Award-Winning Doc 'Yasuni Man' Is Now Available to Stream for the First Time
Among its many devastating impacts, the coronavirus has brought ecotourism to a halt in the Ecuadorian Amazon. But you can still visit the region from the safety of your couch, while supporting its Indigenous communities, by streaming Yasuni Man.
The award-winning documentary transports viewers to the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, an imperiled pocket of the Ecuadorian Amazon that is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. After touring the festival circuit for about two years, the film made its debut on major streaming services Aug. 25. If you watch Yasuni Man within the first two weeks of its release, a percentage of the proceeds benefit the Amazon Emergency Fund to help the region's Indigenous communities fight COVID-19.
Yasuni Man tells the story of Ecuador's Indigenous Waorani people and their fight to protect the area of rainforest they call home. The film follows Director Ryan Patrick Killackey as he visits the home of a Waorani man named Otobo Baihua and his family in the Yasuni community of Boanamo.
The movie alternates between telling the complex history of Yasuni and showing unprecedented footage of daily Waorani life. Killackey's camera follows Baihua and his family as they hunt for monkeys with blow darts, grind yuca to make a drink called chicha and introduce visiting scientists to the wildlife in their backyard.
But Yasuni is also home to more than 40 percent of Ecuador's oil reserves, and the film details the conflict between fossil fuel companies, the Ecuadorian government and different communities of Waorani over the future of this unique ecosystem.
As the forest and its inhabitants face new threats from fossil fuel extraction and the coronavirus pandemic, Killackey says the film is more relevant than ever.
"I actually don't think Yasuni Man will ever become irrelevant because our global community is not taking steps to stop the crisis that's happening in Yasuni and other biodiverse places," Killackey told EcoWatch.
Yasuni Man was filmed over five expeditions between 2011 and 2016, but Killackey said not much had changed since then in terms of the underlying pressures on the reserve and its inhabitants. However, Ecuador's worst oil spill in decades and the spread of the coronavirus have made the reserve's fate all the more urgent.
The oil spill occurred April 7, when a landslide ruptured three pipelines along the Coca River, dumping 15,800 barrels of crude oil into the water. The spill eventually reached the Napo River that borders Yasuni. The contamination of water and wildlife made it harder for Indigenous communities throughout Ecuador to protect themselves from the coronavirus as it interfered with their ability to sustain themselves in isolation.
"What should you do in case of a fire during a tornado?" scholars Manuela Picq and Eduardo Kohn wrote of the dilemma faced by Ecuador's Indingeous communities in the wake of the spill. "Leave the building or stay inside?"
In addition to threatening Indigenous health and compounding the impact of the oil spill, Killackey explained that the coronavirus has had two other negative effects on Yasuni. First, the pandemic has ended ecotourism across Ecuador, but fossil fuel extraction continues. The former removes a major source of employment for Yasuni's Indigenous people and gives them little choice but to seek work with the oil companies or participate in bushmeat hunting or logging.
Second, the pandemic has made it more difficult for larger nonprofits and smaller grassroots organizations to monitor the oil companies on the ground. Satellite images published by Amazon Conservation revealed that construction began on a new oil road in Yasuni in March. This was especially concerning because the road moved closer to the "Intangible Zone," a part of the reserve set aside for the Tagaeri and Taromenane, two Waorani clans living in voluntary isolation.
"Yasuni is like this microcosm," Killackey told EcoWatch. "You can just look at this little beautiful gem of a forest and see all of these crises happening very clearly."
Since the images were published, construction on the road has ceased. But the incident reveals the ways in which companies across the Amazon are taking advantage of the pandemic.
"Development is not stopping," Killackey said. "And this whole crisis with coronavirus is actually probably helping many of these major corporations and these banks to be able to go in there and exploit the natural resources and exploit the people."
Killackey hopes the film will raise awareness of the pressures on Yasuni and provide advocates with the tools to help preserve it.
"Really I think the most important thing you can do is educate an audience and try to make them feel a bond and a connection with a place and a people," Killackey said.
As part of that educational project, Killackey, a wildlife biologist by training, brought a team of scientists to Boanamo to survey the biodiversity in Otobo Baihua's community and filmed their research as part of the documentary. The survey resulted in eight scientific studies, two of which, on birds and mammals, have already been published in peer-reviewed journals.
Among other finds, the team discovered a previously undescribed species of fish and two seemingly identical frogs in the genus Pristimantis that were actually distinct species.
Killackey and his team said it was important to document and showcase the biological richness of Yasuni so that people would know what was there and be motivated to protect it.
"Very few Ecuadorians are truly aware of the biodiversity we have, specially about fishes, and its importance," Cecilia Puertas-Donoso, an ichthyologist featured in the film, said in an email. "That is something we should be proud of, and eager to preserve. I would like to tell them this phrase I read somewhere, that 'Destroying the Amazon to extract oil is like making a hole in the Sistine Chapel to remove stones.'"
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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