Women of the Amazon Defend Their Homeland Against New Oil Contract on International Women's Day
By Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake
In late January 2016, the government of Ecuador signed a controversial contract with Chinese oil company Andes Petroleum, handing over rights to explore and drill for oil deep in the country's pristine southeastern Amazon Rainforest, known and revered by many as "the lungs of the Earth."
For decades, Indigenous communities of the southern Ecuadorian Amazon have successfully fought to protect their land from encroachment by oil companies, engaging in local action and international policymaking and campaigns with a powerful message of respect for the Earth's natural laws and the rights of Indigenous peoples.
At the forefront of this ongoing struggle are courageous Indigenous Amazonian women leaders who have declared, “We are ready to protect, defend and die for our forest, families, territory and nation."
In marches, protests, conferences and international forums, the women of the Ecuadorian Amazon are standing with fierce love and conviction for the forests and their communities, and navigating a brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation and violence and persecution as women human rights and land defenders.
“Women are the main victims [of oil extrction]—their ability to feed their families becomes impaired. There is deterioration of family health and they suffer the division of their communities and other forms of violence," women representatives of the Sapara and Shiwiar Nationalities and the Kichwa Kawsak Sacha and Sarayaku Peoples explained in a collective statement.
The coalition of women leaders has denounced this latest oil contract, which allows the Chinese corporation entry into their traditional territories, as a grave threat to their diverse lifeways and worldviews based upon living in harmony with nature, a violation of their rights and the health and integrity of the forest ecosystems and as a betrayal of immense international significance given the role of the Amazon in creating the cycles of water and air upon which all life on Earth depends.
The women are well aware of vital international climate research highlighting that global rainforests, of which the Amazon is the largest, are responsible for absorbing upwards of 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. To damage the vital regenerative systems of the Amazon in a race to dig up the fossil fuels that scientists are telling us should not be burned in the first place, is thus a double violence with disastrous implications.
The new Ecuadorian oil contract, encompasing more than 40 percent of the lands of the Sápara people, also threatens immeasurable cultural loss through the displacement of this vital and vibrant nationality of just 300-500, whose language has been official recognized by UNESCO as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity."
“We reject the signing of this new contract which will affect our territories, the forest, the water and the air, exactly how we have seen it occur in Block 10 in the Province of Pastaza," the women explained, referencing areas in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon where communities are embroiled in a decades-long struggle with Chevron/Texaco over clean-up of vast tracts of oil contamination.
Unwilling to see their homelands fall to the same toxic fate as their northern neighbors, women leaders, including Gloria Ushigua (Sápara), Patricia Gualinga and Ena Santi (Kichwa), have been working diligently to make their voices of protest and alternative solutions heard inside top international forums, including the recent United Nations COP21 climate negotiations in Paris.
On International Women's Day, March 8, a coalition of Amazonian Indigenous women will take action in the city of Puyo, Ecuador, calling for the cancelation of this new oil contract.
International representatives of the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network, Amazon Watch and other allied organizations will join the women of the Ecuadorian Amazonian for an urgent march, forum and press conference, bringing global attention to the grave and intertwined social and ecological threats posed by expanding oil extraction in the Amazon, with particular focus on violence against Indigenous women protecting the Earth and their powerful resistance and solutions building.
“We have always defended the living forest, we are not going to stop this ever, we will not allow for the destruction of the Mother Earth who feeds us," explained Ena Santi, women's leader of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku.
Concerned people worldwide are demonstrating their support by signing and circulating a petition, "No Extraction in the Amazon! Women of Ecuadorian Amazon and International Allies Reject Oil Concessions, Stand for Rights of the Earth and Communities."
Through this type of strong global alliance of women reaching across borders to protect and defend the land that sustains us and to push back against mal-development based upon the exploitation of the Earth and its communities—there is hope and real meaning given to the celebration of International Women's Day.
Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and co-chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. She is the author of the award-winning book Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature. Follow on Twitter @WECAN_INTL.
Emily Arasim has served as WECAN International's media and communications coordinator and project assistant since 2014. She is an avid photojournalist, writer and farmer from New Mexico.
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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