USA’s Amazon oil imports are destroying rainforests

As reported in The Guardian last week, US imports of crude oil from the Amazon are at the root of the destruction of some of the area's purest forest ecosystems, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases.

Amazon Watch highlights a serious threat

The study was carried out by the environmental group Amazon Watch, and highlights the planned expansion of oil drilling in the region as ‘one of the most serious threats' to the western Amazon. Most of the oil comes from Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, and thanks to the USA and other nations now joining in, proposed oil and gas fields now cover an immense 283,172 square miles of the Amazon rainforest.

Cutting down the region's carbon-rich trees itself produces greenhouse gases. Transporting and burning the oil makes things even worse. Indigenous people and the Amazon’s famous biodiversity are all at serious risk, but the demand for oil keeps rising, and a blend of greed and short term thinking drive the destruction onwards.

What the experts say

As Leila Salazar-López, the executive director of Amazon Watch, said, “Our demand for Amazon crude is literally driving the expansion of the Amazon oil frontier and is putting millions of acres of indigenous territory and pristine rainforest on the chopping block. Breaking free from oil dependence and keeping remaining fossil fuels in the ground is an urgent, collective endeavour, and the life-giving Amazon rainforest must be one of the first places we start.”

California isn't anywhere near as Green as it might think

Much of the crude oil from the Amazon region is refined in supposedly-Green California – ironic to say the least – before being distributed across the USA. This means more or less every company, city and university throughout the nation unwittingly contributes to the Amazon rainforest's destruction.

On the surface of things, California has a good environmental reputation thanks to stiff targets to cut greenhouse gases, improve energy efficiency and cut the use of fossil fuel in vehicles. But under the surface the picture isn't so Green. California depends heavily on oil imports from South America, partly because the state's Green policies discourage the heavier-grade oils produced elsewhere. And since the ExxonMobil refinery explosion in Torrance, California, in early 2015, the state has increased its gasoline imports more than ten times.

A spokesman for Jerry Brown, the state's governor, said he has taken “nation-leading action to fight climate change, decarbonize our economy and end our dangerous addiction to foreign oil”. That just isn't true. Sadly for the Amazon, it appears talk is cheap.

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