The magic of the Amazon: A river that flows invisibly all around us

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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