Wed, Jan 23, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Can oil save the rainforest?

When another new oil field was found beneath an Ecuadoran national park in the Amazon jungle, environmental campaigners feared the worst, but a daring plan to hold the drilling rights ransom could save the planet’s most biodiverse area and set an important precedent in conservation

By John Vidal  /  The Observer

Although Diego has heard the stories that his teachers worked with the oil companies, he will not hear a word against them.

“When you are young you do not know these things. What I know is that they were good people,” he said.

He said his godmother was Rachel Saint, the sister of Nate Saint, one of five missionaries attacked and speared by the Huaorani in 1956 after entering Huaorani territory. Rachel forgave them and then set up a “protectorate” for them where she lived until she died in 1994. Ironically, her work allowed Texaco to build a road deep into the forest and resulted in a flood of people moving in and destroying more than 2 million hectares of forest.

Diego loves, but fears for, Yasuni.

“I spend up to five months at a time there. When I am alone, I see all the animals. I walk quietly. I take a small kayak, I see electric eels, dolphins. The real treasure of Yasuni is not the oil, but the forest itself. I don’t want to think about oil coming to Yasuni. It would be a catastrophe. There will be money in the short term, but there will be no more Yasuni jungle,” he said.

In the deep forest at the Tiputini Research Station, primatologists told me they now hear oil company planes flying overhead and that the animals are showing signs of fear. Opinions at Tiputini are divided over whether Yasuni will be sooner or later exploited. The station’s resident director, biologist Diego Mosquera, fears it cannot hold out for long.

“Who owns the oil has the power,” Mosquera said. “Oil is 100 times bigger than anything else in Ecuador. Honestly, I don’t think the companies can be stopped.”

However, Swing is more optimistic.

“Yes, we are very nervous that all this will be lost and that Yasuni will become like Lago Agrio,” he said. “But this time we have a unique chance to save a lot of nature for very little. If we can’t justify saving a place that has more species per square inch than anywhere else on the planet, then what hope is there for anything? What then do we keep? What then can we save?”

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