Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Heathrow, Human Rights and Peru

Opposition to the third runway at Heathrow is not merely about local traffic and noise pollution or even the flattening of the nearby village of Sipson to make way for the planned expansion.

More fundamental than this is the fact that our culture's "addiction to oil" (President Bush's words, not mine) is being met at an increasing cost not only to the physical environment but also to some of the planet's most vulnerable tribal peoples.

Latest to face the risk of the world's expanding thirst for oil are previously un-contacted tribes living in the remote Peruvian Amazon. Anglo-French oil company Perenco have recently been granted permission by the Peruvian government to drill for oil in the region.

Peru’s national indigenous organization, AIDESEP, is opposed to Perenco’s plans as is Survival International who have several videos on the issue on their site. Perenco itself intends to send in over 1,000 workers to the region and to build 14 oil wells.

When Shell began oil extraction among the Yora people in South East Peru in the 1980s, approximately half of the tribal population died over the coming decade, often as a result of contracting diseases for which they had no immune system.

Perenco officially denies the existence of uncontacted tribes in the area, despite confirmation of their existence by the governments of Peru and Ecuador and by Barrett Resources who formerly carried out exploration work in the area. Survival names some of these groups as the Cacataibos, Isconahua, Matsigenka, Mashco-Piro, Mastanahua, Murunahua and Nanti.

Oil exploration is often a human rights issue and by advocating a way of life, personally and in terms of public policy, that actively moves away from carbon-dependency, we have more chance of reducing the demand for fresh oil exploration of the kind currently being carried out by Perenco.

Building a third runway at Heathrow because "If we don't, someone else will" is a dishonest approach when the need is for far more radical action that significantly reduces air travel globally.

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