A Wild Week in Ecuador
January 21, 8:00 PM
Chris Beckett and I are in the air en route from Quito to Buenos Aires after a fantastic week in Ecuador. We spent our first three days at the Hacienda Pinsaqui in Otavalo, an hour’s drive from Quito. (Our companion on the drive from the airport was the celebrated aboriginal actor Tantoo Cardinal.) The Hacienda was an experience in itself — stone-built, cobblestoned, full of huge walk-in fireplaces, dripping with flowers. The last few days we were in the spectacular city of Quito, built on cliffs and gorges in a valley atop the Andes.
Sixty people had gathered in Ecuador for a Summit meeting of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. This is the group that in 2010 had gathered at Cochabamba, Bolivia, and written the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. That declaration has no legal status – yet – but it is already burrowing into the human consciousness. Like the abolition of slavery and the recognition of the rights of women, chldren and animals, the rights of nature is an idea poised to upend human thinking – and not a moment too soon.
The Summit decided to organize a world-wide week of action starting on Gandhi’s birthday, October 2. The event ended with the First Global Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, where a prosecutor called expert witnesses to present the case against various environmental villains. Among the accused: BP for the Gulf of Mexico spill, the US government for failing to regulate fracking, the Australian government for allowing the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef. There’s more here.
The Tribunal accepted these cases for trial, perhaps at the COP meetings in Lima in December. Like the Universal Declaration, these findings will have no legal force – but they will satisfy a deep need to call crimes against the earth by their proper names, and to identify and excoriate the offenders. If no established court will do this, the world’s citizens will have to do it themselves. And one day the Tribunal – like the International Court of Justice in the Hague – will gain jurisdiction, and will act on behalf of the living world that sustains us all.
As producers of the upcoming GreenRights documentary (click the tab above to learn more), Chris and I attended the Summit to learn about the progress of the rights of nature globally – and also to meet a remarkable group of international leaders. We shot footage of the proceedings and the surroundings, and also of the spiritual observances from indigenous leaders that opened each day’s proceedings. In addition, we approached participants whose voices we particularly wanted for the documentary, and drew nine of them aside for long conversations that will themselves be posted on The Green Interview site, and will also underpin the film.
Cormac Cullinan from South Africa, author of the groundbreaking book Wild Law.
Alberto Acosta, formerly Ecuador’s energy minister, and chairman of the constituent assembly that incorporated the rights of nature in Ecuador’s new constitution in 2008.
Natalia Greene, the brilliant young Ecuadorian who worked with Acosta on the constitution, and co-organized the Summit itself.
Michelle Maloney from Australia, lawyer, activist and defender of the Great Barrier Reef.
Mumta Ito, a lawyer from Scotland, who is organizing a citizen’s initative to bring rights-of-nature legislation to the European Community.
Osprey Orielle Lake, artist, author and founder of the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus.
The legendary Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations and to the climate change talks, now working with Focus on the Global South in Bangkok.
And Atossa Soltani of Amazon Watch, who has spent a lifetime serving the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin and working for the respectful treatment of the basin itself.
The Amazon has not aways been respected, and on the weekend Chris and I joined Bethany Horne, a young Canadian journalist who grew up in Ecuador, to visit the oil-industry centre of Lago Agrio, the site of one of the greatest ecological crimes of the twentiety century, which has given rise to the greatest environmental lawsuit of the twenty-first century. When Chevron bought the Texaco oil company in 2002, it also acquired Texaco’s appalling legacy in the Amazon: 500,000 hectares deliberately despoiled by cold, conscience-less dumping of waste oil and toxic water. The $9.5 billion Chevron-Texaco case (known in Ecuador as the Chevron-Tóxico case) pits 30,000 residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon against mighty Chevron.
To learn first-hand about Chevron-Tóxico, we rode in a taxi for six hours up into the cloud forests of the Andes and down into the Amazonian jungle, visiting toxic oil ponds and interviewing Pablo Fajardo, a brave and brilliant young Ecuadorian who emerged from poverty and became a lawyer specifically to pursue this case. Chevron-Tóxico is probably the biggest environmental lawsuit in the history of the world, and it was Pablo Fajardo’s very first case. He and his colleagues went on to win that $9.5 billion judgment, but now they have to force the company to pay up. Chevron reacted by stripping its assets from Ecuador, so the case has wound its way through the courts of five countries, and may reach a final settlement in Ontario, of all places. Stay tuned.
It was quite a week. And now, on to Buenos Aires, and a first-hand look at another huge environmental victory!