Environment at the Equator

Lauren Pak

During this season of giving, I found myself boarding a plane to Quito, Ecuador on the mission of tackling sustainability and environmental issues with Vanderbilt University’s very own Manna Project International.

Despite being only 109,483 square miles (about the size of Colorado), Ecuador is a culturally rich country entertaining high biodiversity levels ranging through the Costa, Oriente, and the Sierra regions.  Since Ecuador is one of the last habitats unsullied by mankind, it is imperative that appropriate measures are taken to protect the world’s remaining natural haven.

Until the service trip project assignment, I hadn’t previously realized how strained the situation regarding the country’s environmental policies was.  During my visit to the city, I witnessed a small protest rally against the oil drilling taking place in Ecuador’s Amazon forest.

The conflict regarding the disruption of Ecuador’s natural environment began in November 1993, when a lawsuit representing 30,000 affected Ecuadorians against Texaco (now Chevron) was filed in response to the oil-drilling company’s ­­­­­contamination of the vicinity.

Over the course of the next twenty years, back-and-forth exchanges of hostility have been made between the various sides involved, prolonging the conflict indefinitely.  For example, not only was the case fought for nine years in the United States to only be turned to the Ecuadorian courts in Chevron’s attempt to avert confrontation, but various fraudulent tactics between parties have muddled the issue entirely.

There seems to be no end to the oil conflict.  First, Chevron recognizing contamination but claiming no responsibility by instead blaming Ecuador’s PetroEcuador, hid behind the 1995 agreement with the Ecuadorian government that releases the company from fiscal obligation.  Accusations also were made that the Amazon Defense Front’s lawsuit was specifically targeted at financially successful Chevron to procure the most profit.  When an independent investigator dictated $27 billion worth of damages in 2009, Chevron went as far as lobbying with the U.S. government to cease trade with Ecuador entirely until the charges are dropped.  And finally, on trial earlier this month on November 19th, the leader of the Amazon Defense Front New York lawyer Steven Donziger, was accused of having manipulated the Ecuadorian judge to side with the environmentalists in the Ecuadorian court.

The battle continues raging to this day in a desperate struggle to settle the environmental issue once and for all.  Currently, as dictated earlier this month, the Ecuadorian court has set the remediation cost at $9.51 billion, though Chevron continues to avoid payment on the grounds of fraud in the Ecuadorian courts.  In response, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has instigated an international boycott against Chevron.

With over half of its inhabitants residing below the poverty line, the issue of becoming economically sustainable has been a long-standing question amongst Ecuador’s policy makers and leaders.  Ecuador does not have the fiscal capability to support itself as a nation due to the lack of monetary flow into the country.  The root of the issue lies in that oil export is the primary source of revenue for the nation.  President Correa’s desperate plea in 2007 to the international community for $3.6 billion to prevent drilling in the Yasuni ended poorly resulting in an oil production initiative earlier this year.  From selling legal rights, as of late, China now owns 90% of the oil produced by Ecuador.

The overwhelming conclusion is the fact that oil was spilt, damage was done.  The oil drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon is an issue that affects the global community as a whole in that it is an inherent, human responsibility to protect the environment.  The Ecuadorian and international leadership should work to collectively reach a solution instead of merely assigning blame.  Until Ecuador is able to find a more stable generator of income, one worries to what extent the country will allow itself to be polluted and pulled apart by political and economic turmoil.

[Image credit:http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4093/4858685698_7692e77ed6_o.jpg]