head upriver – oil trucks on their way deep into the Amazon. Jobs for the boys—and gas at a buck and a half a gallon in Ecuador. Diesel around a dollar.
Bus rides are dirt cheap in Ecuador – in Quito about one US quarter, a couple of dollars from Quito to the mountain town of Otavalo. So everyone benefits from big oil — in the short term.
Just one example of the devastation in Ecuador’s rainforest. Chevron alone has dumped 50 times more oil in the Amazon than the entire BP spillage in the Gulf of Mexico. Fifty times. Damage from 1993 still hasn’t been cleaned up, despite court orders.
One solution prompted by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is that the developed world contribute 3.6 billion dollars to invest in clean energy for Ecuador and “keep the Yasuni’s oil in the soil.”
Unfortunately, that amount is only up to a few hundred million dollars at this time.
So it’s really up to us.
Right, I hear you say – what exactly are you doing about this — besides blogging?
Good question. I patronized one of the jungle lodges in Yasuni National Park, where local tribes are employed and supported by eco-tourism. At Napo, where I stayed, the Kichwa observe strict rules: no hunting, no motor-powered boats, use of green detergents etc. Everything is paddled in and out by canoe. You’re not going to find anything resembling that kind of restraint a few miles downriver in the oil boom town of Coca. Quite the opposite. This was my second trip to the Amazon, another trip of a lifetime, but this time an eye-opener as to how fast these precious lands are disappearing. If you can afford to go, it’s still the most enjoyable way to support preservation of the Amazon rainforest. You won’t regret it.
Back home: use less energy. We all know what we need to do. Our household just bought a hybrid. If you watch South Park, you know San Franciscans live in a cloud of Smug anyway.
I signed a petition to let Ecuador’s President Correa know that I, along with many others, want to ‘keep the Yasuni’s oil in the soil’. Correa is not a bad guy, considering what it means to take on Big Oil in a country dependent on its production—politicians who try are frequently ousted. But oil revenues are a quarter of Ecuador’s GNP so he’s under serious pressure to let Big Oil have their way. The more of us he hears from, the more he knows what the Amazon means to us. You can sign the petition too. Some of it’s in Spanish but trust me, it gets the message across: Email President Correa
I decided to support the http://www.greengrants.org/ who will humbly accept your tax deductible donations to preserve the Yasuni National Park and other endangered places around the globe. A few bucks goes a long, long way.
Maybe we can all live in a cloud of Smug.
Recent protests in Peru’s northern Cajamarca region over the development of the $5 billion Conga gold mining project have left three people dead and more than twenty wounded.
Despite police and military backlashes, and jeopardizing badly-needed jobs, protests are common in a country where mining is a major economic force.
Peru’s mining history is plagued with environmental wreckage, more than a few examples under the supervision of US mining companies. In 2009, the highland city of La Oroya was listed as one of the world’s ten most polluted places. Over 35,000 people were forced to breathe toxic waste from Missouri-based Doe Run’s smokestacks and drink lead-laced water from its smelting operations. Doe Run pleaded financial insolvency and had to be bailed out by Peruvian banks, despite having posted record profits only a few years earlier.
La Oroya after Doe Run
But the size of Doe Run’s operations pale in comparison to the Conga mine project, a joint venture involving US based Newmont Mining Corp, which will be the largest investment EVER in Peru.
Leading German environmental engineer Reinhard Seifert has called the Conga mine project an ‘environmental disaster’.
Peruvians are not shy to stand up and take to the streets when they see a threat to their environment and way of life—even with the economic and physical risks involved.
They should be commended for this.