Ecuador’s plan to sell over a third of its pristine Amazonian rain-forest to Chinese oil industrialists has been met with a heartbreaking turn of events. Local tribes who inhabit the region have vowed to give their lives in defense of the sacred jungles they call home.
Ecuador’s jungles are among the most bio-diverse on the planet, and are home to 1/10 of Earth’s species. In a desperate attempt to finance the nation’s commercial development, they have agreed to sell over 8,000,000 acres to Chinese oil companies — a portion roughly the size of Belgium or Maryland.
Whether the money gained from the devastation of the rain-forest will end up actually serving the country’s long-term interests is open to debate, especially considering the region’s notoriety for political disarray.
In 2007, Ecuador offered to guarantee the preservation of the rain-forest by leaving the estimated 850 million barrels of oil beneath the jungle floor untouched, in exchange for $3.5 billion — half the revenue expected to be generated by drilling. In theory, the international community could have united to pay Ecuador’s ransom, avoided an added 400 million metric tons of carbon emissions, and assured the Amazon’s beauty for generations to come. Unfortunately, after the 2008 economic collapse few politicians were eager to sell eco-conservation as a priority issue, and by 2012, only $200 million had been pledged.
The apathy of most nations speaks volumes, and their own natural settings haven’t been saved from oil spills and fracking chemical leaks. To some degree, Ecuador cannot be blamed for wanting to move forward with its own industrialization, but its last remaining opposition is a determined indigenous population that considers the jungle their sacred home — and refuses to see it violated without a vicious fight.
The battle is between a desperate and ambitious government, indebted to massive Chinese development loans, and the local tribes who cannot produce any paperwork proving their centuries old claim of ownership on the land. The passionate naturalists embody the very environment that is being sacrificed for the sake of industrial progress, and are willing to give their lives in its defense.
Capital is often made by the privatization of the commons to extract wealth, and this conflict has manifested in the region before. In 2009, violence between Amazonian Indians and police in Peru over rain-forest mining rights resulted in several deaths. Mountain worshipping tribes in India have faced their own devastation by encroaching mining companies. Even Brazil’s plan to build the destructive Belo Monte dam was met with an outcry of support for the indigenous people — embodied by the famous picture of a crying Chief Raoni.
While social media, international awareness and financial support play their part — the best hope these tribes have to sustain their homeland is to unite in its defense. Indigenous tribes account for nearly 25% of Ecuador’s population, and they are growing increasingly politically aware and active. Their uprising in the 1990s, gave them a political voice and mirrors the civil rights movements scattered throughout the histories of many other countries.
While we fill movie theaters to cheer ten feet tall blue aliens, leading a vengeful stampede of animals against violent industrialists on distant planets — our own natural settings are being eradicated every day to serve our never ending addiction to fossil fuels. Facebook likes and online petitions aside, there is only so much an average citizen can accomplish.
We live in an era of unprecedented wealth disparity, echoing the pre-revolution monarchies and fiefdoms of our past. Those few who have hoarded billions in wealth must prove they deserve the positions of power they hold — not by successfully accumulating their fortunes, but by investing in humanity’s future and stewarding the preservation of our common environments. If industry leaders aren’t at the forefront of developing energy alternatives, it becomes hard see their destructive ambitions as anything short of insatiable, self-serving greed.