When I received my invitation to join our nonprofit client, Amazon Watch, in its delegation to Ecuador to learn about the reality of our dependence on oil, I knew it was a life-changing opportunity. Here was my chance to meet the locals, see the rainforest, and experience the environmental devastation I had read about in many articles and books.
We spent the first days learning about the true cost of oil and its impact on the environment and local communities. After a day in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, we flew across the Andes and started with a trip to the first oil well ever drilled in the northeastern Amazon, in 1967. It was very eerie to be standing on the spot that forever changed the region’s way of life and environment. We were led by a local man, Donald, who now spends all of his time sharing his people’s history and their story with a variety of journalists, lawyers, and students. He reminded us that the Ecuadorian government had trusted the expertise of the American oil industry, but what remains are open oil pits, toxic-waste-infested streams and a changed world.
Throughout the week, we toured remediated pits where dirt has literally been placed on top of crude oil, saw streams that appear clear at first look but turn white gloves black, and met with locals. The most memorable trip was by canoe and on foot to the village of the Cofan people, an indigenous group who filed the lawsuit against Chevron Texaco. The people were warm and welcoming, children played in the village, and it seemed like a great community in which to raise a family. But then their leader spoke of life since “the company” arrived: at first, the deer and fish they hunted started to taste different, contaminated by metals and toxins from the total of 18 billion tons of toxic waste dumped into the streams throughout the years. We heard about families living on top of oil pits, high sickness and cancer rates, and of the children who have died over the past 40 years from simply drinking the water. It was very disturbing to hear of the contamination that is still affecting their way of life, and I feel a bit of guilt for my own way of life back in San Francisco.
We ended our trip at an unaffected area deep in the Amazon to see the environment free of human destruction. We were in awe at the beauty of the rainforest and the unique animals. Overall, the trip was eye opening and motivated me personally to connect the impact of my lifestyle and aim to minimize my carbon footprint. While the contamination we saw was devastating, I was also extremely hopeful when we visited the untouched land and saw how life can be given back to the communities. I am even more inspired by the work of groups like Amazon Watch that give the people a voice and the support they need. This experience makes me glad to be at New Resource, where I know I’m working to help make the world a better place.
Learn more about Amazon Watch’s work in Ecuador.
Photo: Amazon Watch expedition members with leaders from the Cofan village.