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Week 35: Historic victory in Ecuador. It is poor people who do most for climate.
This week we celebrate, and we cherish that some people make a true and tangible difference for all of us. We hail their courage, persistence, and integrity. We share the joy over their historic victory, won by blood, sweat and tears, sometimes even with their own life.
It is a victory that many of the people in the rich, air-conditioned, food-on-demand, Tik-Tok world cannot even relate to. We are too busy “saving the world” from ourselves. This news did not get the biggest headlines nor was it shared in hundreds of thousands of posts across social media channels. It did not get the attention it deserved. Side news in one of the leading media outlets, almost hidden.
It is not only a story about the people who made it happen, but also a story about democracy and the power of a system that, despite all flaws, can deliver outstanding results. But it did not happen in the rich and democratic societies, known for their utmost respect for human rights and self-image of a leading sustainable transition, where populations can afford climate action. Or where governments pledge climate action with one hand and hand out drilling licences with the other, explaining it all with a shrug. It did not happen with the help of trillions of dollars claiming they invest to protect biodiversity. Nope. It happened in a country that has been struggling to uphold the most basic living conditions for most of its population, where 23% of the population lives under the poverty line, a country where seventy-seven per cent of indigenous children live in poor homes with daily incomes of just $2 or less. They did what we choose not to. Poor, underdeveloped, marginalised. In a country where oil is the main export commodity.
Days ago, voters in Ecuador approved a total ban on oil drilling in protected land in the Amazon, a 2.5m-acre tract in the Yasuní National Park that might be the world’s most important biodiversity hotspot.
The area is a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve and home to two non-contacted Indigenous groups. This could be a major step forward for the entire global climate justice movement in ways that are not yet apparent.
With over 90% of the ballots counted by early Monday, around six in 10 Ecuadorians rejected the oil exploration in Block 43, situated within Yasuní National Park. The referendum took place along with the presidential election, which will be decided in a runoff between leftist candidate Luisa González and right-wing contender Daniel Noboa. The country is experiencing political turmoil following the assassination of one of the candidates, Fernando Villavicencio.
Yasuní National Park is inhabited by the Tagaeri and Taromenani, who live in voluntary isolation, and other Indigenous groups. In 1989, it was designated, along with neighboring areas, a world biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO. Encompassing a surface area of around 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres), the area boasts 610 species of birds, 139 species of amphibians and 121 species of reptiles. At least three species are endemic.
“Ecuadorians have come together for this cause to provide a life opportunity for our Indigenous brothers and sisters and also to show the entire world, amidst these challenging times of climate change, that we stand in support of the rainforest,” Nemo Guiquita, a leader of the Waorani tribe, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. More here.
This vote is important not only for Ecuador and for the Indigenous peoples in the Yasuní, who now have hope of living in peace in perpetuity. It is also a potential model for how we can use the democratic process around the world to help slow or even stop the expansion of fossil fuels to the benefit of billions of people.
The message from Ecuador is clear: people will vote to keep oil in the ground. The Yasuní referendum proves that real democracy that respects the popular will can be a powerful tool for transitioning to a sustainable future. Ecuador’s state oil company, Petroecuador, had been producing nearly 60,000 barrels a day in the Yasuní. It now must figure out how to dismantle its entire operation and go home. When in history has a popular vote ever forced an oil company to cease active drilling? Never.
The South American country started exploring oil on a large scale in the Amazon in the 1970s when it became an Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries member - membership it withdrew in 2020. For decades, oil has been Ecuador’s main export. In 2022, it represented 35.5% of total exports, according to the country’s Central Bank. Block 43 alone contributes $1.2 billion annually to the federal budget.
The Yasuní vote was not the result of a business decision made in a boardroom or government office. It was the product of two decades of grassroots organizing by citizens and activists. At the same time, the vote underscores how important it is to protect our increasingly fragile democracy. Without a robust democracy that allows citizens to place issues of critical importance on the ballot without the intermediation of elites, the Yasuní referendum never would have happened.
The flip side is that powerful oil and gas companies understand the threat a real citizen-based democracy poses to their power. They fear a society where citizens can put referendums on the ballot without the approval of business leaders. Those of us in the climate movement often can’t even stop to focus on the connection between democracy and climate justice because we’re so focused on dealing with the immediate crises taking place before our eyes, such as the Maui fire.
In the United States, it is not broadly known that the fossil fuel industry quietly funds a national lobbying campaign that has introduced draconian anti-protest bills in at least 18 states. These laws threaten anyone protesting at an oil or gas facility with huge fines and serious prison sentences; some states even impose criminal liabilities on non-profit advocacy groups that support the protesters. These are really laws of intimidation designed to stop protest before it happens. And they are also manifesting in other countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany. Thanks to Jonathan Watts, journalist from The Guardian for covering this historic victory.
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At the same time in a different country…
This one is rich, most of the population brags about their EVs bought with hefty tax subsidies, average income measures in hundreds of thousands of dollars. In local cafes, you can buy all-organic everything. Democratic, morally impeccable. A country that hosts a Nobel Peace Prize. Moral beacon, a sustainability transition index leader.
Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has awarded 47 new offshore oil and gas exploration licences to a total of 25 oil companies. The permits have been awarded as part of the licencing round APA 2022, an annual exploration round to licence in the most mature areas on the Norwegian shelf. The licences offered in the latest round cover 29 permits across the North Sea, with 16 in the Norwegian Sea and two in the Barents Sea.
Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Terje Aasland said: “Further exploration activity and new discoveries are important to maintain the production of oil and gas over time, both for Norway and Europe. “The annual allocation of the exploration area is a pillar in facilitating a stable level of activity on the Norwegian continental shelf and in achieving the main goals of the government’s petroleum policy”.
The Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy plans to offer 92 oil and gas exploration blocks in the Arctic in 2023 under its concession round TFO 2023 (allocation in predefined areas), as it seeks to prolong its hydrocarbon production and its supply to Europe.
Norway proposes to offer 78 blocks to energy firms in the Barents Sea and 14 new blocks in the Norwegian Sea, the highest number since the allocations in predefined areas (APA) licensing round began in 2003. The permits will be awarded in January 2024. Norway’s oil output is expected to rise by 7% in 2023.
If you want to scream now it is a good time. When, if ever, will we experience something different, something out of the ordinary from the hypocrisy our rich world spends billions to protect? And when, when will the complacent masses of the West realise that their own Tik-Tok world is nothing more but a big, fat, lie?
Another great piece of news for this week
Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the U.S. achieved a fusion energy advancement that produced a higher energy yield than an earlier, landmark breakthrough reported in December of last year. While there is much to do to bring fusion energy to scale and turn this into a reliable clean energy source, we’re applauding this exciting scientific milestone. Fusion energy holds potential to create limitless clean energy without the type of radioactive byproducts associated with today’s nuclear power. More here.
Thank you, people of Ecuador who voted, for showing the world what true human-centric leadership is. This will be all for this week and I wish you all a great Ecuadorian week!
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