By María José Iturralde, co-founder and director of Humans for Abundance
It is often said that crises can uncover the hidden cracks in systems and release our inner demons. We keep those demons deep inside us for a reason: they hide realities that we don't want to acknowledge because they are too painful. No matter how essential it is to face up to our demons, we prefer to keep them locked away and forgotten.
A little less than three years ago, I had a good job, a family and friends, lots of hobbies, adventurous trips and vacations. A totally normal, happy life. All my demons were quietly locked up in their cells.
I was an important educator at my school, and I taught my students and teachers important life lessons. I felt good living my comfortable life, not too excess, but privileged. I had everything I needed and I lived in harmony with nature. I traveled a little bit by car, I recycled, I had my own vegetable garden, and I taught my kids to love and care for all life.
However, when I least expected it, my demons confronted me and forced a reckoning. I was on a field trip with my students to the Northern Amazon of Ecuador where there are many national and international oil companies that have been extracting crude oil from the earth for more than 50 years.
Our guide, Donald Moncayo, a farmer who was chosen to represent all the people affected by oil extraction in the area, took us to see the results of 50 years of petroleum development.
We witnessed hundreds of gas flares releasing methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere 24/7. We visited open pits of crude oil that overflow into the rivers when it rains, which it does a lot in the Amazon. We saw other pits had been filled with earth and then sold to farmers as productive land to farm on.
Last but not least, we met some of the thousands of people who have had all types of cancer caused by contaminated river water, polluted air, and food full of heavy metals that leach from shoddy containment pits.
Donald and I in front of one of the 447 gas flares that exist in the Ecuadorian Amazon
At one of the last stops of the visit, Donald put his gloved hand into a river and pulled it out black, covered in petroleum. We were next to an Indigenous community whose children use the river to bathe and whose women use it to cook, just as their ancestors had for generations.
In these pictures, you can see Donald and a few students putting their hands in streams and contaminated soils.
As I watched this dreadful reality unfold before me, and already feeling broken inside, Donald dealt my soul the final blow: he mentioned the name of my grandfather, who was the president of Ecuador when I was a teenager.
Apparently, his government passed a resolution that totally absolved the oil company that had caused the most damage to these communities and ecosystems of the Amazon with its irresponsible extractive methods.
With that resolution, my grandfather’s administration ended a drawn out court battle initiated by more than 30,000 affected people, allowing the company to leave the pools and flares as they were and letting them continue to contaminate the environment and communities for decades.
Not only were the lives of the people and animals of the Northern Amazon affected by this travesty, but my life is too, and the lives of everyone on this planet. The waters of the Amazon flow to the ocean. The methane and CO2 released by the always burning flares exacerbate global warming. The poisoned earth produces food that is sold and consumed in city markets.
Everything is connected.
And petroleum is extracted because it's the principal export and source of income for Ecuador, thanks to all of us humans who use it daily in our gasoline, oils, lubricants, detergents, paint, plastic utensils, synthetic clothing, medicine, make up, perfumes, dyes, building materials, phones...almost everything we consume.
We are all responsible for this disaster.
Certainly the oil companies are, and maybe my family is more directly culpable, but everyone is involved in an indirect way. There is not a side where the “bad” people who destroy the environment are, nor is there one where the “good” ones preserve it. Everyone consumes resources, everyone is a part of the global economy, and everyone, in the end, suffers from the same demons of this crisis.
Donald changed my life with this ToxiTour. He helped me to understand that my life, under no circumstances, could continue as it had before. He created a crisis within me that pulled the demons of pollution and extractivism from their self-interred cells, giving me an opportunity to heal, and to dream of a different future.
Humans for Abundance is my way of confronting those demons. It helps me convert their energy into positive and concrete actions aligned with my dream of a planet where biodiversity and all ecosystems are our priorities.
This is my way of healing the consequences of bad decisions made throughout history by previous generations, by my ancestors, by myself. It is my way of creating opportunities so that others, everyone, can convert their own inner demons into regenerative actions so that once again our species and this planet can thrive together.