The Dangers of Environmental & Climate Activism

To use your voice, to speak up in defense of our planet or work in climate activism, may mean to risk your life. 
by on Monday, March 6, 2023

How Protecting the Earth Has Cost People Their Lives

While organizations and governments around the world convene and make high-level decisions regarding how to save our planet from climate disaster, climate and environmental activists face threats more imminent than a warming planet. 

To use your voice, to speak up in defense of our planet, may mean to risk your life. 

Tragically, another Indigenous land defender has been assassinated. Eduardo Mendúa was a member of the A’i Cofan people and the CONAIE (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador) with whom he was working to protect Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest from oil extraction. On February 26 , two hooded gunmen shot him twelve times, killing him in his home garden. 

Climate activist, forest protector, and Indigenous leader, Eduardo Mendua.

Petroecuador had been planning to build 30 new wells in a government-approved oil concession block that overlaps with A’i Cofan land where Eduardo lived. This area belongs to the A’i Cofan people, and according to Eduardo, is the last green area left in the province, the last place that purifies the air. 

“We continue fighting to keep this land pure. What we ask for is the respect of our collective rights and respect of the declarations of the UN for the self-determination of Indigenous peoples. We are worried because we feel that if the government enters by force into our territory and takes away our self-determination, it will mean the end of our people. This is the fight of the legacy of our ancestors.”–Eduardo Mendúa  

What Has Been Going on in Ecuador

The Indigenous community collectively holds legal title to around 9,571 hectares of land. This area is part of the only remaining intact rainforest in the region. There are some who have been in favor of allowing the company to drill as they see it as an economic opportunity for locals. Those opposed to it, including Mendúa, have sought to protect the forest from pollution and destruction.

Oil was discovered in the Lago Agrio area in the 1960s. Since then, Texaco began drilling there, and the A’i Cofan have been dealing with the severe impacts of oil production. According to the US American lawyer Judith Kimerling, author of the 1991 book “Amazon Crude,” from 1964 to 1990, Texaco dumped 3.2 million gallons of toxic water and flared nearly 50 million cubic feet of noxious methane gas per day from its oil operations there. The company also spilled 17 million gallons of crude oil in the rainforest. Cancer rates in the area are higher than in Ecuador as a whole, according to a joint study by UDAPT and the Swiss nonprofit Centrale Sanitaire Suisse Romande.

Climate Activism & Assassinations Around the World

According to The Guardian, there have been more than 1,700 murders of environmental activists over the past decade, an average of a killing nearly every two days.

The 200 people killed in 2021 included eight park rangers in Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is facing the added threat of oil and gas extraction, the environmental activist Joannah Stutchbury, who was shot outside her home in Kenya, and Ángel Miro Cartagena, who died in Colombia and was one of 50 small-scale farmers killed last year.

The Case of Berta Cáceres

In 2016, the assassination of Berta Cáceres in Honduras made more headlines than many of these murders do. Berta was a member of the Lenca Indigenous group and an environmental rights campaigner. Her assassination prompted international outrage. The year prior, she won the Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, a cascade of four dams in the Gualcarque river basin, including the Agua Zarca dam.

She had also earned recognition for standing up to powerful landowners, a US-funded police force, and a mercenary army of private security guards in the most murderous country in the world for environmental campaigners. Cáceres knew the risks she faced as she had received numerous threats that she would be raped or murdered if she continued her campaigns. There have also been past reports that hitmen were hired to assassinate her. 

The killings disproportionately affect lower-income countries and Indigenous communities. Thirty-nine percent of the victims were from this demographic, despite it making up only 5% of the world’s population. Not only is it a tragedy that human beings are killed for trying to protect our earth for ourselves and future generations, but it is part of a larger genocidal trend of colonization which has systematically killed and stolen land from Indigenous peoples for capitalistic gains. 

Producers Trust: Our Work Toward Transparency & Climate Justice

We need biodiversity. For our survival, we need clean water and fresh air. We cannot live without trees, thriving jungles, and forests. This is not disputable. For human life to continue, diverse ecosystems must also continue. Life on earth depends on life on earth. It seems maddeningly simple to say it that way, but if we don’t honor and protect all forms of life and the health of earth itself, we don’t have a future for our own species. 

These truths lie behind our work at Producers Trust. Our part in the work towards a flourishing future for humans and our planet, is to empower small farmers and producers, to share their stories with the world, to promote regenerative agriculture, and to design and implement transparency tools for producers, brands, and businesses of all sizes.

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