National Geographic Highlights the Beauty --and Threats-- in Chile's Patagonia

NRDC’s Patagonia BioGem has captured the attention and support of literally thousands of people around the world.  After reading “The Power of Patagonia” in the new National Geographic , which hit newsstands today, I feel confident that even more will join our efforts to stop short-sighted development in one of the most untouched and wild places on the planet.

Though I had already heard the February issue would include an article about Chile’s Patagonia, I was not prepared for the depth, breadth or clarity of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s words, nor the utter beauty of Maria Stenzel’s photographs.   In roughly four half-pages of text and over 14 pages of photographs, Klinkenborg and Stenzel not only illustrate the dynamic and awesome landscape of Chile’s southern tip, they also adeptly capture one of its all-pervading characteristics:  its remoteness. 

Because of this isolation, Patagonia’s wildlife has long been protected from outside threats.  But three major environmental issues now jeopardize this remarkable, isolated land and its waters:  the controversy over hydroelectric development, the damage caused by salmon fisheries and climate change. 

For over three years now, NRDC has been hard at work on fighting the first of these three threats.  We have been cooperating with our Chilean and international partners on the Patagonia Defense Council (CDP) to protect Patagonia’s Pascua and Baker Rivers from HidroAysén’s short-sighted dam proposal.  During this time we have worked to identify the technical, legal, logistical and economic reasons why HidroAysén’s proposal doesn’t make sense

More recently, we have broadened our strategy to address the uncertainties of Patagonia’s geology and hydrology, calling into question the wisdom of any industrial development there.  The sheer lack of scientific knowledge about this region is a direct result of its isolation, which makes it very difficult for researchers to study Patagonia’s glaciers, its tectonic volatility, and the sensitivity of the river and marine ecosystems to change. 

It also means that there is little understanding of how this landscape is being affected by climate change, though that it is being affected is well-documented.  In fact, Patagonia’s glaciers are melting at faster rates than in any other part of the world.

This lack of scientific knowledge provides us with one more reason why building large hydroelectric power plants on such unstable land, and damming such poorly-understood river systems is simply a bad idea.  So whether you buy the issue, take it out of the library, or grab it off the shelf in a bookstore, I encourage you to give “The Power of Patagonia” a thorough read.  And then please take action help protect this truly amazing place.  I can’t say it any better than Klinkenborg: “…places as wild as Chilean Patagonia cannot survive without protection.”

And trust me:  Stenzel’s photographs will take your breath away.