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Saturday, August 24, 2013
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

I heard a story on the Voice of Russia radio news the other day about Ecuador’s plans to go ahead with drilling for oil in an environmentally rich and sensitive Amazon rainforest region, after failing to raise $3.6 billion in donations to “buy out” the economic value that the oil would have to its economy. The Washington Post article pretty much summed up the situation: “Ecuador asked the world to pay it not to drill for oil, and the world said no”. President Rafael Correa came up with this plan back in 2010. He managed to raise a total of $13 million; so it was 0.1 billion down, 3.5 to go. Now he decided to throw in the towel and drill, baby, drill. Of course, while requesting the funds, there were all sorts of dire consequences in the air; now he says that less than 1% of the Yasuni National Park will be affected.

Hmmm. This is something of a tough question. On the one hand . . . we can’t all ask each other to pay to not drill for oil. At some point, oil production would plummet and prices would shoot up, then the world economy would crash and nobody could make any further such payments. If Ecuador got away with this, then why not Mexico, Canada, Russia, Niger, maybe even North Dakota? On the other hand . . . poorer nations have a harder time integrating environmental concerns in their oil drilling efforts. (It is arguable that abundant natural-resources keep poorer nations from diversifying their economies, as they become too dependent on oil and mineral wealth — the “resource curse”). In all fairness, if environmentally sensitive areas are to be “saved”, or at least have damage minimized from hydrocarbon exploitation, then people in the better-off nations like the USA, Japan and Western Europe should contribute the most for this.

But other than asking for voluntary donations from governments or private individuals, there’s really no good way to make this happen. The world, such as it is, is just not ready for one-world government. It’s hard enough to make government work on local and state levels; and national politics in the past 10 years continue to make people doubt that government on the national level is useful. So why would we believe that a government of humankind-in-general could make things better?

So, sorry Ecuador, but the world is taking a pass on saving Yasuni (or that 1% of Yasuni that will be impacted). President Correa can now pin the blame on what he is about to do on the evil ones in el norte, i.e the United States (a good populist strategy since a majority of Ecuadorians allegedly oppose drilling in Yasumi). And the evil USA and other industrial nations will get more Ecuadorian oil to keep prices in check. So everyone will come out happy. Still, this is a good reminder that our modern lifestyles do make a heavy footprint on the natural world, a footprint that can’t continue all that much longer without imposing nastier and nastier consequences. I suspect that President Correa’s proposal was always aimed more at internal Ecuadorian politics than actually saving a pristine rainforest. But it might have a good side-effect if it does make thoughtful people here in economic paradise wonder, just how much longer can this party go on? And what can we do to avoid a hard landing in the future?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:00 am      

  1. Jim, A couple of things bother me about this oil situation in Ecuador; probably a lot more should, but these are the 2 that hit me immediately.

    First, for all the talk about how necessary the Rainforest is for the world environment, Ecuador, when it comes right down to it, doesn’t care about the importance of the rainforest. If one of the countries that actually has the rainforest doesn’t care about it, what does this tell the rest of the world about the importance of the rainforest? All the pleas I get in the mail to “save the rainforest” suddenly seem somehow concerns only of the U.S., and even there, only certain people in the U.S. I wonder what those who have a concern for the rainforest think of Ecuador and its stand on blackmailing the world to “not drill” but then drilling for oil in that rainforest. I know I will so much more quickly and easily throw out such requests now that I know this.

    Second, I find myself saying, what’s wrong with the picture of a country basically blackmailing or threatening or extorting other countries — “pay us or we cut down the rainforest”. I find myself wondering if this is criminal or if the leaders of the world have turned into petulant teenagers who want their way and will stamp their feet (figuratively) until they get what they want; yet after getting what they say they want, will go ahead and do the opposite of what they say they want.

    I find myself asking: Has much of the world turned into sociopathic teenagers who will have what they want one way or the other? As to Ecuador blaming the U.S. for this situation: Again, I’m reminded of children who, when they find that getting their way has resulted in something that did not turn out as they would have liked, find someone else to blame for the situation they themselves have caused.

    And what of the situation where the majority of Ecuadorians do not want drilling in the rainforest? And perhaps I’m reading something into this statement that isn’t there, but it seems to me that another can of worms is the fact that so many countries of the world, while they say they want democracy and freedom, have little concept of how it actually works; so many countries seem to have their own interpretation of the word “democracy” and their own application of how it actually works in their own countries—and that interpretation and application seems very far from how democracy works in the U.S. It’s almost as if there’s “(fill in the country name) democracy”, and each one of those democracies is so very different from each other and from that of the U.S. MCS

    Comment by Mary — August 24, 2013 @ 9:28 am

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