The Intrinsic Value of Aysén and Chilean Patagonia

Patricio Rodrigo
Friday, April 5, 2013

Originally published in Patagon Journal

The Baker River, Aysen Patagonia
The Baker River, Aysen Patagonia
Photo by Kate Ross, International Rivers

No one doubts that the world is entering a new era. There are numerous signs, from our own natural world, such as climate change, to our culture, with the emergence of social movements and the new “springs” in diverse countries around the world.
In Chile, the defense of Patagonia against plans for dams like HidroAysén has marked a before and and after in political campaigns and environmental struggles. The massive marches of May 2011 in Santiago, cities across Chile, and worldwide helped put environmental and energy issues high on the public agenda. Seventy-five percent of Chileans now support the cause of the “Patagonia Without Dams” campaign and its opposition to dams in Aysen.
Chileans and citizens around the world have a special affection for Patagonia and defend it utilizing their own experiences, abilities, values or convictions. This commitment is even greater among those who have visited and experienced the pristine nature of this region with its breathtaking landscapes and friendly people.
This ability to excite people and increase their sensitivity to the environment, is an intrinsic value of nature in Patagonia that soaks the soul of citizens of the 21st century. Is this because it is the largest reserve of pure water in the world? Because it is a Reserve of Life? Or because it puts human beings in its real dimension of being part of and not owner of something so sublime? There are many questions, nevertheless every day there are more visitors to Aysén and Chilean Patagonia, representing all nationalities, and searching for unique experiences to enjoy the virgin environment and grow as people and citizens who are called to protect the planet.
Goals are set by society, said Albert Einstein, adding as well that politics, science and technology should act as the instruments to reach those goals and not impose their special interests. Chile and the world have defined a goal for Patagonia: nature conservation and sustainability in its development process.
Chilean environmentalists, along with organizations part of the SocialRoundtable for a New Chile, have proposed the following: “Grant Chilean Patagonia, defined as territory extending from the Llanquihue and Cochamó áreas to the south, through a specific law, a protection status for its environmental and cultural heritage, declaring it as a Reserve of Life, a Reserve of Water for Climate Change and Sustainability Zone, excluding energy or mining megaprojects, and respecting the regional goals determined by their social actors, such as tourism, environmental services, cleaner production and establishing the regional certification of environmental quality.”
These proposals for the future demonstrate how Chilean citizens appreciate the instrinsic value of Chilean Patagonia, its natual heritage with a territory that is practically unexplored, with more than 46,000 miles of coastline, filled with glaciers, ice fields, undiscovered fijords, indominable peaks and where man occupies less than 10 percent of the land and with its own unique culture that adds even greater value to Patagonia.
However, in addition to this essential value, Aysén has great economic value for the growing demand for tourism and new residents that require land to begin their business ventures and personal projects. Hidroaysen would cause significant damage to this regional economy. The University of Chile, using data from 2008, calculated a net loss of more than 40 million dollars per year caused by a decrease in tourism if HidroAysen is built and 500 million dollars in losses throughout the 12 years needed to construct HidroAysen. On the other hand, Professor Fernando Salamanca estimated that if the region moves in a direction and acts to expand the tourism industry, there is a potential profit of 1.15 billion dollars per year. According to the University of Concepción, the destruction of the scenic landscape caused by just building the first of the five dams planned for the Baker and Pascua rivers would amount to a loss of 210 million dollars, according to the University of Concepción.
Given both the intrinsic value and its economic potential, the Aysén region deserves a different future than the one being pushed by the controlling electric monopolies, of which HidroAysén is the Hydro of Lerna with its many heads.
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