The TH Interview: Daryl Hannah in Ecuador
Daryl Hannah needs little introduction here on TreeHugger, we have been great fans of her DH Love Life project since it’s inception and we are greatly indebted to Daryl for her support of TreeHugger, especially as a judge in the Convenient Truths film contest. Many of you probably saw the striking image that was sent around the world of Daryl in Ecuador last week dipping her hand into the viscous black liquid of an oil pit. She was invited by the organization Amazon Watch to come on a ‘toxic tour’ to raise awareness of the terrible contamination caused by the oil industry in the Amazon rainforest. I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with Daryl about her experience in the Amazon, the current environmental lawsuit being brought against Chevron Texaco, her views on the new ITT oil proposal for the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador and her ongoing project DH Love Life.How did you get involved in this trip to Ecuador?
Well, I’ve been aware of the case (Chevron Texaco), it’s potentially the biggest environmental case ever to be brought, there are billions of dollars at stake. Also not that long ago I translated for the spiritual leader of the Achuar of Peru at an Occidental Petroleum shareholders meeting and there I had a chance to talk to Atossa from Amazon Watch. She invited me down here for this delegation, to witness the devastation for myself. She also knew this was going to be a pivotal time when the President of Ecuador was going to be ratifying the proposal to save Yasuni, so there was a dual purpose.
You been on a group tour for 2 or 3 days?
3 days, we’ve been to the Cofan, around the area of Lago Agrio, San Carlos and Coca. (the biggest oil drilling area in Ecuador)
Did you meet with people there?
Of course, yesterday we actually went to a clinic and we met people who’ve been affected health wise, as well as people in the communities, we went into the Cofan community and talked to people. We went to see oil pits that are obviously still open and still being used and we saw pits that were left and supposedly remediated, but just covered up with dirt. Even the ones that were supposedly remediated, you just dig two inches or even an inch down, if you just disturb the soil a little bit, all this oil comes up. It’s spilling into the streams, running directly into the water source and it’s just horrifying.
Yes when I visited there I saw a lot of broken pipelines.
It’s not even just the pipelines breaking, it’s just the blatant dumping of waste oil and heavy metals into the water they use to wash – it’s just horrifying. Unlined pits with the most poisonous poison and then the constant burning of the natural gas too, which rains down even more poison so they can’t even collect the rainwater. I mean in the rainforest they have no water – it’s crazy – there’s no clean water anymore.
You know the oil is supposed to bring all this wealth right, black gold whoohooo! But you can see that it has had no positive effect on these people, on their communities, on their environment, on the creatures that live there, on anything. It’s brought nothing. It’s only been wreaking havoc in these areas in every aspect. It hasn’t improved their circumstances in terms of the poverty they are experiencing or anything. In fact they have to import their own gasoline. It’s insane.
The best possible circumstances would have been to just leave them alone. They would have had everything they needed to survive and thrive. Beautiful soil, beautiful land, fresh water, everything grows here, it’s the rainforest! Every kind of fruit, there were enough creatures, everything everyone could possibly need to live an incredibly healthy thriving life. These indigenous cultures knew how to live in harmony with their environment and we’ve just been decimating that.
It’s very sad that they managed to live such sustainable lives until we came along.
Yes, basically our so called modern civilization has really just brought about massive extermination, it’s very depressing.
How did you find the people you met there – were they welcoming?
So open! Which is also heartbreaking and shocking because I can’t imagine that I would remain that welcoming and that open if I had been abused in that way. They really were so lovely.
Have you met representatives from any of the oil companies since you’ve been here?
No, I’ve been to shareholders meetings in the past, but I haven’t been on one of the oil company tours, which would definitely be worthwhile to do, to see how they frame it. But you know the facts are the facts, it is clear, easy and clear. It doesn’t take a genius to see the devastation and the poverty and the destruction that this concept of progress has wrought upon these communities and this country. It’s certainly not wise.
Can you tell me a bit more about the plan for the Yasuni Reserve where they intend to prevent drilling by selling virtual barrels of oil in a type of offsetting scheme.
Well, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s an opportunity for other countries to offset their carbon emissions, while they are trying to figure out how to transition into clean renewable energy sources. They are making it economically viable for countries that have large areas of rainforest, that have natural resources, to allow them to preserve those by taking those donations that these countries would otherwise be spending on a carbon offsetting program anyway, ensuring the protection of these areas. But it’s only a first step and it’s kind of like holding the Amazon hostage at the same time.
It’s an interesting concept.
It’s definitely a step in the right direction. We’ve been waiting for someone at a political or governmental level to do something like this for quite some time, and now is the time. The EU, China, the US, all these countries are looking for places to offset their carbon emissions so they can meet the Kyoto accords. Well of course not the US because it’s not part of it, but even Bush has acknowledged that Global Warming does exist and that we do need to do something about our carbon output. So you have these people looking for a viable and a quantifiable way to offset their carbon and this is an easily quantifiable way because you can count how many barrels would be burned if they were taken out of the ground. So it’s a great intermediate solution, a temporary solution. But he (Correa – The Ecuadorian President) has put a time limit on it, if they don’t raise the money within a year then they will start drilling.
It’s a beginning and it’s a good beginning and I think the more encouragement he gets for it, not necessarily criticism but encouragement, hopefully the stronger he will feel and the more supported he will feel in making it a more meaningful proposal.
Have you spent time in the Amazon before?
I have, I spent about 7 months in Brazil, in the Brazilian Amazon, when I was making ‘At Play in the fields of the Lord.’ I think it was ’91 or something like that. You know I slept in the jungle, we were really in the Amazon, deep in the rainforest.
And you’ve been maintaining the connection since then?
I’ve definitely been maintaining my awareness about what’s going on.
Tell me how the DH Love Life project is going?
Good! I’ve got about 6 or 7, maybe even 8 in the can right now, but one of my editors is going to school in Europe for the summer and the other one is working on a documentary about Jimmy Carter so I am being slow to put them up at the moment. It’s been hard to edit online long distance, so I am slowing down until they get back at the end of the summer and then we can kick it back into high gear. I’ve got a whole bunch shot. I actually just went to Mount Sinai in Egypt and shot a couple of eco-resorts there. This is an especially interesting place where Christian Jews and Muslims all come together to the same spot to worship. You know it’s a pretty amazing cross section. So yes I am continuing and I am very excited.
Is DH Love Life your main project right now? Or are there other things in the works?
Actually this is my main project, however, I am stepping it up to another level, but I am not really able to talk about it for another month or so. But I am going to take it to a whole other level, so that more and more people will be able to access it, there’ll be a lot more access to resources and in depth information.
And you do the camera work yourself right?
Yes I do it all, I have my camera here and I’ve been shooting myself here, sometimes I hand the camera to someone and say shoot me and then I jump in there.
You are not in front of the camera that much – is that a deliberate choice?
Well it’s mostly because I am holding the camera! But mainly it’s because I am trying to focus on the subject. It’s just me and hopefully I remember to turn the microphone, which has been a problem a couple of times!
But you must know quite a lot already about filming?
No I don’t, I don’t how to do white balance. I mean there been a couple of ones where I’ve shot the whole thing and I forgot to turn the microphone on! It was a real tragedy. But it’s fun and I love learning. I love getting to see all these people doing inspiring things. I am having so much fun doing it. I am hoping other people are having fun watching it, because I really love it.
Do you have any acting projects coming up?
I am starting a film in July. I’ll be working on something just for a month, but more and more I am really focusing more on this type of awareness raising stuff.
It seems like that is taking up the lion’s share of your time these days.
Yes it definitely is, but you know I still need to be able to support my habit!
Well of all the habits you could have, this is definitely a good one!
Thank you so much for chatting to TreeHugger about your experiences in Ecuador.
Thank you so much.
TreeHugger would like to add that the oil contamination in Ecuador is a heartbreaking situation and the damage caused by Texaco during their years there has wreaked untold havoc upon the environment and the local communities, Chevron who now owns Texaco is fighting hard against the environmental lawsuit brought against them by five indigenous nations of Ecuador. However, as with most things, there is another side to Chevron's environmental story. TreeHugger believes that Chevron has openly and publicly taken on Peak Oil and spoken fairly to Climate issues far before their US competitors. To read about some of the more positive aspects of Chevron you can click here and here.