Monday, 26 August 2013

Go ahead, ruin the planet, just don't ruin the view

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The Winnipeg Free Press ran this column by Gwynne Dyer on Monday, August 26.  Dyer writes about the leadership Ecuador has shown in protecting their ecosystem, including being the first country to include the "rights of nature" in its new constitution.  He also shows how the rest of the world hasn't participated in Ecuador's creative approach that may "ultimately bear much fruit", but so far is "just too great an intellectual and political leap".

Dyer's column concludes by reporting the contrast between Ecuador's courageous attempts to protect the environment and the Conservatives in  Great Britain, who have expanded fracking across the country without any regulation regarding the minimum distance between fracking rigs and people's houses.  On the other hand, local people in Britain have a veto when wind turbines are being considered for their neighbourhood.  The contrast between Ecuador and Britain explains the column title:  "Go ahead, ruin the planet, just don't ruin the view".

The first paragraph of the print edition wasn't included in the online article.  It has been included in this post.

"The world has failed us," said Ecuador President Rafael Correa.  "I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and with this, ended the initiative."  What might have been a model for a system that helps poor countries avoid the need to ruin their environment in order to make ends meet has failed, because the rich countries would not support it. 
In 2007, oil drillers found a reservoir of an estimated 846 million barrels of heavy crude in Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador's part of the Amazon. But the park is home to two indigenous tribes that have so far succeeded in living in voluntary isolation -- and it is listed by UNESCO as a world biosphere reserve. A single hectare of Yasuni contains more species of trees than all of North America. Ecuador, which cannot access finance on international markets, desperately needs money, and the oil meant money: an estimated $7.2 billion over the next decade. Nevertheless, Ecuadorians were horrified by the pollution, deforestation, and cultural destruction the drilling would cause. A large majority of them opposed drilling in the park. And then Energy Minister Alberto Acosta had an idea.
What if Ecuador just left the oil in the ground? In return, Acosta hoped the rest of the world would come up with $3.6 billion (half of the forecast income from oil revenues) over the next decade, to be spent on non-polluting energy generation such as hydroelectric and solar-power schemes and on social programmes to help Ecuador's many poor.
The payoff for the foreign contributors to this fund would come mainly from the fact the oil under Yasuni would never be burned, thereby preventing more than 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. Only a drop in the bucket, perhaps, but if the model worked it could be applied widely elsewhere, offering the poor countries an alternative to selling everything they can dig up or cut down.
The idea won the support of the United Nations Development Programme, which agreed to administer the Yasuni-ITT trust fund. It was set up in 2009, and the money started to come in. But it didn't flood in; it just trickled.        ...

To read the entire column, click here. 

- Submitted by Gareth

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