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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

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Environment

Nov 24, 2018

“Ruta de los Parques” Positions Chile as a Global Leader in Sustainable Tourism

Can tourism be community-inclusive, ecologically-sensitive, and economically advantageous? Chile consolidates 17 National Parks in an unprecedented commitment to conservation.

WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The ex-Chilean president Michelle Bachelet’s announcement of an unprecedented national conservation accord in March of 2018 marked a departure from several decades of assiduous federal promotion of extractive industry in favor of tourism.

Ruta de los Parques is a conduit to rugged adventure and diverse ecosystems.

Galvanized by the million-acre donation of private Parque Pumalín by American conservationist group the Tompkins Foundation, Bachelet pledged 9 million acres of new national parkland and created the framework for a consolidation of 17 total parks scattered along Chile’s ample latitude. The 1,500-mile link-up, officially established in September, is called La Ruta de los Parques, or Route of the Parks. It repurposes portions of the Carretera Coastal (Southern Highway), originally eked out of the landscape by 10,000 soldiers under the despotic command of dictator Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s.

La Ruta de los Parques. Photo provided by Carolina Morgado

Ruta de los Parques is a conduit to rugged adventure and diverse ecosystems. The well-known Patagonia and Torres del Paine National Parks headline the nascent assemblage, but each park contributes its unique character to the distinctly Chilean experience. Foreign travelers will experience a dizzyingly diverse display of natural sensoria including glaciers, volcanoes, temperate rainforests, and turquoise rivers. Penguins percolate the coastal fjords of Pumalín National Park. The 7,500-foot Corcovado Volcano rakes the atmosphere above its namesake parkland. With pastel panache, flamingos patrol the craters that punctuate the lunar-esque lava fields of Pali Aike.

“This is an invitation to imagine other forms to use our land. To use natural resources in a way that does not destroy them. To have sustainable development – the only profitable economic development in the long term,” Bachelet announced in a speech.

“Local communities are the texture and context for Ruta de los Parques,”

La Ruta de los Parques. Photo provided by Carolina Morgado.

Environmentalists laud her vision of developing Chile through responsible tourism rather than extractive industry. As part of La Ruta’s establishment, the Chilean government will partner with the Tompkins Foundation for 10 years to oversee the project. The Tompkins Foundation is an activist conservancy headed by Kris Tompkins, wife of the late North Face founder Doug Tompkins. They’ve invested millions of dollars to protect and preserve land in Chile and Argentina since the 1990s and will play a salient role in La Ruta’s management.

“Local communities are the texture and context for Ruta de los Parques,” Kris Tompkins stated. Her words indicate that community-informed management and local economic growth are fulcrums of the mission. But not everyone is convinced; last year, local ranchers occupied one of the Tompkins Foundation’s parks to agitate for what they perceived as a barrier to productive land development by foreign conservationists. Moreover, many of the parks currently lack the infrastructure to handle a significant incursion of visitors. According to the official website, the Route of the Parks encompasses more than 2,800 kms, 24 distinct ecosystems, and 60 human communities. Management is a daunting task, given La Ruta’s latitudinal largess and limited budget. How will Chile obviate the problems of over-visitation and environmental degradation that have plagued, for example, popular mountaineering destinations in India, among many others? The striking scenery leaves little room to doubt the allure of La Ruta, but plenty to wonder about tourism’s potential impact on local communities and ecosystems.

Cerro Sombrero Sernatur. Provided by Tompkins Conservation.

“When the park explodes with visitors, we don’t have the time, resources, or money,”

Park ranger Juan Toro Qurilif of Torres del Paine National Park expressed his concerns about over-visitation. “When the park explodes with visitors, we don’t have the time, resources, or money,”. Torres del Paine, which sees 250,000 visitors every year, has a limited annual budget of $2.1 million and only 30 full-time park rangers. He’s not alone in budget concerns; Chile’s National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) manager Richard Torres Pinilla stressed the necessity of federal, regional, and international funding to provide the infrastructure and labor to manage tourism. Even in the U.S., officials are struggling to keep up with recent surges in visitation. Over-crowding has resulted in littering, traffic congestion, and an $11 billion backlog of upgrades. Granted, Chile’s isolated Parks see just a fraction of the crowds that descend upon Yellowstone or Grand Canyon, but they also lack the paved roads and other infrastructure in place at the U.S. locales.

CONAF and the Tompkins Conservation will meet the challenges head-on. “Nothing will be developed without a long-term vision,” executive director of Tompkins Conservation Chile Carolina Morgado assures. Four years ago, the foundation took to the countryside to survey local attitudes towards a possible link-up route. “We received a very positive response from local communities,” Morgado reported. “People were proud to think of themselves being leaders in protected areas.” The Tompkins Conservation also commissioned a feasibility study which suggested that the expanded park system could generate $270 million annually and employ 43,000 Chileans. In the U.S., conservation interests are often at odds with local development agendas. But according to Morgado, Chileans almost universally embrace their protected lands. “Our National Parks have never been seen as an upset to the economy—rather, they contribute to Chile’s world image as a conservation destination,” she says.

Capillas De Marmol Sernatur. Provided by Tompkins Conservation

“We will learn from Pumalín’s world-class infrastructure as a model for La Ruta’s other parks,”

To prepare the parks for an uptick in traffic, Chile will employ the Project Finance for Permanence (PFP), a long-term funding stratagem that has seen success in Costa Rica, British Colombia’s Great Bear Rainforest, and Brazil’s Amazon. PFP repurposes methods of private sector project financing for use in large-scale conservation projects. For example, the approach mobilizes all stakeholders (funders, NGOs, governments) simultaneously under a protection plan that stresses permanence. Enduring ecosystem health, sufficient long-term funding, proactive governance, and sincere community buy-in are crucial to a permanent conservation plan. Permanent protection of La Ruta’s parklands will necessitate substantial expenses for initial consolidation and ongoing funding for infrastructure projects like visitor centers and campgrounds. Project Finance for Permanence relies on government participants to secure public support, NGOs to tap their funder base, and lead foundations to accrue private philanthropy. The strata of stakeholders coalesce in a single all-or-nothing deal to ensure commitment by all parties to protection in perpetuity.

Ideally, Project Finance for Permanence will nourish the altricial Ruta with the necessary funds for development. Morgado says that the panoply of parks will look to Pumalín National Park as the apotheosis of responsible stewardship and sustainable infrastructure. Doug and Kris Tompkins labored for decades to piece together Pumalín, a million-acre swath of waterfall-laden forest. The Tompkins’ fastidiousness is evident in the hand-crafted park facilities, successful wildlife-rehabilitation programs, and established trail systems. “We will learn from Pumalín’s world-class infrastructure as a model for La Ruta’s other parks,” Morgado says.

La Ruta de los Parques promises a 28-million-acre taste of the tantalizing cultural and biotic endemism of the National Parks that speckle southern Chile. National Parks are participatory and enduring, making them arguably the highest form of ecosystem protection. They are the property of every Chilean; accordingly, conservation must operate under obligation to culture and community. Chile has emerged on the global stage as a preeminent champion of National Parks as a vehicle for tourism and sustainable development. La Ruta is a large-scale experiment in profitable conservation; the stakes are high, and Chile stands to reify its international image of a conservation leader. Should National Park tourism prove both economically advantageous and ecologically sound, Chile’s vision of profitable protection may inspire efforts to create new National Parks in the U.S. and internationally.

Cover photo: Guanaco at Patagonia NP. Provided by Tompkins Conservation.

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Environment

Mar 22, 2019

Youth Climate Strike Goes Global

On March 15th, 1.4 million students in 128 countries boycotted classrooms to rally for climate change. Their message: "Decarbonize, NOW."

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

There is perhaps no better example of the complexity of our relationship with science than in the present discourse on climate change. It is, after all, science that gave us the knowledge to extract oil, coal, and natural gas from the earth and harness from their potent molecules the energy to power our cars, homes, and civilizations. The “fossil fuels”, that pantheon of concentrated carbons, have provisioned us with luxuries unimaginable a century ago. They’ve lifted millions of people out of poverty, fed countless hungry children, and erected the infrastructure that bulwarks the modern world. We burn them to transport ourselves across oceans and to the grocery store. By all accounts, the application of science to fossil fuels has resulted in unprecedented progress.

Of course, as most modern scientists, businesspeople, politicians, and kindergarten students can avow, the carbon narrative is not so simple. In fact, “carbon”, an unassuming element with six protons in its nucleus, has become a four-letter-word invoking extractive industry, toxic pollution, and gluttonous capitalism. In an expanding body of scientific research, observers have documented the rising sea levels, erratic weather events, and general planetary imbalance resulting from our injection of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

One striation of scientific ingenuity graced us with a potent source of energy; another damns its overuse. Those committed to a system sustained by fossil fuels champion the best science of yesterday. If the best possible science of today advises opposition to the status quo, our response as individuals and societies reveals our relationship with science. If we don’t heed the sirens of climate change, we are “deniers of science”. It’s difficult to get behind science that prescribes a radical overhaul in lifestyle when fossil fuel science has been doling out apparently limitless comforts. We should also remember that last century, science offered up oil and natural gas as cleaner alternatives to “dirty” coal. But with 97% of climate experts in agreement that fossil-fuel use is causing global climate change, the scientific pendulum has swung again, and we must respond in turn. Perhaps our acquired comforts have made us complacent; as of 2019, we have failed to slash emissions to the targets espoused by our most qualified scientists.

Climate strike in London. Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr.

Winston Churchill, in a 1936 essay entitled “Fifty Years Hence”, addressed our vacillatory relationship with science. His warning, made in the context of burgeoning communism in the Soviet Union, resounds with global aptitude in the contemporary context of climate change:

“There are too many people maintained, not merely in comfort but in existence, by processes unknown a century ago, for us to afford even a temporary check, still less a general setback, without experiencing calamity in its most frightful form.” -Winston Churchill

As he concludes his essay, Churchill calls for precaution and moral sensibility in our pursuit of science:

“After all, this material progress, in itself so splendid, does not meet any of the real needs of the human race…forces terrific and devastating will be in their [our immediate descendants] hands; comforts, activities, amenities, pleasures will crowd upon them, but their hearts will ache, their lives will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things.”

It is necessary to expand the scope of Churchill’s prophecy to account for the ubiquity of the modern problem: “…their planet will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things.” Fossil fuels saddled us with the comforts, activities, amenities, and pleasures of the late 20th and early 21st century: air conditioning, cars, coffee, and capital. But now it is the voices of youth raised above the cacophony of a billion combustion engines who demand the change prescribed by climate science.

They aren’t “too cool for school”—rather, as the students propound, it’s getting too warm for school.

They are led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Stockholm, Sweden, who sat with a sign on her local parliament steps for the first three weeks of school demanding of her politicians a radical stance against anthropogenic climate change. Since August of 2018, she has attended classes four times a week and went on strike every Friday, initiating the now-global “Fridays for Future” movement. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren from the EU and Australia traded algebra for advocacy and joined Thunberg at the end of the school week in a demonstration. One such event galvanized over 35,000 people. They aren’t “too cool for school”—rather, as the protestors propound, it’s getting too warm for school.

Climate strike in London. Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr.

Last December, TOJ spoke to Marlow Baines, a high school student in Boulder, Colorado who is a regional crew director at the youth-based environmental advocacy group Earth Guardians. The non-profit is involved in the Juliana vs. USA climate change lawsuit, in which the youth plaintiffs have asserted a constitutional right to a habitable environment and injurious abridgement of that right by a federal subsidy of fossil fuels. Baines says that since we last spoke, the plaintiffs have filed for a preliminary injunction in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. To tease apart the judicial jargon, this is a court order that would prevent the federal government from issuing new leases and mining permits for extracting coal on federal public lands, leases for offshore oil and gas exploration, and approvals for new fossil fuel infrastructure. According to Baines, the motion for preliminary injunction will give the court an opportunity to mitigate exploitation of Public Trust resources while it considers the Juliana case on interlocutory appeal.

Marlow Baines, regional crew director for Earth Guardians.

Another term plucked from the annals of the judiciary, an interlocutory appeal is issued when the trial judge determines substantial discrepancy over an important question of law that would affect the final outcome of the case. For Juliana vs. USA, the legal questions being challenged are assertions of “specific injury” by climate change, the extent of the public trust doctrine, and the “constitutional right” to a “stable climate system capable of sustaining human life”. If dissent muddies even the premise of the climate change lawsuit, the case has little chance of being heard in court.

“Democratic governments drift along the line of least resistance…smoothing their path with pleasant-sounding platitudes.” -Winston Churchill

With the lawsuit locked up in legal purgatory, Baines and the Earth Guardians took a page from Thunberg’s book and organized a youth climate strike on March 15th in Boulder, Colorado. The event was one of 950 registered strikes in over a hundred countries in which hundreds of thousands of youth boycotted class to fight for an uncertain future. The Boulder locale focused on demands for 100% renewable energy, which was one of governor-elect Jared Polis’s key campaign pledges. Globally, the effort prioritized indigenous groups and ethnic minorities, who are among the most vulnerable demographics. American demonstrators called for ambitious entreatments such as compulsory education on climate change in grades K-8 and the declaration of a national emergency in response to the climate crisis. Given the partisan nature of the topic, these ultimatums will face at least as much pushback as the Juliana lawsuit.

Fridays for Future rally in Germany. Photo by Jorg Farys via Flickr.

“Why should we go to class if you won’t listen to our most educated scientists?”

Why are young people ostensibly more receptive to the realities of climate science? Historically, it’s taken the outcry of a generation poised to confront the consequences of a problem to galvanize action to address the problem. Human myopia is limitless, but time and tide wait for no man. That worn proverb is remarkably applicable to the context of rising sea levels. Also, climate change departs from previous problems in its scale and complexity; it seems preposterous that humanity has subsumed the power to alter entire planetary systems. But the prognosis hits home when you’re young enough to experience the cataclysmic effects of such imbalance.

Fridays for Future rally in Berlin. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

“The changes have been so sudden and so gigantic that no period in history can be compared with the last century. The past no longer enables us even dimly to measure the future.” Churchill’s remark could be severed from its subject—the pace of scientific progress in the 20th century—and neatly reapplied to the erraticism of an over-carbonated climate system. While the March 15th protests were the largest manifestation of the climate change coalition to date, it will take the adults currently in positions of power to implement appropriate policy. Our sitting president has been criticized for his “childish behavior”, but such assertions are a disservice to the children of the climate change movement. Should his administration align itself with scientific consensus, they may yet preserve climatic configurations conducive to the life and liberty of the nation’s youngest citizens.

An Earth Guardians youth climate rally back in Oregon in 2018.

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