By: Nina Gualinga
I walk a small path, surrounded by an infinite number of trees, plants and the scent of flowers. My lungs fill with pure, fresh air when I take a deep breath. My bare feet touch the ground, damp from yesterday's rain. This is my home. This is where I grew up. This is what I want to share with my children one day.
As I think of the future, of my people, I can hear the cry of the river, the mountains and the forest, and this fills me with sadness and anger. The future of this place is being threatened. The very essence of life is being threatened by oil extraction. And I pray to the forest to give me enough courage to protect my home.
I come from Sarayaku, a small indigenous community deep within the jungle of the Ecuadorian Amazon. This week I am in Lima for the United Nations COP20 Climate Conference in order to demand that world leaders respect my people's ancestral rights and to protect the rainforest.
We, indigenous peoples, use our resources in a way that promotes regeneration and regrowth. We preserve our cultural identity and we take care of the environment to ensure that future generations can peacefully and safely coexist with nature in the same way. But oil exploitation would inevitably mean an end to our life and culture as we know it. It would lead to environmental disaster and social destruction, and would contribute to the devastating consequences of climate change that we are already facing.
Globally, it is vital that we avoid fossil fuel extraction and burning entirely because it is an irreversible process with consequences humanity will have to live with for thousands of years. International climate negotiations are all about setting goals for future emissions reductions, and climate policy is very much about reducing the demand for fossil fuels, yet world leaders continue to avoid discussions about how to reduce the supply entirely. In practice, this means that the politicians pretend to be proactive while they defer responsibility for the problem to future generations. Meanwhile, global emissions from carbon dioxide continue to increase, wreaking havoc on our environment.
Instead, world leaders must focus on reversing the trend of fossil fuel consumption now. International climate policy must shift its focus and create a strategy to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
Many of the companies and governments who have power or claim ownership to such oil, coal and gas reserves continue exploiting them in order to increase their own power and wealth. To cease this and to redefine this trend will not be easy. But that is a challenge humanity must adopt and face. We must take action now.
Locations where fossil fuel deposits have been discovered are situated directly within the homes and territories of local indigenous peoples. We are actively struggling against exploitation of these reserves. We are struggling for the future of all mankind. Therefore, we deserve the support of international communities. We have persistently been on the forefront of the fight against environmental disaster and climate change. So why are our voices not being included in the decision-making process at COP20 and at other high-level governmental meetings? It is not only our right, but it is also the obligation of governments, state parties, corporations, organizations, and other such institutions to make sure indigenous peoples have a say on our own future.
The wind answers my prayer with a soft whisper. Trees sway gently, birds start to sing, and my body fills with strength. I can hear the murmur of the river telling me to keep on fighting because my ancestors walked this path, I walk this path, and it is a legacy I owe my coming children. That is why I cannot allow this place to be destroyed.
When I walk through the forest I see all the beauty of life that surrounds me, and I cannot stop asking myself: What is the point of destroying a paradise only so you can destroy the world?
Nina Gualinga is a young woman leader from Sarayaku who recently spoke about her community's struggle in an online viral video, Keep the Oil in the Ground. She represented the Sarayaku youth at the final hearing before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica, as well as international events, and a press conference on the historic court victory with Amnesty International in London. Nina splits her time between Sweden and Sarayaku. She is studying human rights at university in Sweden.