With expressive words to the effect of "Overwhelming Beauty",
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 ...