Daily Video

August 19, 2013

Ecuador’s Tough Choice Between Environment and Economics

Yasuni National Park in the South American country of Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, with 121 different species of reptiles, 150 species of frogs, 596 species of birds and 187 species of mammals.

However, the rainforest and its inhabitants may soon be under threat, as Ecuador’s president recently announced a plan to allow oil drilling in the park. Yasuni is located above roughly 20 percent of Ecuador’s oil reserves, a precious natural resource in a country where more than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

While Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa offered to save the park if outside groups could pay the country $3.6 billion, about half the estimated value of the oil reserves, the effort fell short.

“This is like a very poor family trying to protect the family jewels, and in the meantime, most of the people in the family are starving to death,” said David Romo of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a base for scientists to work in Yasuni.

President Correa tried to downplay the effects the drilling would have on the park, saying it would only affect 0.1 percent of the Yasuni basin. Terry Erwin, a scientist at the Smithsonian who has been working in Yasuni for 20 years, also thinks that if the oil extraction is done with care and under strict regulation, it could coexist with biodiversity and the indigenous population.

However, Erwin has also seen first-hand the effects that human activity can have on the ecosystem.

“If you just open it up to the choice of the oil company, who will do things economically for the company and their investors and so forth, it’s not going to work,” he said.

Warm up questions
  1. What is biodiversity and why is it important?
  2. Where is Ecuador and what are its most important and unique geographic features?
  3. What is the responsibility of wealthy countries to protect the environment in developing countries who cannot afford it on their own?
  4. Does the possible financial boom from oil for the country of Ecuador outweigh the rights of the people living on the land that may be destroyed?
Discussion questions
  1. President Rafael Correa asked other countries to help preserve Yasuni National Park Ecuador by donating several billion dollars- about half the cost. Was this a good strategy? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think the other countries had a moral obligation to help provide funding to preserve Yasuni? Why or why not?
  3. Explain how the oil company’s implementation of a simple piece of infrastructure- the road- changed the culture of the indigenous people living there as well as the biodiversity nearby.
  4. In the best case scenario, what effects may the oil drilling have on the Yasuni National park and all of its inhabitants? What about the worse case scenario?
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