Sustainable Tourism vs. Oil Extraction In Ecuador’s Amazon

Today I stumbled across the trailer for the documentary Crude.

The official website describes the film as a “story of one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits on the planet. The inside story of the infamous “Amazon Chernobyl” case [which takes place in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador, pitting 30,000 indigenous and colonial rainforest dwellers against the U.S. oil giant Chevron]… offers a real-life high stakes legal drama, set against a backdrop of the environmental movement, global politics, celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, the media, multinational corporate power, and rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures”.

So what does oil extraction in the Ecuadorian rainforest have to do with sustainable tourism?

Oil was discovered in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 1967 by Texaco. Since then frequent oil spills, faulty waste storage, and questionable land acquisition have devastated the land many indigenous people rely on. As documented in 2008, the government blocks off an area for hydrocarbon activities – which it can then lease to multi-national energy corporations, “many of the blocks overlap with indigenous territories, both titled lands and areas utilized by peoples in voluntary isolation.” Basically, the way its set up now does little to protect the indigenous people of the Amazon.

Sustainable tourism has provided an avenue for indigenous tribes to preserve their environment and cultural integrity, as opposed to being “forced” into working for big oil and timber companies (resource extraction). Take the Huaroni Ecolodge –  a rainforest lodge run mostly by the Huaoroni people. In the mid 90’s, in an effort to protect their land from oil companies, they turned to ecotourism as a means to receive an income while still maintaining their cultural practices and conserving their rainforest territory.

While tourism can have some very negative impacts on a place and inherently it has elements of harm (take carbon emissions alone) – there are also tourism practices that are very beneficial to the local communities. And it’s those practices that we, as travelers, can feel good about supporting.