The end of Ecotourism in 8 of Chile's Regions

With expressive words to the effect of "Overwhelming Beauty", Chile's National Tourist Service celebrates the country's tourist attractions. The banners on its website feature emblematic photos of Patagonia. Ecotourism, a fundamental pillar of its tourist industry, both present and future, is identified as a way of bringing sustainable benefitboth to local inhabitants and visitors because of its natural relationship with the idea of conserving ecological balance in every sense, considering human society and culture as an integral part of the ecosystems they inhabit. Looked at this way, ecotourism comes into focus as an ecologically sustainable way of generating quality of life for an indefinite time.

On the other hand, from a different government office comes a unilateral announcement that is ecologically violent - the management of large supranational monopolies plan to inundate five locations of pristine Patagonian rivers and destroy 22.000 hectares of this slender country by installing an electrical transmission line extending from Patagonia to the country's heartland. The reason? To contribute to supplying energy to yet more transnational giant companies operating the huge mining operations in the country's North. It's worth noting that both industries - elecricity generation and mining - generate stratospheric profits far in excess of those appropriate to any democracy, by far the largest part of which are exported directly to beneficiaries outside Chile.

What are the roots of such a double standard? More than the plan itself, it's interesting to examine the world view of the human beings that formulated it. Considering all the available information, is it not sufficiently clear that nature is the source and matrix that sustains the life of all the beings with which we share share one biological space, and that this space is presently in grave danger. Three centuries of industrial activity have caused imbalances so great it is urgent to change direction and seek to lighten impacts instead of continue unlimited expansion with ever larger projects. Such unbridled expansion is not only unsustainable, it also carries the flaw of abandoning the natural responsibility we have to future generations - a dangerous burden that will reduce still more the quality of life of a world that is already becoming ever more uncomfortable for those inhabiting it now.

In the major part of the "modern" world of industrial consumerism, we see the psychological condition of distancing from reality, or what is known as dissociation. This is a defense mechanism that suppresses those elements perceived as disruptive to the psyche, and becomes transformed with time into strong behavioural inconsistencies. In individuals the condition is normally unconscious. In today's society, unfortunately, it is intentionally encouraged - unfortunate, because of the insidious effects the process has on our values as a society, and therefore on our actions and our future.

One common method of subtle repression is by means of disqualifying those who resist the prevailing trend. Epithets vary according to the circumstances of the time. The one presently in fashion is sadly ironic - it is to talk disparagingly of those who seriously respect Earth's life systems as mere “ecologists" or "environmentalists” - abnormal human beings suffering from some strange disease, or extremists never to be taken seriously. The truth is more the opposite - we are all ecologists, in the sense of being wholly dependent on the Earth for life.

In that sense of depending on the balance of our ecosystems, we are ALL ecologists. The directors and shareholders of HidroAysen and all the other national and multinational corporations, their families and loved ones, all owe their own possibility of living, breathing and walking this unspoilt corner of the planet to the same pristine rivers that they intend to trash for commercial purposes. This is where the inconsistency of dissociation becomes apparent, in a short-sighted separation from the wider realities of the world for motives limited to the economic priority of material accumulation.

It is crucial to understand this point. An industrialised society becomes unsustainable because of its tendency to destroy the very nature it depends on as the source of its survival. When that happens a self-destructive process begins. Far from being an opinion irrelevant to the "real" world (read of economics), this is a simple natural principle, stronger and more implacable than any human law. Nature has its ways of working. Sooner or later, it ends up eliminating those populations that exceed the capacity of their habitats and available sources of food and energy to sustain them. However much our human self-importance may wish to deny the point, we ourselves are the species in danger of extinction.

When I arrived in Chile in the 60's, the practice of burning native forest was very common in the South, and I found the relationship between people and the nature - it certainly didn't look like one of balance. With time I began to understand. The European origins of Chile's culture arose from the desires of conquest, and the hunt for gold and other treasures left an extractive code of mining rights so deeply embedded in the national identity that it has even been extended to the extreme of including water - of all resources, by natural principles and common sense the most obviously vital common resource of all. Even today, the country's greatest economic success stories still come directly or indirectly from the extraction of natural resources. With things like this, what schools have ever existed that could educate and form environmental educators in respect for nature? The most appropriate school of all is nature herself, but our urban European culture always demands that learning be in the classroom, so assuring nothing more is achieved than obedient conditioning to an unchanging culture of consumption. Indigenous cultures are very clear about this point, but they have been conquered, suppressed and marginalised. Their veneration for the earth and water is dismissed as mere supesrtition. This is a grave error. Recent declarations by Bolivia's indigenous President, that the Earth has rights that should be respected, sound like a lone voice in a desert.

What can we do? Any amount of things! For now, let's remember the basic values of ecotourism we mentioned at the start - ecological values, and also social and economic values. There lies the key - in respect, in respect for life in all its forms. The sustainability of civilised life depends on one foundation that is solid and trustworthy - ecological balance. Fighting to maintain that balance is the challenge of the day.

For that reason, let´s not hesitate to declare ...