I have a long and ever-growing wish list when it comes to places I dream of visiting, but one location that has been on my mind for some time is Yasuni National Park in the northeast corner of Ecuador. What’s so special about this tiny section of a small South American country? Consider the following.
Slightly larger than Yellowstone National Park at just under 10,000 km2, Yasuni is home to more species than the entirety of North America. Over 100 different insect species can be found in a single hectare and though the park takes up less than .15% of the entire Amazon basin, it holds one third of its amphibian and reptile species. Rainbow streaked macaws, cheeky toucans and hundreds of other varieties of birds swoop through the overhead jungle canopy. Prehistoric fish patrol the waters, and jaguars, tapir, anteaters, and monkeys are just a few of the mammals which call the jungle home. Plant life is just as diverse here with more than 4,000 species of plants, 2,200 of which are trees, inhabiting Yasuni. In addition, the indigenous tribe of Huaorani, with their stretched earlobes and achiote adorned faces, continue their ancient lifestyles within the park. There are also two uncontacted tribes residing in a section of park where entrance is prohibited to outsiders.
So why wouldn’t I want to see this piece of paradise before it’s gone? It is one of the last remaining vestiges of unspoiled nature.
Unfortunately I may have waited too long. On August 15, 2013 President Rafael Correa signed Yasuni’s death warrant by allowing oil drilling within the park. Am I being overly dramatic? Maybe. But let’s have a look at the facts.
In early June of this year a leak in an oil pipeline caused 420,000 gallons of crude oil to gush out, much of which made its way into the Quijos, Coca, and Napo rivers within Ecuador’s rainforest. The city of Coca takes their potable water from the river meaning they were without locally obtained drinking water for some time. Of course this is nothing compared to the decades of intentional dumping of toxic sludge into Ecuador’s Oriente by Texaco (now Chevron), the sickening results of which brought about devastating cases of cancer and birth defects. A simple Google search of “oil damage in the Amazon” brings up countless articles and stomach-churning images of Utopia gone wrong.
The Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha oil fields within Yasuni contain an estimated 800 million barrels of crude oil. In an effort to preserve the park and preclude the output of enormous amounts of carbon emissions due to oil drilling, Ecuador launched the Yasuni-ITT initiative in 1997. The goal of this initiative was to preserve a unique ecosystem yet prevent the economic stifling of Ecuador. If half the estimated revenue from oil drilling ($3.6 billion) could be raised within 12 years then Yasuni would remain untouched. A noble goal, yet in a way it was paramount to environmental extortion.
At the time of President Correa’s dismantling of the initiative, only $13.3 million had actually been delivered to the nation. Correa blamed the international community stating that they had failed Ecuador thereby giving him no choice but to allow the destruction of his country for a fleeting chance to chase the almighty dollar. Ironically, this is the same guy who was in power when Ecuador’s new constitution was created. This is the constitution that has received worldwide acclaim for its chapter on the Rights of Nature. Rights for Nature articles acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And the people have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems.
Proponents of Yasuni drilling state that only 1% of the park will be subject to oil company infringement, yet much more than that will be affected after the installation of access roads. Inevitable spills and toxic pollutants are sure to eventually snake their way through the Yasuni water systems like something out of a bad horror film causing untold damage. And the history of large corporations raping the earth with enormous drill sized pricks will continue. The history of native peoples being driven from their lands because of waste and ruin will continue. Once again I will look into the eyes of my children and wonder what will be left for them.
So tell me, where are nature’s rights when she has no voice?
Who is protecting her when she can be sold to the highest bidder?
Who will speak for the trees?