The Amazon basin is often referred to as the “lungs of the world’ for its role in regulating global climate. Over the weekend, as the Live Earth Concert series brought together an estimated two billion people from across the world around global warming, the Ecuadorian Amazon was (to continue the anatomical analogy) at the heart of the affair. And rightly so. Ecuador is on the frontlines in the battle to protect the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous peoples from the environmental devastation caused by oil development.
It is a battle on many fronts, which looks to redress a toxic past and move towards a more sustainable future.
The Texaco (now Chevron) case out of Ecuador is infamous. The oil giant, which operated from 1964 to 1992 in an area of once pristine primary rainforest three times the size of Manhattan, left the region polluted with more than 600 open air toxic waste pits, which continue to leak into the water table, contaminating rivers and streams used by more than 30,000 Ecuadorians for drinking water, cooking, bathing and fishing. Chevron is currently embroiled in a class-action lawsuit, filed by thousands of rainforest dwellers, accusing the company of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater. The plaintiffs are demanding an environmental remediation.
On another front, the Ecuadorian government has proposed to save a portion of Yasuni National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, by keeping the estimated 900 million barrels of crude oil, in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oilfields, in the ground forever. The oil could be left in the ground in exchange for financial commitments from the international community ranging from $2 billion to $3.5 billion to offset the lost oil revenues. The government plans to invest the funds in environmental and social development programs.
Over the weekend, celebrities such as Daryl Hannah and Trudie Styler (wife of Sting) put Ecuador in the center of the global movement to fight climate change.
Amazon Watch and John Quigley (activist and artist) produced a video out of Ecuador which captures both the monumental struggle for justice against Chevron, as well as Quito’s proposal to save Yasuni National Park from oil drilling. This video was aired, via satellite feed, across the world. You can check out the public service announcement, narrated by Martin Sheen, and find ways to get involved by visiting www.amazonwatch.org.