Environmental Issues students at the Maine Coast Semester spent a few weeks this semester working on an environmental justice issues unit. Students researched case studies and reported their findings to their classmates, and then they wrote these blog posts in order to spread their learning out to the broader world. Enjoy!
In our studies of environmental issues and examples of environmental injustice, we have come across multiple cases where tribes, indigenous to international land, are taken advantage of by large oil companies looking to drill on their land. Lacking voice and connections to outside help, these tribes lose their lives and culture to the terrors and dangers that these companies bring.
International Oil development is the corporate expansion of large oil companies across multiple nations. The expansion occurs through exploration, well development, production, and ultimately site abandonment. Large companies partake in the oil development process because it allows them the opportunity of benefitting financially since the industry is a multi-billion industry. Next, oil development happens because our economy today relies highly on oil as an energy resource. Also, this industry allows for employment in the land they establish their expansion on and provides locals in the area with more job opportunities. However, international oil development faces opposition because of its negative impacts on the environment; pollutants are released into the air, natural habitats are destroyed, and the oil spills that often happens harms people and their livelihoods on a large scale.
In northeastern Colombia, a nearly two-decade long fight against big oil companies continues to threaten the environment and lives of the indigenous U’wa tribe. Beginning in 1997, the U’wa tribe fought the development of Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum through numerous peaceful protests and the help of many international groups and local communities. The U’wa tribe defended their lives, land, and culture successfully when Occidental Petroleum abandoned their territory in 2002. U.S. groups active in their particular issue include Project Underground, which fights against big oil for indigenous people lacking a voice, and Amazon Watch, which works with indigenous and environmental organizations in the Amazon Basin to protect against the push of large oil companies to expand.
(Image citation) https://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/south-america/colombia/
The U’wa continue to struggle to this day with not only large oil companies, but the Colombian government and their plans to move forward with multiple mega-projects on the U’wa ancestral grounds. This issue with oil development has increased political violence in Colombia and has contributed to the continuance of the nation’s civil war.
Though a devastating experience for the U’wa community has so far been narrowly averted, other tribes around the world struggle with international oil development issues that threaten their lives and land. In most of these cases, such as one involving the Chevron Corporation drilling in Ecuador, the indigenous communities lack a public voice which can be taken advantage of by large oil companies and corrupt governments. Leaving toxic spills and messes in drilling areas, these companies are not held accountable for their actions and can break home-land laws without any consequences.
-Sam Betts, Boothbay Region High School, ME and
Folagbade Adetoye, MATCH Charter Public High School, MA
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