Posted on May 16th, 2013
“The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” Chief Seattle
Global Seva Amazon: Environmental Justice & Indigenous Rights
Off the Mat, Into the World’s (OTM) Global Seva Challenge is a fundraiser that builds community, provokes awareness and action around global issues, and raises funds to support communities in crisis. Since 2007, more than 600 people around the world have taken the Seva Challenge and raised over $3 million dollars for projects in Cambodia, Uganda, South Africa, Haiti and India. This year’s focus is on environmental justice and indigenous rights in the Amazon rainforest. Funds raised in 2013 will support the protection of some of the most pristine remaining rainforest areas, as well as provide access to healthcare, clean drinking water and micro-credit for indigenous and farmer communities living in remote areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
THE AMAZON RAINFOREST
The rainforest is often called “the lungs of the earth”. It produces one-fifth of the world’s fresh air, one-fifth of known medicinal plants and knowledge (of which scientists estimate we have discovered only 1%), one-half of its fresh water, and is home to half of all species on Earth. It is one of the most peaceful and pristine natural places on Earth, where all species depend on each other and a healthy ecosystem to survive. In the Amazon rainforest, you can find more species in one square acre than in most countries. Ecuador is considered a ‘biodiversity hotspot’. There are “walking trees” whose roots will literally walk up to several meters over the course of ten years. There is the poison dart frog – no larger than your thumbnail – that secretes a poison through its skin potent enough to paralyze or even kill a predator when it is threatened. In Ecuador alone, the rainforest is home to more than 30,000 birds, plant and animal species and 16 distinct indigenous tribes.
THE POINT OF NO RETURN
Scientists predict that we are rapidly approaching the point of no return within the next generation, if we do not make changes to our behavior now.
Current energy consumption threatens the future of the Amazon rainforest – and life as we know it on Earth. The level of carbon in our atmosphere is dangerously above levels required for a stable and healthy climate. In the last twelve months alone: extreme drought in Brazil, extreme flooding in Rwanda, an increase of hurricanes in the Caribbean, rising sea levels in the South Pacific, wildfires in the Southwestern US, and the warmest 12-month period on record in the United States. Ever.
The health of our environment is one of the truly global issues that transcends national boundaries and affects us all.
What will you say to your children when they ask you, “What was it like to see the rainforest before it disappeared?” or “What was that animal like before it went extinct?” Will you tell them that you did nothing to stop the deforestation and contamination? Or that you did not raise your voice when you were given a platform and a microphone to tell the world what you knew to be true: that our planet, much like our human bodies, can only thrive and sustain life in a state of balance, and that our current standard of living is dangerously unsustainable.
FROM BLOWGUNS TO SHOTGUNS
Indigenous people living in the rainforest have learned to make powerful healing medicines such as ‘blood of the dragon’ from the bark of the surrounding trees and plants without harming the organism itself. They hunted with spears and blowguns, taking only what they needed and fighting rarely with their neighboring tribesmen. They drank the purest water from the river and traveled by foot or canoe, leaving nothing but footprints in their wake.
In 1964, the oil industry arrived in Ecuador and set up their operations in the Amazon rainforest. They built roads deep into the jungle, moving their trucks and heavy equipment into territories inhabited by the Quichua, Achuar, Taegaeri, Haorani, Cofan and other indigenous tribes.
COCA-COLA AND TOILET PAPER
The oil companies sent their scouts in to these communities to make initial contact, bringing gifts that the indigenous people had never seen before: things like Coca-Cola, toilet paper, alcohol and guns. They negotiated with the tribal leaders for as much Coca-Cola and toilet paper as they wanted. In exchange, the oil companies just wanted one small thing: their ancestral land.
The alcohol and guns were thrown in to the deal as a gesture of “good will” and “friendship”, and the indigenous tribes were pitted against each other. Entire villages were massacred, generations of families wiped out in a single battle of shotguns versus blowguns.
In some regions of Ecuador, the fighting between tribes was so brutal and population numbers dwindled so low, that a number of tribes have gone extinct altogether.
Over a few decades, tribes who had co-existed relatively peacefully for thousands of years, became diabetics, alcoholics, and murderers. Many became employed by the oil companies as laborers to help cut down the forest that had belonged to their ancestors, install an extensive network of pipelines that frequently leaked crude oil directly into the soil, and dispose of toxic waste by dumping it directly into unlined pits or into the same rivers and streams that their children drank from and bathed in. Working for the oil industry became synonymous with wealth, modernity, prestige and power.
Meanwhile, the Coca-Cola and Aguardiente (local sugarcane liquor) flowed freely, and the oil companies continued to move their heavy machinery through the rainforest, felling trees, drilling holes, and pumping crude oil as they went. Before long, people began to get very sick. Incidents of cancer tripled and then quadrupled. In communities where the average family size was 13, infertility and miscarriages became common, and babies were born with deformities. Children complained of constant headaches, bellyaches, and skin lesions that would fester for years without healing properly. Local crops traditionally grown in the region – plantains, yucca, cacao, coffee, papaya, and guayusa – became poisoned by the soil, and anyone who ate them became sick.
THE LONG ROAD TOWARD JUSTICE
In 1994, oil and gas giant Texaco-Chevron was sued on behalf of 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians who accused the company of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into 54 unlined pits throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, after more than 30 years of environmental contamination, human rights violations, and legal impunity. The case dragged on and on, as Texaco-Chevron attempted to bankrupt the plaintiffs who could not compete with the company’s infinite legal resources.
In 2011, the Ecuadorian Supreme Court found Texaco-Chevron guilty and ordered the company to pay $18 billion in damages for environmental cleanup and human health care costs as a result of their actions. Texaco-Chevron has yet to pay a dime and be held accountable.
(NOTE: Texaco-Chevron has filed numerous appeals in Ecuadorian, international and US courts with the intention of having the case thrown out. Every single one of them has been denied.)
PAY NOW OR PAY LATER
In 2010, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa proposed to wealthy nations at a UN meeting that the Amazon rainforest is a global commodity that (while intact) provides certain goods and services that we all benefit from. Additionally, deforestation is responsible for more carbon emissions than the entire global transportation sector (cars, trucks, planes, etc.) combined.
President Correa warned that the cost of losing those services – especially when compounded with the climate change effects due to deforestation – would be significantly higher than the cost of protecting them up front. He asked the international community to pay into a voluntary fund called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) which he hoped would generate approximately $4 billion dollars to fund alternative energy and sustainable development programs in Ecuador.
Only a few countries (including Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Norway) expressed interest. Ecuador’s proposal to the UN ultimately failed.
RAINFOREST FOR SALE
In November 2012, Ecuador began to auction off its southern Amazon for oil exploration, to help pay off its national debt to China. Negotiations are currently underway, with the deadline for the latest round of bidding (called the 11th Round) extended to July 2013.
Indigenous groups say they were not consulted in the sale of their ancestral lands, and this action violates the law. Environmental groups fear that the same disaster that happened in Ecuador’s northern Amazon will happen again in the south.
So far, China appears to be the only bidder.
CALL TO ACTION
It is more important than ever that the international community speaks up now to protest the sale of Ecuador’s southern Amazon, and supports projects that will help protect and sustainably develop the remaining rainforest: the lungs of the earth.
Finds raised during this year’s Seva Challenge will support the following initiatives:
- construction and staffing of a ranger station to help Cofan indigenous communities patrol and protect their ancestral land;
- providing seed capital and training for a micro-lending initiative which provides training and access to micro-credit to indigenous and farmer communities in exchange for not cutting down their rainforest land;
- building and furnishing two classrooms for forestry and conservation training of local youth;
- empowering frontline, indigenous healthcare workers to promote public health education and provide care to their communities;
- construction of a rural medical care facility and overnight residence for families living in remote areas of the rainforest;
- providing access to clean drinking water to indigenous and farmer communities; and
- raising awareness on behalf of indigenous and environmental organizations advocating for justice against the oil industry in the northern Amazon and protesting Ecuador’s 11th Round of oil licensing in the south.
JOIN OUR SMALL CHANGE CAMPAIGN
We know that no change is too small so we’re making it our goal is to get more people involved to take small steps in making a difference on a global level. We’re challenging yogis everywhere to think small in order to act big—for example, raising $100 by asking 10 friends to donate $10 each.
Do something, even if it’s small…. Set a goal that is achievable and raise $100 (or $500 or $1000) for this year’s Global Seva Challenge. Every little bit counts.
THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL
We are driving home the importance of reducing our own energy use at the individual level as well as addressing energy issues at the international level. In 2013, we will challenge the yoga community to make small changes in their day-to-day lives to reduce their energy impact. Participate in OTM’s ‘Small Change Campaign’ to investigate your own everyday energy impact. Join theOTM Facebook Page for regular tips on how to reduce your footprint.
Here are a few easy ways to get started:
(1) remember to turn off the lights when you’re not in the room
(2) walk/bike/carpool/use public transport
(3) buy recycled toilet paper
(4) practice Meatless Mondays
(5) buy local
OFF THE MAT, INTO THE AMAZON
Participants who take the Seva Challenge will have up to one year to raise significant funds and awareness through local outreach and community building. Seva Challenge participants will receive extensive leadership support and resources from OTM throughout the year. Participants who raise $20,000+ will be invited to join OTM on a Bare Witness Tour to the Amazon and see firsthand how the funds we have raised are helping to create positive change.
Crunching the Numbers
1 oil giant
30 billion gallons of toxic waste
900 open air unlined toxic waste pits
1,400 cancer deaths
30,000 indigenous Ecuadorian plaintiffs
30,000 threatened plant and animal species
100,000 square miles of tropical rainforest
18 year trial
$18 billion guilty verdict