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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

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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

Sep 12, 2019

How climate change is driving emigration from Central America

Rising global temperatures, the spread of crop disease and extreme weather events have made coffee harvests unreliable in places like El Salvador. On top of that, market prices are unpredictable.

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Clouds of dust rose behind the wheels of the pickup truck as we hurtled over the back road in Palo Verde, El Salvador. When we got to the stone-paved part of the road, the driver slowed as the truck heaved up and down with the uneven terrain. Riding in the back bed of the truck, Ruben (not his real name) and I talked while we held on tight, sitting on sacks of dried beans that he was taking to market.

“It doesn’t come out right,” he said, “it just doesn’t pay anymore to work the land. I take out a loan for seed, and then I can’t count on making it back to pay off my debt.”

Ruben told me then, for the first time, that he planned to save up his money to migrate out of El Salvador. His story is playing out across Central America among many migrants and would-be migrants.

When I spoke with Ruben, it was 2017, nearly 20 years after I had first spent time in his community, a coffee cooperative in El Salvador’s central highlands founded in the 1990s. Over those two decades, the cooperative’s hopes and dreams of a sustainable livelihood producing coffee for a global market have been dashed.

Rising global temperatures, the spread of crop disease and extreme weather events have made coffee harvests unreliable in places like El Salvador. On top of that, market prices are unpredictable.

In the back of the pickup truck that day, we talked about gangs too. There was increasing criminal activity in the town nearby, and some young people in the town were being harassed and recruited. But this was a relatively new issue for the community, layered on top of the persistent problem of the ecological crisis.

As a cultural anthropologist who studies factors of displacement in El Salvador, I see how Ruben’s situation is reflective of a much broader global phenomenon of people leaving their homes, directly or indirectly due to climate change and the degradation of their local ecosystem. And as environmental conditions are projected to get worse under current trends, this raises unresolved legal questions on the status and security of people like Ruben and his family.

This man lives in the Dry Corridor on the Pacific Coast of Central America, an area that has suffered high rates of poverty and malnutrition.
Todd Post/Bread for the World Institute, CC BY-NC-ND

Land and livelihood

Migration from Central America has gotten a lot of attention these days, including the famous migrant caravans. But much of it focuses on the way migrants from this region – especially El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras – are driven out by gang violence, corruption and political upheaval.

These factors are important and require a response from the international community. But displacement driven by climate change is significant too.

The migrant exodus from Central America includes many people impacted by climate change, although other factors play a part as well.

The link between environmental instability and emigration from the region became apparent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Earthquakes and hurricanes, especially Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and its aftermath, were ravaging parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Many people from El Salvador and Honduras lived in the U.S. at the time, and the Bush administration granted them Temporary Protected Status. In this way, the government of the United States recognized the inhumanity of sending people back to places struggling with ecological disaster.

In the years since those events, both rapid-onset and long-term environmental crises continue to displace people from their homes worldwide. Studies show that displacement often happens indirectly through the impact of climate change on agricultural livelihoods, with some areas pressured more than others. But some are more dramatic: Both Honduras and Nicaragua are among the top 10 countries most impacted by extreme weather events between 1998 and 2017.

Since 2014, a serious drought has decimated crops in Central America’s so-called dry corridor along the Pacific Coast. By impacting smallholder farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, this drought helps to drive higher levels of migration from the region.

Coffee production, a critical support for these countries’ economies, is especially vulnerable and sensitive to weather variations. A recent outbreak of coffee leaf rust in the region was likely exacerbated by climate change.

The fallout from that plague combines with the recent collapse in global coffee prices to spur desperate farmers to give up.

Compounding factor

These trends have led experts at the World Bank to claim that around 2 million people are likely to be displaced from Central America by the year 2050 due to factors related to climate change. Of course, it’s hard to tease out the “push factor” of climate change from all of the other reasons that people need to leave. And unfortunately, these phenomena interact and tend to exacerbate each other.

Scholars are working hard to assess the scale of the problem and study ways people can adapt. But the problem is challenging. The number of displaced could be even higher – up to almost 4 million – if regional development does not shift to more climate-friendly and inclusive models of agriculture.

People who emigrate from Central America may not always fully realize the role climate change plays in their movement, or think of it as the final trigger given all the other reasons they have to flee. But they know that the crops fail too often, and it’s harder to get clean water than it used to be.

Environmental factors are playing more and more of a role in Central Americans’ decisions to leave home.

Seeking a protected status

Ruben recently contacted me to ask for a reference to a good immigration lawyer. He and his daughter are now in the United States and have an upcoming hearing to determine their status.

Just as he predicted a few years ago, Ruben couldn’t make a living in El Salvador. But he may find it hard to live in the U.S. too, given the mismatch between refugee law and current factors causing displacement.

For several years now, scholars and legal advocates have been asking how to respond to people displaced by environmental conditions. Do existing models of humanitarian response and resettlement work for this new population? Could such persons be recognized as in need of protection under international law, similar to political refugees?

Among the most complicated political questions is who should step up to deal with the harms of climate change, considering that wealthier countries pollute more but are often shielded from the worst effects. How can responsibility be assigned, and more importantly, what is to be done?

In the absence of coordinated action on the part of the global community to mitigate ecological instability and recognize the plight of displaced people, there’s a risk of what some have called “climate apartheid.” In this scenario – climate change combined with closed borders and few migration pathways – millions of people would be forced to choose between increasingly insecure livelihoods and the perils of unauthorized migration.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]The Conversation

Miranda Cady Hallett, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Human Rights Center Research Fellow, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover Photo: A farmer carries firewood during the dry season in Nicaragua, one of the Central American countries affected by a recent drought. Neil Palmer for CIAT/flickrCC BY-NC-ND

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