06/06/2013 10:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Trouble In Paradise: The Amazon and the Huaorani

There's a part of the world in immediate danger. It's a part of the world not often talked about, and unless you're dreaming of traveling there for vacation on some adventurous escape, it probably doesn't come up in day-to-day conversation.

The Amazon rainforest spans 1.2 billion acres of land, and about 3 million hectares (about ⅓ of the forest) is up for auction by Ecuador. The money gained from selling this portion of land will go toward paying off Ecuador's debt to China, about $7 billion as of last summer. Ecuador's Vice President, Lenin Moreno, has said they will preserve what is left of the forest if the rest of the world contributes financial aid.

I hadn't heard anything about this issue until Ann Curry's report, which aired during a May episode of NBC's Rock Center. I was completely drawn into the story and shocked to find out about the tragic plans for the Amazon, its people, and its animals. It's one of the world's most prized possessions and if we let the oil industry invade it, even if it's just a portion, we are letting an invaluable resource slip away. This, of course, is only part of the story.

There are about seven indigenous tribes still living in the Amazon and it is their land that will be destroyed should the oil industry go through with their plans. One of these tribes, the Huaorani, was interviewed by Curry and told her they are sharpening their spears to prepare to fight. This is not the first time the tribe has dealt with environmental threats. Past oil drilling in the rainforest has left ponds of the toxic substance, which leaks into rivers and streams, affecting everything in the forest.


Boston University biology professor Kelly Swing says this is more than about saving the rainforest; it is a human rights issue. America, as one of the top importers of oil from Ecuador, shares responsibility for this coming conflict, he says.

I was very moved by this story, as I'm sure other viewers were. At first I felt a surge of hope, thinking of how many people out there would jump in to help, but it was when I was talking with some friends that I realized how impossible the task at hand seems. One friend admitted she most likely would not help because, one, the oil industry's decision didn't affect her directly and, two, it seems an overwhelming task. We think, I'm not getting anything personally from the Amazon, so why should I help? What does this tribe have to do with me?

To answer the question, what doesn't it have to do with you? How sad and how scary the world would seem if we asked "what's in it for me?" each time we were asked for help. There would be no homeless shelters, doctors, veterinarians, or teachers, etc. We all know that one of the best ways to understand another person's point of view is to put ourselves in their shoes, so what if we think about it like this: what if this was our home that was going to be destroyed? We would want others to help; we would probably even expect others to help.

When New Jersey governor Chris Christie was asked why we should help rebuild towns destroyed by natural disaster, specifically Iowa and Kansas by flooding, he answered, "Because we're Americans. Americans help other Americans." While I agree with Christie, it seems to me that a true American would want to help others whether they are American or not. I understand those who believe we should help our own country first, but we need to remember, compared to other countries, the U.S. is far better off. And there are ways of helping the Amazon other than digging into your pockets. Many petitions have been started, like this one, started by Penti Baihua, Bameno Community Leader and Coordinator for Ome Gompote Kiwigimoni Huaorani. There is also this list of websites to learn more about supporting the Waorani.

When we stop thinking the only reason to help someone out is if we get something in return - that is when we will make true personal and cultural progress in life. These tribesmen ask for what we all hope to have: a home.

The world puts roots down everywhere, cramming in businesses and attractions anywhere it can fit them and make a profit. Is it too much to ask that we not try to dominate the world?

What has happened to our humanity that we have adopted this "every man for himself" way of life? What happened to our compassion for others? Why are we not fighting for the biodiversity we study and educate others about every day?

After the Bangladesh garment factory collapse, apparel advocate Bob Bland asked himself, "'What if this was a factory here that collapsed, [if] 500 people in my community were dead?' I would be completely devastated. So how is it different just because it's another country far away?" The same exact question could be asked of the Amazon. The reporter interviewing Bland, Jim Axelrod, responded, "Maybe it's easier in the minds of many Americans to keep it at arm's length precisely because it is so far away."

Bland meant this in response to buying a t-shirt made in Bangladesh as opposed to the U.S. because it's cheaper, but his answer still applies to the rainforest, "And I love a good deal too, really. But the thing is, it's not a good deal if the true cost is someone dying in the process." Drilling for oil may bring a profit, but it's not a good tradeoff if it will negatively affect the lives, human or animal, of those who live there.

If we push important issues away simply because they aren't taking place in our own country, it's safe to say we had a part in destroying the Amazon rainforest.

There is a wealth of information about this issue and I urge you to do your own research and help in any way you can.