In August 2012, I had the opportunity to go deep into the Amazon Rainforest via a small private plane that flew for an hour and a half over the forest to one of the remotest Shiwiar territories near the Peru-Ecuador border. It was the first time I had been able to travel so far in, the other times I had worked in the Amazon was in areas on the periphery of pure primary untouched Amazon.
On the fourth day of our visit, the tranquility of the forest was interrupted by an uninvited military helicopter that landed in Juintsa. My heart began racing as we walked towards these uninvited guests, there was only one thing I could think of why they were intruding upon the Shiwiar territory unannounced: oil.
A year later, in August, 2013, President Correa liquidated the Yasuni ITT trust fund initiative to protect the rainforest from oil drilling. His excuse was that the target fund of $3.6 billion was not reached due to global economic slump for not gaining the financial support from other world leaders. In September the National Assembly were convinced to go ahead with drilling in Yasuni.
The news has spread worldwide and many are now aware of President Correa’s decision to auction off 7 million acres of the Ecuadorian Rainforest to Oil Companies despite global resistance and countless public demonstrations in Ecuador and international pleas against his decision. Among the affected areas is Ecuador’s largest national park, Yasuni, which was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in 1989.
The impact of exploiting such a large scale area of rainforest not only is a heavy loss of unique biodiversity with the Amazon containing some 25 percent of the world’s species, many of which are unique to Ecuador.
This could also mean the end of forty years of peace in Ecuador for thousands of indigenous tribes, some of which live in complete isolation from the outside world, people at risk of losing their ancestral home.
It is not uncommon for the military to come in before the oil drilling begins to clear the area of indigenous people, for example at Savaykwa in Kichwa territory: without permission, soldiers entered and started clearing people from their own land. This is a gross infringement of human rights, bringing the largest threat of indigenous population displacement.
For short-term economic gain, the environmental and humanitarian price of oil exploration and extraction is a heavy one. The Ecuadorian Amazon is far more valuable environmental resource to it’s government and the rest of the world if kept preserved and untouched, sustainably managed and properly protected. It contains thousands of undiscovered species of plants and animals that we are destroying at a pace faster than we are discovering them – all with huge potential value to humanity in science, food, medicine and other technologies.
But the rainforest’s greatest value may just lie in its beauty and the sense of natural wonder it can inspire. During my journey I spent two weeks working with a French biology professor and living with the Shiwiar people. We experienced how they live solely from the forest.
Everywhere you would see something surprising, clusters of Red, Blue or Yellow Macaws swooping across crimson skies, monkeys playing in the branches, giant ants busily building their spectacular societies. And at night you are treated to the most stunning display of stars accompanied by a chorus of singing frogs.
All the while biting insects are feasting on your arms and legs throughout the days and nights. I joked with my companions, that a biologist could measure the biodiversity of the rainforest by the variety of bites on one’s body. Yet the majesty and beauty of the rainforest was worth every bit of the experience of living rough.
With our growing awareness we each individually have a pressing responsibility to push for a transition from an oil-based economy to an ecologically sustainable one. We will not remain calm and buy more petrol for our cars, even if it just involves talking about these issues to a stranger to share important information. We will campaign; write letters to advocacy websites, newspapers, petition government departments, make presentations at schools and universities. Some of us will even stand in the path of soldiers and oil company bulldozers.
We will take to the streets. We will be heard and seen on the radio and television of the people’s media. We will run independent news campaigns. We will inform and teach our children about the importance of sustainable and renewable energy resources so that future generations do not make the same mistakes. We will build communities and workshops on sustainable energy solutions to raise awareness. We will continue to resist until the rainforest and its people are safe and gain as much global support as needed. Some of us might give our lives to protect the rainforest.
Each of our efforts is valuable energy that can build towards positive change. This is the only way to build a more sustainable world for the planet and therefore for humanity. We are the majority, and we choose what to consume, grow, build, read, write and create. Therefore we have more power than unethical corporations or policy makers do – if only we realize the fact!
The senseless annihilation of the earth’s last rainforests and oceans due to drilling for oil has to stop: all this for a non-renewable resource valued over human life and all life on planet earth. How many of us have to suffer and to what limit of destruction will this planet be pushed to before we realize human consciousness is now an ecological issue?
We need to understand the roots of ecology. It is time for us to awake, and dispel the illusion of our separation from nature and the universe. We are all connected and when we hurt our environment, we destroy ourselves and our own humanity.
Carla Shaw is an ecologist who develops environmental and sustainablilty. This article was first published in The Ecologist magazine.