Ecuador’s attempt to get paid for an environmental choice is hardly a new story but it’s very interesting that NPR is highlighting the supposed “extortion” angle with their report this morning called “Give Me The Money Or I’ll Shoot The Trees”. It’s pretty obvious that Ecuador is committed to keeping oil in the ground to protect Yasuni National Park (possibly the most biodiverse place on the planet), but yeah, they’re poor and it’s hard to do the right thing when liquid money could be slurped out so readily. How the hell else are they supposed to make it work?
We need to start figuring out as a planet and a species what our priorities are. While I agree with Sally Jewell’s quote from another NPR story this morning that “If you can’t run a healthy business, you’re not sustainable,” (something I railed against in my youth until Jason showed me so clearly how much more can be done for the environment if you find ways to make it profitable, even if that takes longer for both the eco-benefit and the profit), money can’t be the absolute and end goal for everything in any environmental, social justice, or other issue area. Sometimes there’s value in things like protecting natural spaces so we continue to have things like oxygen to breathe, water to drink, biodiversity to study, etc.
Of course, if Ecuador could find a way to make the park profitable in and of itself, that would help. Then again, that’s a problem facing pretty much all natural spaces, isn’t it? Because the things that bring sustainable profit tend to bring non-sustainable destruction. A few responsible REI campers don’t bring in enough cash to keep any park financially afloat. And while folks can go donate directly to Yasuni at http://www.yasunigreengold.org/, small individual donations are not likely to make a significant difference on that scale.
This sort of thing requires governments to act. The Ecuadorian government acted in 2007 to try to keep Yasuni from being drilled. Unless more governments understand that sometimes it takes public money to protect the long-term public good, then Yasuni and everywhere else is eventually doomed.
For the record, I was skeptical about claims I saw around that there’s only 5 days’ worth of oil under the park, so I checked some numbers and found that there’s probably about 10 days’ worth based on current estimations: 845 million barrels under the park, daily oil consumption of about 85 million barrels per day in 2006 (but there’s been both a rise and fall in that since) comes out to roughly 10 days’ worth give or take a few days. Either way it’s not like we’re talking about a massive, long-term source here, especially relative to the destruction that would be caused by extraction.