An open letter to Mr Correa on Yasuni and the drilling for oil

Dear Mr Correa,

I would like to introduce you to Yasuni National Park. This National Park is located in Ecuador and is part of the Amazon rainforest. It is one of the most bio-diverse places in the world with more species in one hectare than all the wildlife in North America. And if you don’t care about any of that, it is also the world’s greatest oxygen supply.

However it is also the location of at least 846 million barrels of oil, which amount to US$7.2bn dollars. And therein lies the problem.

You were in the news recently. You’ve approved oil drilling in Yasuni National Park. Your reason was that there were not enough donations from the world to help preserve the area and offset the opportunity cost of not tapping into the oil reserves.

After receiving a mere 0.0036% ($13m) out of the desired $3.6bn, you abandoned the conservation plan citing that you owed it to your people (especially the poor) to tap on the oil reserves for revenue. You also slammed countries for not donating, calling them hypocrites who talk the walk but never follow through on it.

The Problem

First of all Mr Correa, other people not coming to your aid isn’t a good excuse to destroy one of the most important components of the eco-system. Last I heard Ecuador was part of this planet. Which means you and your people are part of it too. Therefore worsening climate change because other people don’t want to help you seems like it’ll hurt you just as much as anyone else. So what you do now will affect Ecuador (and the world) in the long run. Don’t be so shortsighted Mr Correa. You claim capitalism is a short-sighted ideal and yet that is the ideal you are choosing to follow. You are no more a hypocrite than the countries who didn’t come to your aid.

On a side note, I do understand your concern. With 27. 6% of the population in Ecuador still in poverty as of 2012 (World Bank), it is easy to see why oil would be a saving grace for economic development. US$72bn can do wonders for a developing nation. Perhaps it is too great an opportunity cost to not drill.

However with your external debt now at US14bn, I think it is safe to say you can’t drill yourself out of poverty. You need a sound and sustainable economic model. This is something that your country deserves but you have yet to provide. In fact it is not the oil drilling that is hurting your economy. It is your protectionist policies.

Furthermore Mr Correa, you can’t expect people to give you a substantial sum of money and freeze them out of a stake in controlling where that money goes. The reason why they are reluctant to give is not because they don’t want to help the environment it is because they don’t want you to have NO accountability for where that money goes. You are hardly a symbol of trust. No one will give you a billion dollars and let you control where it goes.

Try telling an investor they have no say in where their money goes. Does that seem like a sound investment opportunity? Tell Roman Abromavich he has no say in Chelsea Football Club’s affairs after investing his fortune in it.

To put it in simple terms, people want to have a say in where their money goes because they want to ensure a good return on investment.

But I do agree with you Mr Correa. It is true. We have this nasty habit of talking the walk and no more. The world spends billions of dollars to find ways to fight climate change when the simplest answer is right under our noses. And that is to preserve our fragile eco-system.

As Gandhi once said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

And that is really the issue here isn’t it?

We are at fault for this. We are the supply. Oil companies are not going to drill for oil and keep it in a museum. They’re going to sell it. And because we are unwilling to give up so many of our luxuries, issues like this will continue to come up because we are the supply that allows oil companies to dig deeper and further to fulfill that demand. So if we want to stem this issue, we need to be making some changes of our own.

Why it is personal

I suppose I should let you know that this is a personal issue as much as it is an environmental one. When I was on exchange last semester in USFQ, the school gave me (all exchange students) the opportunity to visit the Tiputini research station in the heart of the Yasuni. I was able to witness and appreciate the immense bio-diversity of the place. And now more than ever, thanks to the guides and researchers at Tiputini, I’m more aware and educated on just how important a place like Yasuni is to our planet. Which is why I’m surprised at your decision and apparent lack of awareness to the impact drilling could have. Already, more oil has been spilt over the years in Yasuni than the Exxon Valdes oil spill. Oh and by the way Mr Correa, how much of the US$18bn in fines for the damages in the Amazon has Chevron paid back? I believe they are unwilling to pay and are playing the victim instead.

So you have to think, if it is personal to me, consider the feelings to the people and animals living in the Amazon.

You must be one hell of an optimist to believe that the impact would be minimal with the introduction of oil drilling to “1/10 of 1% on Yasuni” as you say.

My Plan

Perhaps this is just a great marketing scheme so that there will be a call to action from the world to save Yasuni. I hope it is and I hope it works.

But I’m not going to leave it to chance. I’m not going to let you win. I’m going to play my part. The UNDP is still taking donations towards this course. So it’s time I walk the walk. I’m going to donate $50 a month from my student allowance and working part-time. I know. It couldn’t be a more pathetic sum seeing as we need to raise US$3.6bn. But it’s a start! And we have to start somewhere.

So I’m calling out to everyone. If you can, contribute. If you can’t, spread the message. Tell everyone you know! Talk about this issue. Keep it at the top of people’s minds. Eventually people with spending power or with power in general will make it possible to raise enough money.

Remember, it’s not the quantity you give. It is the quantity of people who are willing to give.

Let’s give UNDP a chance to overturn this plan to drill in Yasuni.

Here is the link:

http://mptf.undp.org/yasuni

Mr Correa, I hope you change your mind. This is your planet too.

Best regards,

Nicholas Patrick

Sources I’ve cited from and sources you can find more information on this issue:

NBC news

PBS

Democracy Now

Washington Post

The Guardian

Financial Times

 

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A Lesson From The Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands is perhaps one of the most beautiful places on earth. And I was lucky to have had the opportunity to visit this place that the locals call ‘a little piece of heaven’.

Its powder white sandy beaches, turquoise coloured waters and abundant marine life provide us with an example of the type of paradise that was once aplenty but now scarce due to the excessive modernization we pursue in the name of ‘progress’.

Hence it is crucial for me to share with you what I’ve learnt from the island in the hopes that we will all make a conscious effort to preserve these pockets of paradise around the world. And in the process, create a world driven by sustainability rather than by this false progress that will inevitably drive us to extinction.

Our current definition of progress still appears to revolve around us people. But we all know that this is logically invalid. Nature is what sustains us not the other way around. Therefore, our priority should be to take care of nature so that it takes care of us. And that is what is being done in the Galapagos. Although it takes a lot of effort, the pay-off is truly worth it. Wildlife is able to thrive in almost pristine conditions thus bringing in tourists like me that flock to see them. And with tourist dollars, the island is able to develop further to improve the quality of life for the locals.

But there is a distinct difference.

The people of the Galapagos do well to ensure that their development is not at the expense of nature. To them, nature is PARAMOUNT.

And correct me if I’m wrong but shouldn’t we feel the same?

Instead, islands just cater to tourists while completely disregarding nature, cities are so focused on development that they would rather see their city polluted to ensure economic growth and oil companies are willing to destroy the most diverse eco-system in the world (The Amazon) because of the vast amounts of oil under it.

So you tell me, who gave us the right to kill everything else so that we can survive?

We can blame everyone else. But it is important to note that we are the main culprits because we are the demand to this ignorant supply. We equate our needs with our wants. And it is the wants that kill off this earth.

Something’s got to change. As with anything in life, a balance is required. And it is achievable. We just have to learn from the people who are already making an effort to get it right.

So let’s start with preserving nature. Because when we do, sustainability would be far more achievable.

7 Things I’ve Learnt In The 7 Months That I Was Away.

For those who don’t know, I recently had the privilege of spending 7 months abroad. 5 months in South America and 2 months in Europe. But since no words can truly do my adventure justice, I feel it would be more useful if I share with you some valuable lessons learnt as a traveller.

And in true BuzzFeed-esque fashion, here are the 7 things I’ve learnt in the 7 months that I was away.

1) Pick your accommodation wisely

This is more applicable to budget travelers. With a tight spending budget, hostels seem to be our default choice of accommodation.

But not so fast!

Take a second to deliberate on the kind of person you are. Do you like small talk? Are you a light-sleeper? Are you willing to let go of certain privacies and personal space?

If you’ve checked any of these boxes, then like me, a hostel is not for you. If finances permit that is.

Something I found really hard to do was to carry out small talk. I found myself repeating my responses because the questions were always the same.

Where are you from?

How long are you travelling for?

Where have you been?

I’ve heard Singapore is like a crazy modern place and everyone is filthy rich, is this true?

Oh how I wish I had a spokesperson.

But don’t get me wrong. I do recognize that this is no one’s fault.  These are pretty much the only questions that are relevant to ask when you’re at a hostel. But the problem is that is gets tiring and annoying. So unless you’re willing to entertain these questions or have printed out answers to these FAQ’s, I’d stay clear of hostels. A good alternative is an apartment. There are short stay apartment rentals that are relative cheap and are much more private and intimate.

So pick your accommodation wisely. It could make or break your travel experience.

2) Traveling on a budget is the best weight loss programme

Now I don’t mean this in an unhealthy way. In fact, I mean exactly the opposite. When you travel on a budget, you tend to control your food intake. For example, being on a budget automatically eliminated my snacking habit.

In addition, whether I was at an apartment, hostel or someone’s house, I made an extra effort to eat in. Why? Because groceries cost nothing compared to eating out which is not only more expensive but unhealthy. Plus, buying groceries gave me the opportunity to not only control my food intake but to eat healthier.

The result, I went from being 87kg when I left in January to 78kg on my last weigh in on August 8th.

Now I’m sure there was other factors involved as well but trust me, the less money you have, the more you watch what you eat.

3) You are someone’s cup of tea

This is perhaps my favourite learning experience. Dating was tough for me in Singapore. It always seemed impossible to find someone worth getting to know more without the ulterior motive of getting some action.

As they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. And so does the dick.

I guess you could say that I was rather jaded about relationships because I couldn’t find anyone compatible. And that was demoralizing because it does 2 things. One, it’ll hurt the other person’s feelings when you lead them on because you chose to settle for a great person whom you’re not interested in.  And two, it’ll hurt your own self-esteem too because you start to think there is no one out there for you.

But I didn’t seem to have that problem overseas. Everyone seemed to be so unique and different which was really attractive. And guess what, being different made me attractive too. Now I’m not saying I was as irresistible as Ryan Gosling but let’s just say I can’t complain. It is just so much easier finding someone compatible when you are not bounded by a constraint. Apparently in my case, that was geography.

And it all worked out. I found someone I couldn’t be happier with! Someone I can’t help but fall in love with over and over again which makes me sound like I read too many Nicholas Sparks books, which for a man, is 1. Now I can’t say what will happen in the future. But finding someone worth fighting for is a hell of a great start!

But the point of it all is to not give up on yourself. If you feel like you can’t find someone or there is no one out there for you, you couldn’t be more wrong. You are always someone’s cup of tea. You’re just looking in the wrong place.

4) We are all hypocrites trying to do good

We are all hypocrites. Myself included. We think doing good involves changing others rather than changing ourselves. And the result, is not pretty.

So here are some of my favourite hypocritical statements I’ve heard from the past 7 months.

“ I only buy local produce. It saves on pollution.” – From an avid traveller who takes long haul flights every 3 to 6 months.

“F**k the oil companies! They are destroying the planet.” – Owner of what I can only assume is the most fuel inefficient car on earth.

“ I hate people who eat dolphins and sharks fin and this animal and that animal…” – Loves beef aka cows. Perhaps the most inhumanely treated animal since the invention of slaughterhouses.

And the list goes on.

My point? I guess we all have the habit of looking outward rather than inward. I do it all the time. And it’s something we (I) have to stop doing.

5) Learn to let go

Perhaps the best motto for a stress free life. Sometimes rather than getting worked up over something, turn around, say fuck it and move on.

When Ryanair says your bag is too big for the cabin and you don’t have money to pay for it to be checked-in, take your passport, wallet and Iphone and get on the plane. Anything else can and will be replaced.

When you get robbed at knife/gun point, give them everything. If you’re alive at the end of it, you’ll realize that’s all you ever wanted.

The sooner you let go, the sooner you realize life goes on.

6) Don’t plan so much

When it comes to traveling, planning can be our own demise. The more you plan, the more you see. However the more you see, the less you experience. Save the planning for your children’s college fund or for your work life. Because when it comes to traveling, spontaneity brings you the fondest memories. I’ve yet to hear an interesting or exciting travel story from someone who had a planned itinerary.

7) Traveling is self-discovery

Being away for sometime solidified my view on where I see myself within the next year or so. I can’t be sure for other nationalities but I think for a Singaporean, being away for so long will cement your view of Singapore. You will be more sure of whether you want to stay or leave.

Traveling also allows you to figure out what is important to you and the kind of person you want to be. The experiences you have, the friends you make and the boundaries you break will give you a sense of the perfect you that you are striving for.

If that is not a reason to travel, then I don’t know what is.