Long-time environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio has posted on Instagram about a historic referendum that's set to take place on Aug. 20, 2023, in Ecuador, spotlighting the crucial vote to his 60 million followers.

At the heart of the first-of-its-kind referendum is the Yasuní rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth and home to some of the last Indigenous people in voluntary isolation, the Tagaeri,  Taromenane, and Dugakaeri. 

This place, its people, and wildlife, however, are threatened by the fossil fuel industry. According to reports from the Andean Amazon Monitoring Project, at least 689 hectares — the equivalent of over 1,200 football fields — have been deforested in the Yasuní, most of it by the oil industry.

Yasuní’s fate will be decided at the polls when the South American nation will vote on whether to leave large oil reserves in the ground. 

It is the first time that Ecuadorians will vote on an environmental issue of this magnitude and, if approved, would ban all new oil wells in the Yasuní park, as well as phasing out existing projects. 

“The people of Ecuador have an historic opportunity to safeguard a significant portion of Yasuní rainforest,” DiCaprio wrote. “With this first-of-its-kind referendum worldwide, Ecuador could become an example in democratizing climate politics, offering voters the chance to vote not just for the forest but also for Indigenous rights, our climate, and the well-being of our planet.”

A passionate spokesperson for the environment, DiCaprio has been a mainstay at the Global Citizen Festival over the years, where he has outlined the threat that greenhouse gas emissions pose and delivered impassioned pleas for investments in renewable energy and conservation. 

With the recent news that UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has pledged to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves, regardless of environmental groups’ warnings that this would obliterate the UK’s climate commitments, the vote in Ecuador sets an important global precedent.

Protecting biodiversity is an issue close to DiCaprio’s heart and it’s easy to see why. The natural world — bodies of water, fertile landscapes, tropical forests — are being depleted at an ever-accelerating pace. Roughly three-quarters of all land environments and two-thirds of the ocean have been heavily degraded by human activities.

Yet, without rich biodiversity, once-mighty rivers will continue to slow to a trickle, soil-rich grasslands will turn to desert, and the world’s forests will become unrecognizable. In short, the things vital to upholding life on this planet will collapse.

The global decline of biodiversity is the twin crisis of climate change; they’re both caused by humanity’s exploitative economic systems, they reinforce one another, and they demand the same sense of urgency from world leaders. 

How Can I Help?

Support the #SíAlYasuní campaign.

An alliance of Indigenous individuals, organizations, and youth from civil society, of which activists Nina and Helena Gualinga are a part, has created the #SíAlYasuní (#YesToYasuní) campaign to make sure that Ecuadorians are informed about the upcoming vote and its implications. Visit their campaign page to find suggested social posts.


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