August 2023 /

News / Media Coverage /

This story was originally published in NYTimes


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.

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