Ecuadorian environmentalist pledges preservation

Ecuadorian environmentalist Dr. Ivonne Baki discussed her nation’s pledge to preserve the Yasuní National Park.
Ecuadorian environmentalist Dr. Ivonne Baki discussed her nation’s pledge to preserve the Yasuní National Park. Photo by Jacob Geiger.

Though Ecuador is 2,972 miles away from New Haven, Ivonne Baki, the leader of the government’s environmental initiative, plans to bring her cause to college campuses across America.

Baki — the Secretary of State of Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT initiative and the Ecuadorian ambassador to the U.S. from 1998-’02 — discussed her nation’s pledge to protect the Yasuní National Park from petroleum drilling in a Monday talk at the Yale School of Architecture’s Hastings Hall. Under the project, Ecuador pledges to keep roughly 800 million barrels of petroleum permanently underground, while also asking the international community to compensate the country with $3.6 billion — half the revenue the buried oil would have produced if it were exported in 2007.

“Yasuní means sacred land,” Baki said. “What we have over the Yasuní is by far more than what we have under it.”

Baki said the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa began the Yasuní-ITT initiative in 2007 as a “gift to humanity.” She said the Ecuadorian government plans to invest the $3.6 billion in renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydroelectric energy. The nation has collected $200 million thus far, she said, adding that it aims to recieve the rest within the next 12 years, which is the predicted length of time necessary for the entire economy to shift to sustainable energy.

Baki introduced the initiative at the talk through promotional videos and answered questions from a panel that consisted of Keller Easterling, professor at the School of Architecture; Alexander Felson, professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies and founder and director of the Urban Ecology and Design Laboratory; Daniel Göhler, visiting scholar at Yale; and Chadwick Oliver, professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies and director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry.

Because the Yasuní-ITT concept is new and approaches climate change through prevention rather than remediaton, Baki said she finds it takes longer to gain support for her cause. Baki said she started a campaign in Ecuador last year to raise domestic awareness and has recently come to the United States to meet with corporations, international aid organizations and students at Yale and Georgetown. She added that she targets young people for support because she finds them to be the most sympathetic to her mission.

“[It was] students from Yale that went to the Yasuní and found this fungus that dissolves plastic,” Baki said. “When I heard about that, I said ‘this is the place to be,’ especially because they care so much about environmental protection.”

According to Raúl Erazo Velarde, consul general of Ecuador in Connecticut, the consulate has also made an effort to contribute to the Yasuní-ITT initiative by establishing connections with relevant Connecticut civil society organizations and educating local public school students on the issue.

After the presentation, panelists and audience members said they appreciated Baki’s visit but voiced concerns about the practicality of the initiative.

Oliver said he was skeptical about whether Ecuador could uphold the commitment to leave the petroleum reserves untapped forever.

“The question is what leverage does everyone else have over Ecuador to ensure that you follow this,” he said.

Alark Saxena, a graduate student in the School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, said he also had doubts about the permanence of the pledge, as such promises are generally easier in theory than in practice. He added that he is particularly concerned about the government’s ability to manage the loss in revenue that would have otherwise come from oil exports.

Clodia Lesnick, an Ecuadorian living in Bridgeport, Conn., said she supports Yasuní-ITT because of the impact it will have on worldwide environmental efforts.

“It’s not only important for the environment and it’s not only for my country or the U.S. but for all human beings,” she said.

The event is co-sponsored by the Yale School of Architecture, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, Tropical Resources Institute, Urban Ecology and Design Laboratory and the Architecture/F&ES joint degree program.

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