Thursday, 26 May 2011

The People of Ecuador have something in common with the People of Dorking, Surrey - oil, natural beauty and solidarity

Johann Hari, Independent journalist extraordinaire, has written extensively about the chilling impacts of man's disregard for his natural environment - impacts that range from disappearing polar ice caps to scrambles to capture scarce water and more. Yet we must hope that we can reverse the suicidal tendency of modern man to exploit every last resource no matter what the cost, and Johann writes about one such example from Ecuador - what's striking is the resemblance of Ecuador's stance to that seen closer to home - in leafy Surrey to be exact.

Johann reports that in a bid to fight the economic pressures to drill for $7bn worth of oil under the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, the rest of the world has been made an offer - pay half that much and the nation of Ecuador will resist the temptation to cash in on the oil and gas lying under one of the most diverse areas of life on Earth. Johann's account of this laudable struggle against the dominant economic narrative of our times - that short-term profit trumps sustainable development - is well worth a read - in particular if you read it alongside a related tale from Surrey.

Earlier this week planners at Surrey County Council considered whether to permit Europa Oil and Gas to drill for oil in a region of the County designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They refused the planning application, which in itself represents a victory for protecting our environment over the headlong rush to squeeze every last drop of oil from the planet no matter what the consequences.

What makes the Surrey decision all the more impressive is that just a week ago, the Council's own report recommended that the application for an exploratory drill site be allowed - but following impassioned interventions from concerned citizens the planning committee voted 6-4 against the drilling - and in favour of protecting the land.

The drilling would have been for a matter of weeks, in order to determine whether further extraction was economically viable - allowing such drilling wouldn't have been unique, given that onshore exploratory drilling has been permitted in Sussex despite objections. Unless demand for fossil fuels, at home and abroad, abates significantly, such battles between oil companies and the people will become more frequent.

But Surrey County Council sided, whether knowingly or otherwise, with their Ecuadorian counterparts, in deciding that the environmental impact of economic activity cannot always be treated as an externality to be disregarded.

These seemingly unrelated stories, at opposite ends of the world, might just show the rest of the world how to resist the tempting call to 'Drill baby, drill,' - here's hoping!

1 comment:

rachit said...

Speaking of externalities and the environment - would you commend this attempt by Puma to calculate their environmental impact in financial terms

And would you de-commend (?) Simon Jenkins's view that his view, and many others', of aesthetic appeal trumps the environmental case for wind turbines