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The Amazon or Oil?

BOSTON – Charles Darwin would appreciate the irony of Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Yasuní, home to one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world, is itself engaged in what Darwin called “the struggle for existence.” A proposed drilling project in Yasuní’s Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oilfields would tap into a reservoir estimated to be worth more than $10 billion – and permanently destroy this global treasure.

Darwin, who developed his theory of evolution in Ecuador’s famous Galapagos Islands, recognized the importance of the relationships between species. He observed that no species – including humans – can exist in isolation from other living things. Each organism relies on natural processes to survive and contributes to nature’s balance – and ultimately, to the survival of all life on our planet.

Yet in Yasuní, a tragic tradeoff between man and his environment looms.

Amid the richness of the Ecuadorian Amazon, one-third of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. For many Ecuadorians, the economic opportunity beneath Yasuní – equivalent to roughly one-fifth of Ecuador’s proven oil reserves – raises a painful choice between biodiversity and wealth. Understandably, many would choose to drill. Indeed, in 2007, crude and refined oil products accounted for more than half of Ecuador’s export revenue.