When you hear the words “environment” and “Ecuador” used together, you probably think about the ongoing legal battle to hold Chevron accountable for the environmental and public health disaster in the Amazon caused by its subsidiary, Texaco. The decades-old oil dump is impacting local indigenous communities to this day.
As important as that case is, it would be a real shame if Chevron’s corporate malfeasance shaped the entirety of Ecuador’s environmental legacy. In other arenas, the country is actually a true innovator when it comes to protecting the planet. Back in 2008, for instance, the people of Ecuador ratified a new constitution – backed by a whopping 64 percent of the vote – that enshrined the inalienable rights of nature to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.”
This concept that nature itself has inherent rights, just like you and me, is a simple idea, but an extremely powerful one. Ecuador is the only country on Earth that has so far mustered the moral bearing to enact such a law.
Now, the country has gone even further in adopting another novel yet self-evident policy: That in this age of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions, oil should be worth money when it’s kept in the ground and not sucked out of the earth to be burned as fuel. In a way, that seems counterintuitive, especially to folks force-fed capitalist ideology like we are here in the US of A. Yet, funny enough, this time, Ecuador is not the only country buying into the idea and it actually is a capitalist thing to do.
Together with the United Nations Development Program, Ecuador is soliciting donations for a trust fund that would essentially pay the country not to drill in Yasuni National Park, a pristine region of Amazon rainforest, for the next 10 years. That will mean leaving 846 million barrels of proven oil reserves in the ground. Ecuador is asking for $3.6 billion, roughly half the value the oil can be expected to fetch on the world market.
The payoff for other countries: Ecuador deciding not to drill means some 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that will stay safely buried underground instead of pumped into our atmosphere, not to mention the opportunity to protect rich biological habitat and preserve the way of life for three indigenous tribes.
So far, Germany has pledged $50 million and Spain $250 million. France, Sweden, Belgium, and Switzerland have all said they will contribute to the fund as well. Some will inevitably say Ecuador is raking in big from this deal. Millions of dollars to do nothing? But in reality, the people of Ecuador are chipping in the most by forgoing several billions of dollars in oil revenues they would otherwise have reaped. But some things are more precious than oil and money.
Image credit: Ecuadorian Amazon photo by Rainforest Action Network