Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chile's New "Route of Parks" Aims to Save the Wild Beauty of Patagonia

[Reprinted from Buzzflash at Truthout. See also my own dispatches from Patagonia, including Parque Pumalin and Estancia Chacabuco, two nature preserves included in this project.]

2017.28.3 BF Franklin(Photo: Tompkins Conservation)JONATHAN FRANKLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Dispatch from Chile

The road to Parque Pumalín is festooned with dozens of whitewater waterfalls that slip down the steep cliffs into a thick forest overrun by ferns and plants with leaves as big as beach umbrellas. An active volcano threatens to wipe out the sparse human settlements that are scattered like frontier outposts, often holding populations of fewer than 100 residents. The scenery, however, suddenly changes at El Amarillo, a town of perfect picket fences, exquisitely designed bridges and hand-lettered wooden signs offering help on camping and trekking.

It is here that a 25-year experiment in environmental conservation is finally coming to fruition. Parque Pumalín is a million-acre collection of untrammelled vistas and valleys that was patched together by a pair of American conservationists whose mission, known as “wildlands philanthropy”, was to keep the lands free from industrial development.

After decades of cajoling urban residents, multinational businesses and small farmers to colonise and exploit these corners of wild Patagonia, the Chilean government has made a U-turn and announced a massive conservation campaign. Spurred by the gift of Parque Pumalín, which is the largest private donation of land to a government in Latin America, the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, signed an agreement to create five new national parks and join the million acres of Pumalín with 10 million acres of federal land. All this land will be placed under strict environmental protection as newly designated national parklands. In one stroke, the amount of protected land in Chile has doubled.

The protected areas are 5,000 times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and include volcanoes, virgin forests and miles of wild coastline. Even the combined size of Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks would be less than one third of the land preserved by Bachelet.

Standing before glacier-topped mountains and steep granite faces reminiscent of Yosemite, Bachelet praised US philanthropists Doug Tompkins and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins for their decades-long campaign to preserve swaths of wild Patagonia. Doug Tompkins, who died in a kayak accident in December 2015, was singled out by Bachelet as a visionary who battled accusations and attempts to sabotage his conservation dream. “Doug, we did it – and I should say, we finally did it,’” said Bachelet, as she signed an accord to convert Tompkins’ privately owned Parque Pumalín into a Chilean national park. “Today,” she said, “we are bequeathing to the country the greatest creation of protected areas in our history.”

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of clothing company Patagonia and long-time climbing partner of Tompkins, was ecstatic as he watched the announcement. “Just today, Chile went from 11 million protected acres to 21 million. That puts Chile right up there with Costa Rica in terms of the percentage of protected lands,” said Chouinard, who described the donations by Tompkins Conservation as historic. “No other human has ever created this many acres of protected wildlands [through private philanthropy] and he did not do it with the stroke of a pen. These are tourist-ready parks with trails and cabins and infrastructure.”

Kristine McDivitt Tompkins smiled broadly as she addressed hundreds of environmental activists, local residents and park employees at the entrance to the new national park. “I wish my husband Doug, whose vision inspired today’s historic pledge, were here on this memorable day. Our team and I feel his absence deeply,” she said. “National parks exist in almost every country in the world. Some of them are battered, some are ill-funded, probably most. But they exist. And by and large, that holds the firmest, most consistent possibility for longevity in terms of terrestrial conservation.”

The audience applauded wildly as she described the conservation accord as a crucial first step towards uniting 17 Chilean national parks in what will be known as “the route of parks”. “This is unprecedented and will become one of the most famous routes in the world, connecting up communities and bringing new economic activity to each region. There is no long-term conservation possible unless neighbouring communities find that their best interests are served. National parks have proven to be a strong source of national pride, creating honour and admiration throughout their citizenry.”

With foreign tourism booming in Chile, the route of the park's concept is expected to consolidate what today is a haphazard and largely unorganised tourist circuit stretching for 2,400km from the city of Puerto Montt in the north to the Beagle Channel astride Tierra del Fuego in southernmost Chile. “National parks are the gold standard of conservation,” said Hernán Mladinic, who spent years working to persuade the Chilean government to preserve intact ecosystems in southern Chile. “For every dollar you invest in national parks, you get 10 back; it’s more profitable than copper.”

The transition from private park to national park will be incremental over the next two years as Chilean government officials seek to maintain the aesthetics and design with which Tompkins infused Parque Pumalín.

Employing an American concept known as “wild and scenic highways”, the new parks will seek to implement a design aesthetic that includes scenic lookout points, artfully designed signage and attempts to have roads follow the contours of the land rather than ripping straight lines through the rugged terrain.

While there was no opposition to the announcement of the new park, Tompkins had long faced bitter resistance. Local politicians accused him of harbouring secret plans to kick settlers off their land or create a dump for radioactive material. Others alleged that Tompkins planned to create a Jewish homeland or wanted to breed a mixed-race beast by crossing African lions with Patagonian pumas to attack  local livestock. “I remember a local farmer saying that Doug flew his plane so low that it wouldn’t be hard to wait on the hillside with a Mauser and shoot it down,” said Laura Casanova, a hotel operator in El Amarillo, who knew Tompkins for some 20 years.

While his relationship with Chilean authorities was rocky at times, both Tompkins and his partner Kris found wide success across South America. In Argentina they worked closely with the national government to create Monte Léon national park and had several other large-scale projects reaching completion including Iberá National Park in Corrientes.

In Argentina, Kris Tompkins oversees  programmes to reintroduce endangered species including jaguars, giant anteaters, peccaries, tapirs and pampas deer. Known as “rewilding”, the programme has been extremely successful as species on the brink of extinction, including the pampas deer and the giant anteater, are now thriving.

“What I would like to do is change the way national parks look at rewilding everywhere in the world where there are extirpated [locally extinct] species and make it one of the goals of national parks everywhere, to rewild,” she said. “As they say, landscape without wildlife is just scenery.”

The Chilean move stands in stark contrast to the policies of US president Donald Trump, who has rejected global warming, plans to slash the budget of the US Environmental Protection Agency and is seeking to reverse preservation accords signed by the Obama administration.

“It is not just US citizens who have to resist Trump and the influence of extreme right-wing Republicans and the intrinsic selfishness, blindness, anti-science, anti-environment attitude that have recently gotten the upper hand in the States,” said Lito Tejada-Flores, a renowned mountain climber and photographer who was a lifelong friend of Tompkins. “I find it very encouraging that we have some smart leaders in South America – on both sides of the Andes – who have said ‘Yes, conservation is important and science is real’.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Update on Doe Run in La Oroya, Peru

The Doe Run facility in La Oroya, Peru. Credit: Courtesy Tim Campion

(This article appears on the St. Louis Public Radio.)

Former Doe Run subsidiary criticized for smelter pollution in Peru


Updated 10:51 a.m. July 20 to clarify ownership of smelter

Missouri lead producer Doe Run is back under scrutiny for pollution resulting from metal smelting operations by its former subsidiary in Peru.

A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives heard testimony today about the environmental and health effects of pollution from the Peruvian smelter — and discussed the joint responsibility of Doe Run and the Peruvian government for cleaning it up.

Saint Louis University environmental health expert Fernando Serrano has studied environmental pollution near the Doe Run Peru smelter — and its impacts on about 35,000 people in and around the small town of La Oroya.

“And the results indicated that practically the entire population of La Oroya was exposed to elevated levels of toxic metals,” Serrano said.

Serrano says residents’ blood levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic exceeded any acceptable health standards. He says the soils in the entire valley around the smelter are still highly contaminated.

St. Louis-based Doe Run said it would not be appropriate for it to comment on this story because it no longer owns the Peru facility. The company owned the Peruvian smelter for about a decade starting in 1997.

Parent company The Renco Group also declined to comment.

Both the St. Louis-based Doe Run Resources Corporation and Doe Run Peru are owned by The Renco Group, which is embroiled in litigation related to environmental contamination in La Oroya.

The smelter has operated in La Oroya since 1922.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Welfare State

For those who condemn the American welfare state and the deadbeats who leech off the system.

Have you, your children, your parents or grandparents ever enjoyed the benefits of social security, Medicare, pensions, etc. Then thank the welfare state.

Have you ever benefited from being protected by insurance? Then thank the welfare state.

Have you ever traveled public highways, used public utilities, enjoyed commercial media such as TV and radio? Thank the welfare state.

Have you, your children, your parents or your grandparents attended public schools? Thank the welfare state.

Have you ever enjoyed national or state parks, forests, beaches? Thank the welfare state.

Is your air, water and soil cleaner than it once was? Thank the welfare state.

Are you secure in knowing that, if necessary, the military will defend your freedoms? Thank the welfare state.

Do you feel comforted knowing that if you lose everything, there is a church, charity, or non-profit you might turn to for assistance? Thank the welfare state.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gas prices and the Keystone XL Pipeline

Is it merely coincidence that gas prices have been escalating at alarming rates (with few justifications in the underlying fundamentals), precisely as the oil industry is trying to ram through approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline? Experts cite concerns about Iran's threat to shut down the Straits of Hormuz. And speculators play a larger role than ever (despite restrictions that were to be applied to speculators under Dodd-Frank.) But the run-up in prices at the pump defy explanation with these factors alone. After all, Americans are burning substantially less gasoline than in the recent past.

We have here the perfect timing. A Presidential Campaign in which the opposition candidates can stoke the fears of their constituents. Americans are being warned that $5.00-a-gallon gasoline may be just around the corner. But if we build the pipeline, prices will come down. (And Newt Gingrich tells us he'll deliver $2.50 gasoline to Americans!)

I think what we are seeing here is TransCanada (the pipeline owner) doing the bidding of the petroleum oligopoly. The oil companies need their Alberta tar sands oil to reach the world market (not necessarily the American market, which is already glutted to such an extent that we are exporting gasoline.)

It's curious that one of TransCanada's lobbyists formerly worked as a deputy campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, and that it is Clinton's State Department that ultimately makes the call on the international pipeline treaty. And the Obama campaign has hired another former TransCanada lobbyist for his 2012 Presidential bid.

The tar sands oil production is unlikely, in the near term, to impact the global market price for oil. There won't be enough of it flowing. And it is NOT in the interest of oil companies to increase production to the point of putting downward pressure on oil prices.

But the Keystone XL pipeline (and the embattled Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline across British Columbia) will deliver some of the heaviest and dirtiest oil to refineries, enabling Canada to sell on the world market. The risks of spills and pollution from refining are born by the people along the pipeline's route. Land stolen by eminent domain will subsidize the oil companies. The price of gasoline is unlikely to fall, as this is set according to global supply and demand, the product flowing to the highest bidders.

For the oil companies, time is of the essence. The relatively new tar sands industry is largely unregulated. But as the world community awakens to the devastation being visited upon the Canada's boreal forests, and the immense conversion of sequestered to free atmospheric CO2 resulting from this mining, the tar sands mining will eventually be severely curtailed, if not terminated.

Monday, January 23, 2012

There's an elephant in the room?

In these entertaining Presidential debates, all Republicans candidates (and those who parrot them) condemn vast government spending as being the great evil in our society, but they conveniently ignore the elephant in the room: the wealth gap in our society, and the monied interests that run the country...and the government...and their campaigns.

With the Citizens United decision, and the advent of SuperPACs, there's not even an attempt to hide the truth now.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Keystone XL has Republicans representing the 1%

Left: Syncrude's oil sands operations, Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by: David Dodge, CPAWS

Republicans' latest effort to fast-track approval for the construction of the Keystone XL "Tar Sands" Pipeline, prove without a shadow of a doubt that Republican leaders in Congress are working for corporate interests, that is, "the 1%".

Most Americans are not up in arms demanding the construction of this 1,600-mile pipeline, from the open pits of Northern Alberta's tar sands mines to the U.S. Gulf Coast. In fact, most Americans expressing an opinion are outraged that this expensive and risky infrastructure may be built upon our soil to support and encourage the dirtiest oil production on the planet. TransCanada, the company building it, has already experienced many oil spills. (It's no wonder Canada has now bowed out of the Kyoto Protocol. Along with Australia and the U.S., they have one of the World's highest per capita CO2 emissions rates.)

Nebraskans have spoken out about potential contamination of the critical Ogallala Aquifer. But this merely focuses on the Midwest. The potential for destruction is far greater, and in fact is advancing across Northern Alberta (as seen above.)

The ones who are vocal are the oil industry lobbyists, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican legislators who represent oil industry interests.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Neanderthal in Congress

There is absolutely NO connection between Senator Inhofe's conclusions about climate change, his decade-long personal campaign of climate change denial, and Oklahoma's powerful fossil fuel industry.

As former Chairman and current ranking member on the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, you can be assured Senator Inhofe sees protecting the health of our planet as one of his foremost responsibilities. Inhofe refers to the great work Marc Morano and CFACT are doing in Durban to assure that no progress is made toward a global climate treaty. He cites the CFACT "Special Report: The A to Z Climate Reality Check". (CFACT has been largely funded by Exxon-Mobil to counter environmental efforts. Marc Morano, former producer for Rush Limbaugh, famed "Swift Boater", and spokesperson for Inhofe's Senate Committee, also authors the Climate Depot Project for CFACT.)

I'm certain Senator Inhofe is fighting hard to reduce Big Government, the largest employer in his state. Here are a few more Neanderthals the Occupy Movement should be targeting.

From Wikipedia:

Oklahoma is the nation's third-largest producer of natural gas, fifth-largest producer of crude oil, and has the second-greatest number of active drilling rigs, and ranks fifth in crude oil reserves. While the state ranked eighth for installed wind energy capacity in 2011, it is at the bottom of states in usage of renewable energy, with 94 percent of its electricity being generated by non-renewable sources in 2009, including 25 percent from coal and 46 percent from natural gas. Ranking 13th for total energy consumption per capita in 2009, Oklahoma's energy costs were 8th lowest in the nation. As a whole, the oil energy industry contributes $35 billion to Oklahoma's gross domestic product, and employees of Oklahoma oil-related companies earn an average of twice the state's typical yearly income. In 2009, the state had 83,700 commercial oil wells churning 65.374 million barrels (10,393,600 m3) of crude oil. Eight and a half percent of the nation's natural gas supply is held in Oklahoma, with 1.673 trillion cubic feet (47.4 km3) being produced in 2009.

According to Forbes Magazine, Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and SandRidge Energy Corporation are the largest private oil-related companies in the nation, and all of Oklahoma's Fortune 500 companies are energy-related. Tulsa's ONEOK and Williams Companies are the state's largest and second-largest companies respectively, also ranking as the nation's second and third-largest companies in the field of energy, according to Fortune Magazine. The magazine also placed Devon Energy as the second-largest company in the mining and crude oil-producing industry in the nation, while Chesapeake Energy ranks seventh respectively in that sector and Oklahoma Gas & Electric ranks as the 25th-largest gas and electric utility company.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

And half a world away, in Hawaii...

Brother Drew presents SURFER Poll's Lifetime Achievement Award to John Severson.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Farewell Cousin Becky

On the left, our dear cousin Rebecca Pfohl (aka Becky, Rebecky, Beckles, Becca). 1951 - 2011

More remembrances of Becky in this blog.

In Memory of Rebecca M. Pfohl website.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Finding Freedom in Handcuffs

TruthDig Editor’s note: Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, an activist, an author and a member of a reporting team that won a 2002 Pulitzer Prize, wrote this article after he was released from custody following his arrest last Thursday. He and about 15 other participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement were detained as they protested outside the global headquarters of Goldman Sachs in lower Manhattan.

Police arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters as they staged a sit-down at Goldman Sachs headquarters on Thursday in New York. (AP / Bebeto Matthews)

Faces appeared to me moments before the New York City police arrested us Thursday in front of Goldman Sachs. They were not the faces of the smug Goldman Sachs employees, who peered at us through the revolving glass doors and lobby windows, a pathetic collection of middle-aged fraternity and sorority members. They were not the faces of the blue-uniformed police with their dangling cords of white and black plastic handcuffs, or the thuggish Goldman Sachs security personnel, whose buzz cuts and dead eyes reminded me of the East German secret police, the Stasi. They were not the faces of the demonstrators around me, the ones with massive student debts and no jobs, the ones whose broken dreams weigh them down like a cross, the ones whose anger and betrayal triggered the street demonstrations and occupations for justice. They were not the faces of the onlookers—the construction workers, who seemed cheered by the march on Goldman Sachs, or the suited businessmen who did not. They were faraway faces. They were the faces of children dying. They were tiny, confused, bewildered faces I had seen in the southern Sudan, Gaza and the slums of Brazzaville, Nairobi, Cairo and Delhi and the wars I covered. They were faces with large, glassy eyes, above bloated bellies. They were the small faces of children convulsed by the ravages of starvation and disease.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tax the poor

This past week it was announced that, to compensate for the loss of State funding, the University of California Regents will consider a proposal to increase University tuition 80% over the next three to four years.

In a country that holds sacred the profits of the wealthy, that refuses to even consider asking them to pay their fair share, this outrageous tax on those who are struggling to become financially responsible adults is a pure manifestation of the greed of the few controlling the welfare of the many. The same scenario is playing out in public education institutions across this nation, condemning our young to a life of debt and powerlessness before they've even begun.

This is something that should fill every American with shame.

It is legitimate cause for revolution.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dennis Kucinich on the Economics of the American Oligarchy

Article printed from CommonDreams.org
Published on Friday, July 15, 2011

Debt Political Theater Diverts Attention While Americans' Wealth Is Stolen

by Dennis Kucinich

The rancorous debate over the debt belies a fundamental truth of our economy -- that it is run for the few at the expense of the many, that our entire government has been turned into a machine which takes the wealth of a mass of Americans and accelerates it into the hands of the few. Let me give you some examples.

Take war. War takes the money from the American people and puts it into the hands of arms manufacturers, war profiteers, and private armies. The war in Iraq, based on lies: $3 trillion will be the cost of that war. The war in Afghanistan; based on a misreading of history; half a trillion dollars in expenses already. The war against Libya will be $1 billion by September.

Fifty percent of our discretionary spending goes for the Pentagon. A massive transfer of wealth into the hands of a few while the American people lack sufficient jobs, health care, housing, retirement security.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Washington needs its compass corrected, and its clock cleaned

This October, let's all celebrate our successful War in Afghanistan's Tenth Birthday! It's our gift that keeps on giving (to those who profit from such enterprises.)

If Washington's "business as usual" suits you just fine, stay home and chill.

Or, click on the photo to join the fun!

As a warm-up, watch George Carlin's lesson on "The American Dream".

Friday, July 08, 2011

President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address - January 17, 1961

The address is memorable for Eisenhower's warning about the threat of the burgeoning military-industrial complex (a term he introduced). That portion of the speech begins at the 8:20 mark. His sentiments seem sincere and heartfelt, in contrast to the cynicism pervading today's political landscape. (I know, I know, the 50s and early 60s were not such rosy times either!)

(Thanks to Tim S. for the link.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I always look to "Russia Today" for the latest in local news...

The "haboob" or dust storm that struck Phoenix today. This is the type of weather event I was caught in on my motorcycle in Northeastern Arizona a few years ago. Today's was much more substantial!

(Links to the original videos: HD time lapse video by Mike Olbinski and YouTube video by Blaine Coury.)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Now a word from our sponsors...

I really don't like promoting businesses, products or services I haven't tried, but these folks have the right concept and I'd sure like to see their ideas catch fire.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To the Last Drop

Syncrude oil sands mining operations with upgrader plant in the background.

Syncrude oil sands mining operations. Photo: David Dodge, The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

This story about Alberta's tar sands produced by Al Jazeera, will introduce Americans to their largest source of imported oil - Canadian tar, or oil sands.

Watch "To the Last Drop" (two parts)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Circumference of Home

 Coincidentally, soon after beginning walking tours of my Santa Rosa hometown, I heard a story on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of Our Knowledge". It was an interview with Kurt Hoelting, author of The Circumference of Home. After learning the magnitude of his personal "carbon footprint", Hoelting drew a 100-kilometer radius circle around his home on Whidbey Island near Seattle, and vowed that, for a full year, he would abandon his car and, under his own power "live locally", exploring and rediscovering his immediate environment. After hearing the story, and recognizing a kindred spirit, I immediately ordered the book from the library.

When I asked Drew (who, of course, lives on Whidbey Island) if he knew Hoelting, he said he certainly did and even offered some assistance on Hoelting's book. Drew reminded me of an article he had written back in 1997. At the time, Drew joined Hoelting on a kayak adventure in Alaska's Inside Passage and wrote about it in the New Age Journal.

Late in the book, I see Hoelting quotes Drew in a chapter epigraph, and pays further tribute to him in the book's Acknowledgments.

Anyway, this is a fascinating journey, both internal and external, as the author struggles to reconcile his membership in modern American society with ancient traditions of respect and reverence for the natural world.
With just the slightest shift in consciousness, Hoelting's discoveries and revelations during this year "in circumference" are accessible to each of us.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chile court suspends Patagonian HidroAysen dam project

The confluence of the rivers Neff and Baker in awesome Patagonia. Photo taken during my Americas Trip in 2006.

At roughly the same time as my visit to Rancho Chacabuco, Lisa Pike of Patagonia (the company) dispatched A Letter From Chacabuco, which spoke of the threat of development in the region. Then, I was unaware of plans for hydroelectric projects here. Had I known of intentions to dam these rivers, I would indeed have been sickened.


BBC News Latin America & Caribbean

20 June 2011

A court in Chile has ordered the suspension of a multi-billion-dollar dam project in the south of the country, following objections by legislators and environmentalists.

The five dams are to be built on two rivers in the sparsely-populated Aysen area of Chilean Patagonia.

The project was approved in May, after heavy backing from President Sebastian Pinera.

But the court has now ruled it needs to review the approval process.

It is not clear how long the court will take to decide on the matter.

The project has sparked a number of protests, some of which have seen violent clashes between demonstrators and the security forces.

The government says the dams are needed to meet the country's increasing demand for electricity.

But environmentalists say they will damage the area's fragile ecology and its tourist potential.

They also say the energy produced will be used mainly for the country's mining industry.

Rugged beauty

The five dams will be built on two fast flowing rivers that run into the Pacific - two on the river Baker, and three on the river Pascua.

They drain lakes in a region that is famous for its rugged beauty - a landscape of glaciers, ice-fields, mountains and fjords.

The dam project, which is a joint venture between a Chilean company and a Spanish-owed one, will cost some $3bn (£1.85bn) and is designed to generate 2,750MW of power.

The company, HidroAysen, says the project "represents a cost-effective, sustainable, reliable, and ecologically viable source of energy".

It says it involves flooding nearly 60 sq km (23 sq miles) of land, but will provide 4,000 jobs at its peak.

But other potential sticking points lie ahead for the company.

Correspondents say one of these could be approval to build the more than 2,000km (1,240 miles) of power lines needed to carry the electricity generated from the dams to the capital, Santiago.