NPR logo

'Give Me The Money Or I'll Shoot The Trees'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/171301983/171355819" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Give Me The Money Or I'll Shoot The Trees'

Radio

'Give Me The Money Or I'll Shoot The Trees'

'Give Me The Money Or I'll Shoot The Trees'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/171301983/171355819" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Pay up, or the bird gets it. (A hoatzin perches on a branch in Yasuni National Park.) Pablo Cozzaglio/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Pablo Cozzaglio/AFP/Getty Images

Pay up, or the bird gets it. (A hoatzin perches on a branch in Yasuni National Park.)

Pablo Cozzaglio/AFP/Getty Images

Ecuador's Yasuni National Park is one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. But there's a complication: The park sits on top of the equivalent of millions of barrels of oil.

This creates a dilemma.

Ecuador prides itself on being pro-environment. Its constitution gives nature special rights. But Ecuador is a relatively poor country that could desperately use the money from the oil.

In 2007, Ecuador's president proposed a way around the dilemma: Ecuador would promise to leave the forest untouched if countries in the developed world would promise to give Ecuador half the value of the oil — $3.6 billion.

"He proposed that we want to keep the oil there," says Ivonne A-Baki, who works for Ecuador's government. "What we need in exchange is compensation."

These days, A-Baki is traveling the world, asking for contributions. She chooses her words carefully. Still, the pitch runs the risk of sounding a bit like blackmail.

"The joke we always used to always talk about was, you know, 'Give me the money or I'll shoot the trees,' " says Billy Pizer, a former deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy under President Obama.

Pizer says he'd love to keep the park safe. But he says the proposal worried him as a potential precedent that would encourage other countries to threaten to destroy their own forests unless the world pays up.

Ecuador pressed ahead. In 2010 it set up a fund through the United Nations, and some countries started handing over checks. But so far, there is only $350 million in the fund — a tenth of the amount Ecuador has asked for.

If the country doesn't reach its goal, A-Baki says, it may eventually drill under the park.

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.