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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

Feb 14, 2019

Meet RJ Scaringe. The Founder of Rivian, Changing the Way We View Transportation

RJ’s goal? To change the way our society views transportation. To change the way we buy and own vehicles. To change the way we treat our environment.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Founder of Rivian, the company building the world’s first electric adventure vehicles, RJ Scaringe isn’t one to set simple goals. He thinks big.

RJ’s goals go beyond simply building electric cars. They go beyond 4×4 vehicles. They go beyond self-driving vehicles. RJ’s ultimate goal is this – to change the way our society views transportation. To change the way we buy and own vehicles. To change the way we treat our environment.

RJ founded a car company, and yet he does not want people buying his cars in the future. This may seem like a strange business plan, but to RJ, it is the only way forward.

RJ envisions a world where you don’t own a car. Your family doesn’t own a car. Your neighbors don’t own cars. Sounds like a hassle to get around, right? How will you go skiing this weekend? How will you take your family to the beach in the spring? How will you move your oldest child into her dorm room?

RJ, with Rivian ambassador Alex Honnold.

With Rivian, you won’t own a car. But you will have 24/7 access to a vehicle that drives itself to you with a simple press of a button. No, it’s not Uber. No, it’s not a car share. It is a self-driving, electric vehicle that will drive itself to you, whenever you need it, so you have access to it whenever you need it. People no longer have the need to own vehicles. They just call a Rivian!

RJ’s Beginnings

It was this truly deep internal conflict

RJ’s lofty goals didn’t just spring out of the blue. He began his career working at a Porsche restoration shop in Florida, which is what sparked his deep love for cars and the car industry. “I’m a lifelong car enthusiast and grew up restoring classic cars, like the Porsche 356. Along the way, I decided that I wanted to get into cars, I wanted it to be the focus of my life. So I went to school to achieve it.” But no matter how much he loved cars, something about it always bothered RJ. “As I got more involved with it, it started to bother me how these things that I loved were simultaneously the cause of our changing climate, smog, and a whole host of environmental and social problems on the planet. It was this truly deep internal conflict.”

So, he set out to change things…


The First Few Miles

It’s like I’m naked at the base of a super steep mountain, and have to figure out how to get to the top

RJ went on to get his master’s and PhD from MIT with the goal of learning how to increase driving efficiency in vehicles. He went on from there to work for multiple large organizations, where he felt that efficiency could be improved, but they often lacked the ability to adapt to change given their structure. “I realized that I could have more impact by actually starting something on my own.” So he built his own company – from the ground up. “I saw how difficult it was to do big systems-level innovation even when you have really smart people. Just because of the scale of these organizations, the complexity of the organizations. So I said, ‘If you could redesign the organization to think of the systems-level, to not have the traditional boundaries between silos, and rethink from a clean sheet what the vehicle is, what the architecture is, what the company is…’”

So he did it. He started from a clean slate. No money, no team, no supply chain, no plant, no technology.

When asked if he has encountered any big challenges along the way, RJ responded, “It’s like I’m naked at the base of a super steep mountain, and have to figure out how to get to the top.”

Founding, and rethinking, Rivian

Starting with less than 20 people, the company took some time to get off the ground. But after securing good relationships with investors and shareholders, the team began to grow. Now, with five plants around the world, and mass production set for 2020, RJ’s hard work and aspirations are all starting to pay off. Naturally, in the beginning, given RJ’s background working with Porsche sports cars, Rivian was focused on building an electric sports car. However, as the company grew, and as RJ’s love for the outdoors grew, so their focus began to shift.

this whole world of conditioned air, of electronics and watching TV, of your vehicles that can take you places, is powered by fossil fuel

“In college, I was heavy into mountain biking. I would be biking every weekend, and it always bothered me that going on those adventures, I would have to use a car. It was this weird juxtaposition of wanting to enjoy the outdoors and go into the outdoors, but on your way there, making the outdoors worse. So, to be honest, I thought about all kinds of crazy things I could build to fix this… Could I build a bike that could peddle power a car to take me to these adventures? I would bike really long distances to get to a hike, and then I would be exhausted and hike for only half an hour. And I’d be like, ‘okay, now I have to bike all the way back.’ So, we pivoted off of the idea of the sports car, and we decided to really focus that passion around adventure and outdoor lifestyle.”

And with that outdoor adventure lifestyle in tow, Rivian decided to completely rethink the way an outdoor adventure vehicle is designed. “The key for building a new company, and for that matter, establishing your brand, is that you have to have something that gets people excited. It has to foundationally reset expectations… So, it’s quicker than it needs to be. It’s better off-road than it needs to be. It’s more efficient than it needs to be. It’s sort of unreasonably good. But it’s there to make a statement, and that statement is the foundation framework we are building. And when I started on that journey, it wasn’t as unreasonably good as it needed to be across all the different areas of the vehicle. So we’ve kept on going back and saying, ‘Let’s make it better. Make it better, make it better.’ It’s three seconds, zero to 60. It’s better off-road than any vehicle on the market, and it’s wrapped in something that’s really compelling. It’s got great storage. It’s a unique vehicle.”

And with this unique vehicle, RJ hopes to help enable people to access the outdoors. “We often think that a vehicle can’t make you active, but it can enable that, and make it easier for you to generate memories. And from a societal point of view – right now, we collect our memories with pictures. So, we need to be designing a product that helps you to do the things you want to take pictures of. Like, you don’t take a picture of yourself sitting on the couch watching TV. But you take a picture of yourself on an awesome hike, or with the kids at the beach. And we want to enable those things that you’re going to take pictures of.”

Rivian vehicles aren’t even in production yet, and they are already a hot topic of conversation among outdoor adventure enthusiasts. They even gained attention from the outdoor industry’s biggest star, Alex Honnold, when he decided to leave his #VanLife behind and partner with Rivian as an ambassador. Honnold described his partnership as an easy choice, “Even if I wasn’t working with Rivian, if I wasn’t an ambassador or anything, I would still be supporting the brand. We need more companies like this in the world. The world has to go 100% electric at some point, and the sooner the better!”

What are we doing wrong?’ I think every business should be able to answer that question – why the world needs them to exist.

RJ hopes that by founding Rivian, this will help push other car companies to make the move toward electricity as well. “We as a society today live in a world where we have conditioned air in our homes. We travel 30 miles to get to the office on a daily basis. We don’t really think anything of it, but this whole world of conditioned air, of electronics and watching TV, of your vehicles that can take you places, is powered by fossil fuel. And what’s amazing is that in 100 years of this level of this style of lifestyle, we’ve used about half of what took 300 million years to accumulate. All the fossil fuels on our planet are 300 million years’ worth of plant and animal life that died and went into the earth’s surface. It then comes out in the form of coal and liquid fuel, and we literally used almost half of that in 100 years. It’s just staggering to think about how fast we are consuming that energy resource. It’s not a choice if we want to continue to travel and we want to continue to live the way we live today – we have to transition to something that’s sustainable beyond the next 100 years. And our argument is that the sooner we do that, the better, because simultaneously while using up all those carbon fuels, we are significantly changing the makeup of the atmosphere. We essentially took what happened in 300 million years where carbon was extracted from the atmosphere and put into the core of the earth, and we reversed that in 100 years. Of course it is going to lead to dramatic changes in our climate books. So, let’s make this change as fast as possible. We’re going to have to make it anyways. It’s not a debate, it’s a fact. We have to change. We can’t continue moving around like this on the planet. Everything we do at Rivian is to try to get that to be faster.”

All in all, we are excited to see what Rivian has to offer in the future. RJ’s business tactics may differ slightly from the way his competitors do things, but that may be just what the world needs right now. Who knows – maybe other businesses will be able to learn from RJ, and from the question he asks himself every day. “Does the world need us as a company to exist? Because if the answer to is no, then you need to take a step back and say, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ I think every business should be able to answer that question – why the world needs them to exist.”

Find out more about the Rivian vehicles here.

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