Ecuador voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to halt oil drilling in one of the most biodiverse places on earth.
With almost all ballots counted, 59 percent of voters sided with the young activists who spent a decade fighting for the referendum, as we wrote last week. It is widely considered to be the first time a country’s citizens voted decisively to leave oil in the ground. In a separate referendum, Ecuadoreans also voted to block mining in a biosphere reserve.
“The answer from the Ecuadorean people suggests to us that the people are proposing a different way to live,” Monserrat Vásquez, an anti-mining activist, told reporters after the victory was announced.
The referendum requires Petroecuador, the state-owned oiled company, to cease operations on the edge of Yasuní National Park, dismantle its drilling infrastructure, and reforest and restore the drilling site. The oil will keep flowing in dozens of other sites in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
The struggle in Ecuador wasn’t just about containing global warming. It was also meant to protect a patch of rainforest that is home to two isolated Indigenous tribes, the Tagaeri and Taromenane. That’s a battle that is playing out throughout the region, and the world.
Across the Amazon in Brazil, Manuela and our colleague Jack Nicas recently visited a reserve that is home to Pakyi and Tamandua, the last two known isolated members of the Piripkura people, whose land has been decimated by logging.
This weekend, Jack and Manuela published a gripping article on the extraordinary search for Tamandua. He and his uncle Pakyi are at the center of a larger question: Who has the right to the forest? The ranchers and loggers who hold government titles to the land, or two Indigenous men whose ancestors were here before Brazil had a government?
A global movement
The victory in Ecuador was powered, in large part, by young people who are part of a growing global cohort working to phase out fossil fuels and hold governments and corporations accountable for climate inaction.
Last week, a judge in Montana ruled in favor of 16 young people who had sued the state over its support for the fossil fuel industry. That’s just one of five pending state lawsuits brought by young people, including one in Hawaii. There is also a federal youth climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, that is active again after getting thrown out of court three years ago.
Beyond the courtroom, Generation Z is using its social media savvy to sway the debate around major policy issues. Early this year, TikTok blew up with calls for President Biden to shut down Willow, a big drilling project in Alaska.
As David wrote in an article about the youth movement, creators juxtaposed images of Biden with collapsing glaciers, recorded tearful selfie videos and mashed up songs from “Encanto” with slide shows of cute animals.
The Biden administration ultimately approved Willow, but the #StopWillow hashtag garnered more than 500 million views on TikTok, galvanizing young voters to keep pressuring the White House on climate issues ahead of next year’s presidential election.
“It was still a win,” said Elise Joshi, who runs a nonprofit called Gen-Z for Change and posted the first #StopWillow video on TikTok.
“Millions of people were talking about why a project in remote Alaska was important to our health,” she added. “That base building is going to be used for future campaigns.”
A cohort of young people who helped plan previous climate marches are now helping organize the March to End Fossil Fuels, which will take place in New York on Sept. 17, during the United Nations General Assembly.
“The fact that kids are taking this action is incredible,” said Badge Busse, 15, a plaintiff in the Montana case. “But it’s sad that it had to come to us. We’re the last resort.”
Thanks to good luck and planning, the United States appears to have avoided catastrophic damage, after the storm caused severe flooding in Baja, Mexico. But Hilary’s remarkable appearance on the West Coast was yet another reminder that we are living through a summer of shockingly weird extreme weather. (See: extreme heat, global wildfires, torrential floods, etc.)
Across the continent, a relatively quiet summer in the Atlantic Ocean is suddenly becoming active. Three tropical storms formed in the span of 18 hours between Sunday and Monday. Emily was not expected to pose a hazard to land. Franklin is targeting Haiti and the Dominican Republic with heavy rains. Gert, which formed Monday, is also not expected to hit land.
Tropical Storm Harold formed overnight in the Gulf of Mexico, where waters are experiencing record heat, and is pushing ashore in South Texas today.