Environmental Justice – Learning from Ecuador

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In a previous blog by CHEJ’s Science Director, Stephen Lester, we saw that Environmental Justice (EJ) communities are not at all confined to the US. In fact, they may be even more prevalent in developing countries, and their struggles can help us better learn how to fight for justice in our own communities.

One such example is in the South American country of Ecuador, where Texaco, later annexed by oil giants Chevron, polluted massive portions of the Amazon rain forest with their oil drilling operations for nearly 40 years during the later half of the past century. Between 1954 and 1990, the amount of contamination dumped in Ecuador’s Amazon portion is estimated to be over 30 times greater than the oil spilled during the Exxon Valdez disaster.

In 2003, over 30,000 affected Ecuadorians – many of them indigenous people – filed a class-action lawsuit against Chevron, accusing the oil company of being directly responsible for more than 1,000 cancer deaths. Years of legal battles and stalling tactics by Chevron ensued, but in a recent development the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that a prior decision by an Ecuadorean court fining Chevron $9.5 billion in 2011 should be upheld.

Although it is still unclear what body would have the authority to enforce the ICJ’s ruling, this decision is a massive victory for the people of Ecuador. Their perseverance – over 10 years of struggle and activism – lead to this development. In addition, despite having severely limited monetary resources and little education as well as political influence, they found strength in numbers. More than 30,000 individuals came together and organized for the cause. They used the small connections they had to draw in NGOs and other organizations to help them in their cause.

In the end, the people from Ecuador may yet achieve retribution and justice from the multibillion company that polluted their homes and killed their loved ones. As for us, we should congratulate and learn from their hard work and determination.

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