The Peaceful Warrior

Taking on Texaco

When she is not spending her time farming and practicing yoga, Styler is also recognized throughout the world as a change agent, heralding her support for social and environmental causes. She and Sting founded the Rainforest Foundation in 1988, which Styler reports has raised $30 million since inception. The cause for which she has earned much attention lately coincides with the release of the award-winning documentary film, Crude: The Real Price of Oil, which follows the epic legal battle of 30,000 Ecuadorian rainforest dwellers of the Amazon who attempt to hold Chevron (formerly Texaco) accountable for the contamination of their land, a disaster that has been referred to as “the Rainforest Chernobyl.”

“In my role as a UNICEF Ambassador, I was in Ecuador working on the child exploitation campaign when I heard about the case. Joe Berlinger was there with his movie crew asked if I would come to the rainforest and take a look at the terrible plight of the people whose lands had been destroyed by Chevron’s terrible practices,” she explains. “It was shocking. I have never seen such a heart-wrenching level of contamination. I spoke to mothers who knew the water they were giving their children to drink was poisonous, but they simply had no choice. It’s not like they could go a buy a bottle of mineral water. It is a horrific situation.”

Texaco pulled out of the area more than 30 years ago and reportedly allocated $40 million for the cleanup, but there is a legion of victims and supporters who report otherwise. The case has been tied up in the court systems for 14 years. “Chevron denies that the area is contaminated, but indigenous leaders who are in their 60s and 70s know very well there was no cleanup because they still live in this area that is so polluted that nothing grows there.”

Not resigned to only speak out, Styler puts action behind her ideas, partnering her Rainforest Foundation with UNICEF Ecuador and the local Amazon Defense Fund to raise money for tanks that collect and filter the rainwater. “I asked one of the Ecuadorian mothers what I could do to help and she begged, ‘Please get us some clean water.’ The tanks cost less than $500 each and last for 30 years, providing clean water for families, hospitals, and local communities.” In the final year of the two-year project, they have installed nearly 200 tanks.

“My mother was a hugely compassionate woman and I learned about caring for others from her. My social activism is really just an extension of that,” she explains. “I’m not afraid to speak out for what I believe in and I’m not afraid to be the spokesperson for people whose voices can’t be heard, even if that means going up against the fifth largest corporation in the world.”

Having just addressed the United Nations General Assembly on climate change on November 19, she expresses high hopes for what will come out of the Copenhagen United Nations Climate Change Conference, taking place December 8 to 18.