Trudie Styler talks Crude about Oil in Ecuador


Photo Credit: Juan Diego Pérez
Trudie Styler is many things - a UNICEF ambassador, a human rights activist, a co-founder of Rainforest Foundation and, of course, the wife of the musician Sting. In September, she came to the big screen (or more likely to a smaller independent theater screen) in the film documentary Crude. The film chronicles the case of Aguinda vs Chevron-Texaco - a legal drama that is trying to find justice for a group of indigenous people in Ecuador that has had their homeland devastated in the name of drilling for oil. Infamously called the Amazon Chernobyl, the movie examines the complexity of international conglomerate corporations relationship and responsibilities for environmental peril and human suffering. Treehugger had a change to speak with Styler about her work within Ecuador and find out how she's helping make a bad situation better.
Most people know the troubles caused to the environment by car emissions due to transportation. The troubles oil companies cause drilling and refining the fuel for automobiles is less popularly known. The film Crude chronicles the affects oil production has on the environment and human health in a region of Ecuador. The movie is built around the efforts by indigenous Ecuadorians to get environmental justice against Chervon-Texaco. Treehugger had a chance to talk with Styler, who is in the documentary, about her role in helping with the fight.

Treehugger: I wanted to get some background about Rainforest Foundation. How did you and Sting start it? Why'd you started it? And when did you guys found it?
Trudie Styler: Well, this is our 20th anniversary this year. We've raised in the region of $30 million and we operate in 23 countries. Sting and myself founded it, because 20 ears ago we went to the Amazon for the first time and were asked by the Cuyapo leader to help protect their lands. Their lands were being encroached on by big business and being contaminated, polluted, destroyed rather like the situation we're seeing in Ecuador now that's documented in the film Crude. So, we said okay and worked with them to understand what they specifically wanted - which was to have the Cuyapo's ancestral land legally demarcated as being indigenous land and basically not to be intruded on or exploited. Sting and I saw how this would be a great way to preserve rain forest to have the indigenous people be the natural custodian, and have been marching to that drum for the last two decades.


Image from the movie Crude
TH: How do you guys differ from like the Rainforest Alliance and other rainforest organizations?
TS: We are focused more on human rights first and foremost. Conservation is indirectly linked, but indirectly, because we answer the calls of the people who need our help and people who live in fragile ecosystem like rainforests and savannahs. The movie Crude puts the spotlight on our dedication to human rights, but also on how human rights issues are tied to ecological and health issues.

TH: The movie does a really amazing job showing your work in Ecuador. Does the organization work in other countries?
TS: My time is taken up with Ecuador, because I have traveled there many times. We have Rainforest Foundation affiliates that operate out of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. Plus, we are doing projects kind of all over the place from the Cameroon to Madagascar. We are in just about every place there is a rainforest system that is in jeopardy. I don't get involved in the day to day work of the affiliates, they raise their own funds and they come to the mother ship of the Rainforest Foundation (now the Rainforest Fund). We have a board that looks at all projects suggested by the affiliates and allocate money to the projects.

TH: So, you are still really involved with Ecuador. At the end of the movie, I was, like, what happened to the court case, and the people?
TS: The project is very important and crucial to these people's lives and they are really in dire straits. They need clean and safe water, because of so much contamination. As a result of pollution there is so much illness. The health is in jeopardy. Three decades of extreme hydrocarbon levels in the soil and water is causing bad diseases like cancers and leukemia. And as the movie shows, babies are developing skin rashes.

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