Reflection Papers - UVM Continuing Education

Yasuní: The Battle over Oil and Biodiversity in Ecuador´s Amazon
GEOG 195
December 27, 2014- January 9, 2015
Instructor: Peter Shear
[email protected]
One of the paradoxes of our time is that humans are destroying the natural world
they depend on for their own survival. Nowhere is this paradox more visible than in
Ecuador´s Upper Amazon Basin where oil is extracted within the boundaries of national
parks established to protect the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the world.
Ecuador has been heavily dependent on revenue from oil since its discovery in the
1970s. Yasuní National Park holds the majority of Ecuador´s remaining oil within its
boundaries. Studies have shown that Yasuní is the most bio-diverse place on the planet
and home to several uncontacted groups of humans living in voluntary isolation.
Indigenous peoples are still fighting the ecological and cultural devastation wrought by
oil field development.
In 2007 Ecuador launched the Yasuní ITT Initiative which proposes to leave an
estimated 846 million barrels of oil underground in exchange for $3.6 billion of aid and
debt forgiveness from the international community. By not exploiting this oil, 407 million
cubic tons of CO2 will not be released into the atmosphere. In 2014 Ecuador scrapped the
proposal and made plans to start drilling while anti-extraction civilian groups gather
signatures to force a national referendum on the issue.
The Yasuní ITT proposal serves as a fascinating case study through which to
examine some of the most compelling questions our world is facing: Where does the line
between corporate and human rights lie? How important is biodiversity to the survival of
humans? Why doesn´t modern economic theory incorporate the value of ecosystem
services provided by the natural world? To what extent can carbon credit markets be
utilized to mitigate global warming? What are the socioeconomic factors preventing a
swift transition to a post-oil economy? Are there viable economic options to nonrenewable resource extraction?
Students will have the opportunity to examine these questions and more during
this field course in Ecuador´s Amazon. We will also receive guest lectures from
government officials, Indigenous leaders, and world-prominent scholars regarding
tropical ecology, altitudinal zonation and biodiversity, and the politics of oil and energy.
December 27, 2014- Arrive in Quito airport, travel 10 minutes to Hosteria San Carlos.
December 28- Day-long Seminar: primers in Tropical Ecology, the Geography of the
Tropical Andes, and the History of Oil and Politics in Ecuador.
December 29- Travel by airplane to Coca, and then by motorized canoe and car to the
Tiputini Biodiversity Station; p.m.- night hike with a professional guide to see flora and
fauna as well as to receive explanations about the rainforest and the people who live in
surrounding areas.
December 30- a.m.- We explore Tiputini´s canopy walkway system to get another
perspective of the forest. Once again, this means a different kind of access to different
species that can only be heard or barely seen from the forest; p.m; Lecture: Tropical
Ecology and Biodiversity with Kelly Swing, world renowned ecologist.
December 31- a.m.- visit a black water lagoon, an ecosystem quite unique to this part of
Amazonia, home to species that are not likely to be seen in other parts of the forest. p.m;
Group Learning Activity: Ecuador and Oil in the World Economy
January 1, 2015- a.m.- Group Learning Activity: Yasuní ITT and its Geopolitical Actors.
p.m.- We hike through the rain forest to Tiputini´s tree platform 160 feet above the forest
floor to bird watch and enjoy the sunset
January 2- a.m.- Group Learning Activity: Alternatives to an extraction-based economic
development model: Carbon Markets and Ecosystems Services. p.m.- we enjoy our last
afternoon in Tiputini floating down the river under the canopy of primary rain forest.
January 3- Return to Coca and Hostel la Misión.
January 4- Toxic Tour: meet with members of Defense of the Amazon to learn about the
social and environmental impacts of oil extraction in Ecuador. Visit a refinery, oil
derricks, and abandoned wells and waste treatment pools. Stay the evening in Lago
January 5- a.m.- Lecture: The history of Texaco in Ecuador and the class action lawsuit
against the company, with Pablo Fajardo, Goldman Environmental Award Winner. p.m.Visit the Cofán indigenous community of Dureno, Meet with members of the Cofán
indigenous nation to hear about their experience with the establishment of oil extraction
on ancestral land; back to Lago Agrio.
January 6- Return to Quito by airplane, travel one hour to Papallacta.
January 7- Study and Reflection day in Papallacta,
January 8- back to hotel near airport.
January 9- fly home
Academic Format and Requirements
This study-abroad course includes lectures, discussions, small group activities,
and experiential education in Ecuador´s Amazon region. Students participate in two pretrip meetings and a post-trip seminar to submit and share research projects and evaluate
the course.
Students are graded on the following:
Participation 30%
Pre-trip Analytical Writing Assignments 20%
Reflection Papers (2) 10%
Post-trip Research Paper 40%
Participation will be evaluated in the following way:
Exceeds Standard6 points
Contributes ideas and
Contributes ideas and
Does not contribute
ideas and solutions
Values ideas of
Encourages ideas and
gives constructive
Listens to and
respects the opinions
of others
Rejects ideas and
gives negative
Interrupts and does
not listen to others´
Functions as a
positive member of
the group
Encouraging and
inclusive of all
Difficult to work
with and doesn´t
seem to care about
Helps with logistics
of course and course
Does not help out
30 points maximum
10 points minimum
Meets StandardsVariable points
Below Standard2 points
Points Earned
Point Total
Pre-trip Analytical Writing Assignments
Students are expected to complete the assigned text and supplementary readings for this
course before arriving in Ecuador and submit four 2-3 page essays based on assigned
study questions and the course text:
All four essays should attempt to answer the assigned study questions through logic,
illustrative examples from the text, and personal analysis. Each paper will (1) use at least
five cited references from the text, (2) refer to and outline the main ideas and
arguments of the text, and (3) be followed by questions, commentary, analysis,
protests, opinions, or any combination of these.
STUDY QUESTIONS (1000 words each; site at least five sources from assigned
readings for each essay).
1. How has the physical geography of Ecuador historically affected human and
economic development patterns?
2. How has the discovery of oil changed the economic and social development of
3. What are the main tenants of the Yasuní ITT proposal?
4. Discuss the reasons for, and arguments against, oil extraction within protected
national park boundaries.
Reflection Papers
Students will have two short writing assignments while in Ecuador, which are part of
their journal writing. The assignments are focused reflection papers that integrate
experiential learning, guest presentations, readings, and overall thoughts and questions.
Students write daily in a journal and use descriptive observations, reflections, and
questions as a basis for the two reflection papers. There is no set length, although 5 handwritten pages is the minimum.
Reflection Paper 1 is a field journal that includes lecture notes, personal observations,
drawings, and field notes.
Reflection Paper 2 will due towards the end of the trip. This paper takes the form of a
research proposal, and will describe the following: a) What do you want to do or
discover? b) What primary information and data have you gathered, c) How will you
gather the needed secondary materials and information? d) How will you present your
materials and information? and e)Why do you think this project is worthwhile? By the
end of the two weeks in Ecuador, you should have discussed your ideas for your Final
Research Paper or project with Peter.
The Final Research Paper should explore some aspect of the Battle Over Oil and
Biodiversity in Ecuador´s Amazon, a very broad and malleable theme. Exactly what the
final product will look like will be tailored to fit your academic goals and interests. While
the research project can be designed to give you an opportunity to express your learning
through non-traditional media, the final product must include a written research paper.
The research paper should follow commonly accepted rules of academic scholarship and
consist of at least 3500 words. The project will be due one month after the Spring
Semester begins. Late work will not be accepted.
Required Readings
Yasuni Green Gold: The Amazon Fight to Keep Oil Underground, Mauro Burzio, Ginés
Haro Pastor, Georgina Donati and Troth Wells, New Internationalist Press, 2008.
Readings available on course webpage:
Davidov, V.M. 2010. Shamans and Shams: The Discursive Effects of Ethnotourism in Ecuador. The
Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 15(2): 387-410. (attached- this one situates
ecotourism for students in relation to broader tourist demands, etc.).
Davidov, V.M. 2013. Mining versus Oil Extraction: Divergent and Differentiated Environmental
Subjectivities in "Post-Neoliberal" Ecuador. The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
18(3): 485-504.
Buscher, Bram, and Davidov, Veronica (Eds). 2013. The Ecotourism-Extraction Nexus: Political
Economies and Rural Realities of (un)Comfortable Bedfellows. London: Routledge.
Zalik, Anna. 2011. "Protest as Violence in Oilfields: The Contested Representation of Profiteering in Two
Extractive Sites" in S. Feldman, C. Geisler and G. Menon (eds) Accumulating Insecurity. Athens,
University of Georgia Press. p 261-284.
Rain Forest for Sale: Demand for oil is squeezing the life out of one of the world’s wildest places, National
Geographic: 2013, by Scott Wallace.
Drilling for Oil in Eden: Initiative to Save Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador Is Uncertain, Scientific
American, March 17, 2012, by R. Douglas Fields
The following academic articles are available at under the search
headings Yasuní National Park, Ecuador and Yasuní-ITT:
The Slippery Slope of Tourism and Oil in the Amazon: The Story of Tena, Ecuador
by Phyllis Enchill
A New EJOLT Report: towards a Post-oil Civilization. Yasunization and Other Initiatives to Leave Fossil
Fuels in the Soil
by Ricardo Coelho
The riddle of leaving the oil in the soil—Ecuador's Yasuní-ITT project from a discourse perspective
by Cristina Espinosa
A New Conservation and Development Policy: Exploring the Tensions of the Yasuní ITT Initiative
by Murat Arsel
Learning Goals
Topical area
(skill area)*
Geographical / scholarly approaches
to contemporary problems (1,2)
Breadth of the discipline (1)
100 Level
Develop more sophisticated
understanding of processes over
space and time
Draw on multiple fields of
knowledge to analyze geographic
Begin to formulate original and
integrated analyses and critiques
Understand scope and breadth of a
subfield of the discipline
Build upon existing content and
vocabulary/build conceptual depth
Argument (3, 4)
Develop understanding of
distinctions and connections
between the theoretical and the
Formulate answerable research
questions /How are research
questions framed?
Methods (3, 4, 5)
Survey a variety of research
methods and practice
Practice methods employed in
Learning and communication
Develop more sophisticated
communication skills in writing,
oral presentation and class
The course draws on wide range of
academic publications, investigative
journalism and, most importantly,
experiential education in the field.
We use spatial analysis and maps to
analyze, economic, cultural,
biodiversity, politics, and
environmental policy.
This is a multidisciplinary course
but we look in depth at
biogeography and the political
economy of non-renewable natural
resource extraction.
The geographic and ecosystem
services studies utilized help
students´ conceptual depth. All
lectures are framed in geographic
Field courses are the best way to
help students contrast theoretical
and empirical analysis based on how
their own experience and
observations contrast with
impressions given by readings and
We use maps as a lens through
which to analyze biogeogphy,
natural resource use and
distribution, the political economy
of oil, and ecosystems services,
while explaining the basics of each
of these academic disciplines
through our field case study. Also
students have the chance to listen to,
and directly talk with,
representatives of the different
actors in our geopolitical case study.
All students are required to keep a
journal, develop a research proposal,
complete a research project, and
present it orally. We work on the
development of a thesis and identify
primary and secondary resources for
the research project during the