Sharing environmental burdens and responsibilities

President Rafael Correa stood erect as the Ecuadorian National Anthem played. Every Monday, precisely at 11 a.m., a ceremonial changing of the guards begins in Quito’s Plaza de la Independencia.

President Rafael Correa stood erect as the Ecuadorian National Anthem played. Every Monday, precisely at 11 a.m., a ceremonial changing of the guards begins in Quito’s Plaza de la Independencia. The president looked down from the balcony of the white, three-storey government palace last month over the large crowd gathered there, which included my wife and me.

At the end of the ceremony, as the hussar-like mounted cavalry rode out past us, I pointed out the security personnel to Eva. They discreetly surveyed the scene from the rooftops of buildings surrounding the plaza like the colonnaded archbishop’s palace. The numerous squads of riot-geared police were harder to miss. They occupied strategic positions around the square and as we would later see at intersections for blocks around it.

Did the energetic young demonstrators immediately in front of the Palacio del Gobierno warrant such attention? Listening carefully to the student chants after the president left I realized that they actually praised Correa. Why the heavy security then? It seems that only days before President Correa had controversially announced the opening of a section of a national park for oil drilling. Later in the day modest bands of protesters would stand in this same plaza denouncing this government action.

The area in question, the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oilfield lies within the Yasuni National Park in the eastern Amazonian region of Ecuador. This area is undisputedly one of the most biologically diverse regions on earth. One study noted that 655 species of trees had been catalogued on just one hectare of land within the park. This represents more tree species than the combined total in U.S. and Canada.

The Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous peoples also call the Yasuni-ITT site home. They have tried to maintain their traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle in voluntary isolation from mainstream South American life. In a world hungry for ever more resources, however, this presents an increasing challenge. Grave threats to the region include illegal logging, land-strapped settlers clear-cutting virgin rainforest for crop and pasture land, and encroaching roads plus waterways made navigable from Manta, Ecuador to Manaus, Brazil, heightening access to the area in order to facilitate commodity exports to Asia. Neighbouring oilfields being developed in Peru don’t help either.

President Correa had earlier offered a landmark initiative to protect the Yasuni National Park and its indigenous peoples and simultaneously make a significant commitment to the global environment. He proposed leaving the estimated 900 million barrels of oil in the ground. This would have a real cost though: $3.6 billion over 13 years.

A new multi-donor trust fund administered by the United Nations Development Programme would present the new institutional framework for assisting countries like Ecuador to be stewards of the biological diversity of regions like Yasuni. With international assistance they would, as well, prevent hundreds of millions of tonnes of additional CO2 emissions from aggravating the already perilous rise in greenhouse gasses by not tapping this oil reserve.

A bare trickle of financial contributions from public and private sectors of the international community in support of this initiative signalled a lack of interest in sharing this burden and responsibility with the Ecuadorian people. A multi-billion-dollar debt to the Chinese plus the promise of additional aid dollars from them to upgrade Ecuadorian oil-refining capacity pushed Correa to announce the opening of the Yasuni-ITT to oil drilling.

Some commentators, like Alberto Acosta, an Ecuadorian economist writing earlier this month in The Guardian, believe it may still be possible to save this innovative environmental initiative. “Now a broad movement is preparing the ground for a referendum. Only then will the Ecuadorian people have the last word – to leave the oil in the soil, even without money from abroad. Yasuni-ITT can still be achieved by civil society in Ecuador and around the world. We need other Yasunis too.”

We indeed do need other Yasunis. Will we assume our share of this global burden and responsibility? Can we profoundly change our relationship with nature and become true stewards of creation? We must.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kwanlin Dün First Nation chief Doris Bill holds up a signed copy of the KDFN <em>Lands Act</em> agreement during an announcement at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Oct. 20. Under the new act, called Nan kay sháwthän Däk’anúta ch’e (We all look after our land) in Southern Tutchone, KDFN will be able to allot citizens land to build their own houses on, for example, or to use for traditional activities. The First Nation will also be able to enforce laws around things like land access and littering. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Lands Act comes into force

The act gives the First Nation the authority to manage, protect and enforce laws on its settlement lands

Two doctors in Watson Lake say they are at risk of losing their housing due to a Yukon Housing Corporation policy that only allows one pet per family. (Wikimedia Commons)
Healthcare workers in Watson Lake say housing pet policy could force them to leave

The Yukon Housing Corporation has threatened evictions for having more than one pet

The Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services building in Whitehorse on March 28, 2019. Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed for good say they were relieved to hear that the Yukon RCMP has undertaken a forensic audit into the now-defunct NGO’s financial affairs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Former Many Rivers board members relieved to hear about forensic audit, wonder what took so long

Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed… Continue reading

Whitehorse General Hospital in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. The Yukon Employees’ Union and Yukon Hospital Corporation are at odds over whether there’s a critical staffing shortage at the territory’s hospitals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
YEU, Yukon Hospital Corp. at odds over whether hospitals are understaffed

YEU says four nurses quit within 12 hours last week, a claim the YHC says is “inaccurate”

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates, Ray Hartling and Mark Lange, have filed a class action against the jail, corrections officials and Yukon government on behalf of everyone who’s been placed in two restrictive units over the past six years. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Class action filed against Whitehorse Correctional Centre over use of segregation

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates have filed a class action against… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Triple J’s Canna Space in Whitehorse on April 17, 2019, opens their first container of product. Two years after Canada legalized the sale of cannabis, Yukon leads the country in per capita legal sales. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon leads Canadian cannabis sales two years after legalization

Private retailers still asking for changes that would allow online sales

A sign greets guests near the entrance of the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 11. The city announced Oct. 16 it was moving into the next part of its phased reopening plan with spectator seating areas open at a reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CGC reopening continues

Limited spectator seating now available

During Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 19 meeting, planning manager Mélodie Simard brought forward a recommendation that a proposed Official Community Plan amendment move forward that would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend, currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
More development in Whistle Bend contemplated

OCP change would be the first of several steps to develop future area

EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Northwestel has released the proposed prices for its unlimited plans. Unlimited internet in Whitehorse and Carcross could cost users between $160.95 and $249.95 per month depending on their choice of package. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet options outlined

Will require CRTC approval before Northwestel makes them available

Most Read