Guyana & Petroleum

Recent view of Kaiteur Falls from a small plane

Yesterday’s link to the story about Greenland‘s approach to carefully harnessing the economic power of tourism made me think today about a recent visit to Guyana that Amie and I made. What I knew of Greenland before reading that article was limited, but it included the newsworthy commitment they made, which I acknowledge having found inspirational. But I am a layperson on what such commitments actually mean.

We went to Guyana knowing that the country is in the early stages of what may be a long term economic boom due to the discovery and exploitation of crude oil in its coastal waters. For anyone who knows us, or who has been reading these pages since we started posting our thoughts here a dozen years ago, or more broadly anyone who understands the climate crisis, it would be obvious that this discovery was cause for concern.

What did we know about Guyana beforehand? Not much and a decade old. But with one friend who has done economic development work there on and off for many years, and is a compelling booster of the country, we were equipped with a more current understanding of the stakes of this prospective boom. And knowing that boom can be a four-letter word in both good ways and bad, we visited with as much agnostic curiosity as we did concern.

Yesterday’s bird of the day photo, taken by someone we met, is a better quality image than either Amie or I could get with our phone cameras when we were in the same spot where those photos were taken. We saw those birds. So, we force ourselves to hope. So, we are forcing the agnostic curiosity to a specific question: can petroleum–the industry with a very dark history and full of companies who have proven untrustworthy–change its ways and become a force for widespread prosperity, and dare we hope for conservation, for a country starting from scratch? Just as Greenland is avoiding overtourism, can Guyana avoid overpetroleum?

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