Written by Madison Pines, Digital Nomad Diversity Awardee

Right foot forward. Left foot forward. Right foot forward. Left foot forward. Look
down at the brown and wet earth beneath your feet. Look up and see the
thousands of stars littering the sky. The crunch of the sticks beneath your feet
echoes around you as you walk further into the jungle. The only guiding light
comes from a dim phone flashlight in your hand. You shine the light in a circle
around you. As the light passes by, it illuminates the vivid green of the leaves
that surround you, but it reveals more. Creatures that you have only seen behind
glass at the zoo make their appearance known. The banana spider slowly creeps
closer to you from the leaf it’s perched on. The light green viper, coiled high
above you, watches as you continue to walk forward, passing right under it. And
suddenly your thoughts start to wonder. Is this real? Or am I in a movie?

It has always been a dream of mine to be in a movie and this week I was finally
able to experience Disney’s The Jungle Book from Mogli’s perspective. The only
difference was that I was in the rainforest in Ecuador and he was in the
rainforest in India. Still, the premise holds true. Mogli is a young boy who finds
himself far from home and without family in the jungle. Here, he has to learn to
survive and overcome all the obstacles the jungle throws his way.

When I was younger, I used to sit on the blue carpet in my playroom and watch the
VCR of this tape over and over again. I was captivated by the moving pictures. The
jungle was a playground where bears eat only fruit and a monkey was the king,
swinging around the trees like they were his castle. Of course, Mogli had his
challenges. He had to outsmart the villainous tiger, Shere Khan, and his slithering sidekick Kaa.

In movies, there is a clear separation between good and evil. No matter how dark the
story started to seem, it was just a given that good would succeed in the end,
overcoming evil. It was black and white. But that isn’t the case in real life. The world is
a messy place filled with many gray areas.

I am often told that my life is all Disney, rainbows, and unicorns. And I like it that way.
I choose to live in my animated Disney world because things are easier there. It is
black and white. There is good and evil. It is blissful ignorance, but you can only stay
ignorant for so long before something forces you to open your eyes and step up.

This past week we were given the opportunity to go on a Toxic Tour that showed us
first-hand the destruction that afflicts the Amazon Rainforest. And just like the Lorax
says “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees because the trees have
no tongues.” The forest can not tell the pain and hardship it has gone through, that
burden is now on me.

In the 1960s Texaco knew from seismic tests and similar accounts in other countries
that the Amazon Rainforest was rich in oil, so they started chopping down trees,
displacing people from their homes, sending toxic gas into the atmosphere, and
contaminating the land and water with toxic sludge, all in the pursuit of oil. In total,
Texaco built:
356 oil wells
880 oil pits (but only 660 are recognized by Texaco)
200 billion cubic meters of gas has been emitted into the atmosphere
They destroyed the Amazon Rainforest and in doing so caused, resulted in so many
implications for the people living in and around those areas.
While the entire practice is destructive, the process of separating the waste from the
oil is inhumane. When you harvest oil, one of the many toxic outputs is gas, which is
then disposed into the atmosphere through tubes without regard for the health of the
living beings in the proximity. This is why the level of cancer here is 10x more than in
the rest of the country.

In addition to the emission of gas, the 880 oil pits that fill Ecuador
cause immeasurable environmental problems. These oil pits are used to
measure the amount of oil being produced by a pump as well as a place
to dispose of the oil that is unable to be used. These pits then have
gooseneck pipelines that deposit the waste directly into the water
source (a stream, lake, or river). Animals fall in the tar-filled pits and it
renders the land inhospitable.
People live here.

This is their homes, their communities, their loved ones being affected.
This is their livelihood.

In reparations from the lawsuit, since Texaco makes
$36 for every $100, they were charged to clean up 36%
of the oil pits. However, even these restoration projects
are futile attempts to clean up the harm they have
caused with the extraction of the oil. Once the land has
been filled with oil, the biodiversity of the forest
decreases drastically. Very few plants (if any) can
regrow and the toxicity levels are so poisonous to living
creatures that animals can no longer inhabit that area.

This is the type of evil that exists outside of movies.
These actions have no gray areas. It is black and white.
Texaco is sacrificing other people’s health, biodiversity,
air quality, and environmental well-being for their
personal gain and profit. It is sickening.

But what if this was a movie? What would the hero do? First and foremost they
would try to bring awareness in any capacity to what is actually happening in
Ecuador. Texaco is exploiting the amazon, not properly cleaning up their mess,
and the communities affected have not seen a single cent of reparation. We can’t
let big corporations undermine the humanity of this world.

But are we the heroes? Or are we complicit? We use oil to fuel our everyday lives.
Anytime we start our cars, turn on the lights, use hot water, or even open the
refrigerator, we are using oil. We are continuing to enable and perpetuate the
cycle that allows companies such as Texaco to continue their injustice.

So the question becomes, what can we do? First and foremost we can educate
ourselves. Becoming conscientious of the environmental impact we have. Second,
implement practices that uses less of oil: carpool instead of driving by yourself,
turn off the lights and air-conditioning when you are not using them, and take
shorter showers so that it doesn’t take as long to heat up the water. And third,
with social media, it is now easier than ever to spread awareness about all topics,
so why not this one? We are the generation that takes to social media to start
revolutions. We can be the heroes in this narrative – speaking out against the
injustice happening in the Amazon and bringing awareness to the situation.

Because “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get
better. It’s not.” – The Lorax

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