Nature over oil: A wise or crazy choice?


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By Beverly Natividad

Abandoned oil pool and production flare near Lago Agrio, Ecuador. Photo: Ivan Kashinsky, Time Magazine

It takes political will and a clear vision ahead to make a country to close its doors against oil drilling and its present economic benefits.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Ecuador’s minister of national heritage, in a subplenary panel on biodiversity and its vast contribution to sustainable forests this morning at Forest Day 4 said that her country has decided to forego 20% of its oil reserves in order to preserve a national park.

The Yasuni National Park at the heart of the Amazon basin serves as home to one of the most biologically diverse areas in the planet and an ancestral home to the Waorani people who live in voluntary isolation in the area.

Despite the fact that 60% of the country’s exports is oil, Ecuador seems to have made the decision with a clear head. Espinosa said despite foregoing the oil reserves, they will in turn avoid 407 million tons of carbon dioxide.

This, she said, is Ecuador’s way of taking strong steps towards a post-petroleum economy, a move towards an economy based on the knowledge “that the atmosphere is a public good and that [they] have to be responsible for that.”

Other oil-dependent countries may scoff at the idea of passing up the oil opportunity especially at a time of global financial difficulties.

But Ecuador might be on to something here.

Speaking at the same panel, Thomas Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, said that not only does biodiversity hold an “enormous potential” in addressing the problem of climate change, it is also the easiest way to go.

“It is our most immediate ally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

This seemed a simple enough idea but while everyone has jumped to the race to design “greener” and more efficient trade, transport, and energy infrastructures to reduce carbon emissions, the answer, it would appear, lay only at our own backyards.

For example, thousands of coastal cities are now fearing the effects of extreme weather events for the extraordinary inundation it may bring to their areas. But as many scientists point out now, had these cities not allowed the cutting of their mangrove areas to make way for beaches and coastal cities in the first place, they may still have this natural protection barriers against devastating floods.

Lovejoy said it takes a lot of persuasion to make people see the interconnections between  biophysical systems as not many people understand them.

And for many others, he said, nature is kept on the realm of aesthetics and people forget that it functions for our survival.

“Some will say nature is nice but it is not necessary,” Lovejoy said.

Amid all these, it is pleasant to see a nation that has awakened to the idea that preserving their biodiversity will eventually bring them more good than if they went with the more economically sound option.

But then again, several years down the line, when fossil fuels have thinned out, Ecuador and other countries will find out the long-term and renewable benefits of biodiversity indeed makes for a wiser economic decision.

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