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    Rios Libres: Environmental Dispatches – Episode 4, The Movement

    By Kate Ross, International Rivers



    Patagonia is one of the few precious places on the planet where the array of natural beauty still defies human imagination. You are forced to think of new adjectives to describe the dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountains and the glaciers that stand juxtaposed with green rolling hills and sheer rock faces. And through all of this flow the beguiling blues and greens of Patagonia’s largest and most powerful rivers – the Baker and the Pascua. As you stand by the side of the Baker River, the roar of the current drowns out any other sounds and the pulse of the river consumes you and transports you. It is a place unlike any other I have experienced.

    The campaign to protect Patagonia – and specifically the mighty rivers of the region – has become the largest environmental struggle in the country’s history. Chileans have shown their opposition to HidroAysén by taking to the streets in the thousands. Most recently – as you see in Q’s film above – in response to a Supreme Court ruling in April 2012 in favor of HidroAysén, and before this in the lead-up to and after-math of the approval of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in 2011.

    Continue reading "Rios Libres: Environmental Dispatches – Episode 4, The Movement" »

    Rios Libres: Environmental Dispatches – Episode 3, The Alternatives

    By Amanda Maxwell, Latin America Advocate for the NRDC



    “El Norte tiene el mejor potencial solar en el mundo. ¡En el mundo! ¿Pues por qué quieren represas en el Sur? Es una locura. Absolutamente una locura.”

    “The North of Chile has the best solar potential in the world. In the world! So why do they want dams in the South? It’s crazy. Absolutely crazy.”

    A taxi driver told me these words in May 2011 on the way from the Arturo Merino Benitez Airport to my hotel in Santiago, and they have stuck with me ever since. Just days earlier, Chile’s authorities had approved the massive $10 billion HidroAysén project – five dams proposed on two of Patagonia’s wildest rivers – despite the woeful quality of the project’s environmental impact assessment and the fact that the large majority of Chileans were against the dams. The approval immediately launched demonstrations throughout the country – the largest protests the country had seen in over 20 years. 

    I was not, in fact, in town to participate in the protests. I had come to Chile to present the results of a new study from NRDC about the levelized cost of energy in Chile.* NRDC had commissioned the analysis to test the argument I had heard many times in Chile: that renewables were too expensive to be developed at scale. The results of the study put that argument to rest: it showed that Chile’s biomass, biogas, geothermal, mini-hydro, and wind power options were already cost-competitive with the conventional energies – coal, diesel, and large hydro – in 2011. It also proved that solar would also be cost-competitive in a matter of years.

    Continue reading "Rios Libres: Environmental Dispatches – Episode 3, The Alternatives" »

    Rios Libres: Environmental Dispatches – Episode 2, The History

    By Craig Childs, video by Rios Libres



    It was a good rain that morning in Aysén up a glacial tributary of the Rio Baker. Drips came down through the roof of a one-room house where a young man named Filipe Henriquez stood next to the crackling cocina telling me about how the privatization of water in Chile, the selling of rivers, has interrupted the flow of life. Henriquez said, “My father can’t take water out of the Baker for his livestock. It was sold to HidroAysén. It belongs to Endesa and Colbún. Sure, you can irrigate with it, but it is illegal.”

    Endesa, a multinational power company owned by the Italian energy giant Enel joined the Chilean energy company Colbún in planning to dam the Baker and other rivers in this un-dammed region.

    The table in the house was made with a chainsaw, and on it stood a half-melted candle and an empty wine bottle from the night before. We had just finished breakfast.

    Continue reading "Rios Libres: Environmental Dispatches – Episode 2, The History" »

    Rios Libres: Environmental Dispatches – Episode 1, The People

    By Juan Pablo Orrego, video by Rios Libres



    People say that the “Patagonia Without Dams” campaign is epic. No wonder.

    This campaign is not only about saving two of Patagonia’s most magnificent rivers, the Baker and Pascua. It is not only about protecting the legendary, magical beauty of this planetary bio gem, its biodiversity and complex ecological mosaic. It is not only about saving the unique natural and cultural heritage.

    It is, of course, about all of these things, but our campaign is also about helping our country to avoid the terrible, unforgivable mistake of building an unnecessary and destructive hydroelectric complex in Patagonia when many sustainable alternatives are at hand. Our hope is that this movement can make a serious, collective contribution to radically changing the paradigm guiding energy development in our country.

    Editor's note: Today we're kicking off a weekly video series in partnership with our friends at Rios Libres, based on their recent film, Streams of Consequence. The goal is to highlight four different aspects of the fight against five proposed dams in Chile's Patagonia region. Articles written by experts in the field will accompany each video.

    Continue reading "Rios Libres: Environmental Dispatches – Episode 1, The People" »

    Streams of Consequence: Public Outcry Successfully Halting Dams in Patagonia

    Words by Chris Kassar, photos by James Q Martin

    2012.04.07_Confluence_timelapse_6-0001

    “Patagonia is not for sale! Protect her rivers!”   

    “Defend Aysén! Keep Patagonia free from dams!” 

    These chants echoed through the streets of Santiago, Chile in April 2012 as tens of thousands once again voiced their opposition to HidroAysén’s proposal to dam two of Patagonia’s pristine rivers, the Baker and the Pascua. A few days earlier, the Chilean Supreme Court voted 3-2 in favor of the HidroAysén dam project in Patagonia and against appeals filed by opponents. 

    This decision was a major setback, but it has not turned out to be a green light for dam construction. Almost one year after the Supreme Court’s decision, the rivers still run free and a critical element of the project – the longest proposed power line in the world (1,180 miles from Patagonia to Santiago) continues to be a huge headache for HidroAysén, a big business partnership between an Italian energy company and a Chilean energy company called Colbún.

    Continue reading "Streams of Consequence: Public Outcry Successfully Halting Dams in Patagonia" »

    The River Speaks... and So Can You

    By Chris Kassar

    Every time I kneel down next to a river – even if just for a moment – I swear I can hear it speak to me. I know this probably sounds crazy, but I also know I’m not the only one who hears wise murmurs rising from the ripples of wild waters. For many of us, the rhythm of a river can mesmerize our soul, capture our spirit and force us to really stop and listen.

    The Baker River, nestled deep in the mountains of Chilean Patagonia, is no different. I spent weeks walking its banks, riding its waves, and crunching through the epic ice fields that feed it. I even floated over the exact spot where its journey as a river ended and it emptied into the sea – a feat in and of itself given that so many rivers, including my very own Colorado, no longer even make it all the way to the ocean. But, this trip from source to sea was much more than just a fun adventure. We – team Rios Libres – immersed ourselves in the landscape so we could arm ourselves with the knowledge needed to join the fight to protect Patagonia’s wildlands and the people who depend on them.

    During our excursion, the mighty Baker spoke volumes and gave us a glimpse into what the world used to be like - full of untamed lands, untouched rivers, intact forests and people who depended on the land and each other to survive. Spending a month at the edge of the world was like traveling back in time to an age when things were simpler and nature remained largely unaltered by the trappings of man.

    Continue reading "The River Speaks... and So Can You" »

    Patagonia Sin Represas (Without Dams), a New Video from Environmental Documentarian, Bridget Besaw


    [Video: Bridget Besaw]

    News on the five proposed dams in the heart of Chilean Patagonia has been slow lately as we wait for an Environmental Impact Report on the 1,200-mile power transmission lines and a decision from the Chilean Supreme Court. One item of note: The Santiago Times reported a few days ago that Argentina's minister of planning is open to the idea of the electrical transmission lines passing through Argentine territory, another setback for those of us -- in Chile and abroad -- who vigorously oppose the dams.

    Yet, even while the approval process plows forward, those in opposition to the dams continue to make their case that the Pascua and Baker Rivers can run free indefinitely while Chile's energy needs are met through abundant, less-destructive renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal.

    Environmental documentarian, Bridget Besaw, recently created this video to illustrate what's at stake. She captured the images while on assignment for the iLCP's Patagonia RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) last year. The still images were first presented in March as a traveling exhibit to help raise awareness about the threat of the dams. Bridget is a member of 1% For the Planet and continues to use her photographic talents to highlight the depletion of natural resources around the planet.

    Take_actionPresident Piñera can still pull the plug on this project. Please take a moment to write the Chilean embassy and voice your opinion against the damming of Patagonia's wild rivers.

     

    Juan Pablo Orrego Explains Why HidroAysen Threatens The Heart of Chilean Patagonia

    In our coverage of the Chile dam fight, we’ve heard from many Americans who’ve visited Patagonia but we’ve yet to hear from someone who lives there. That changes today with this post from Juan Pablo Orrego, the president of Santiago-based NGO, Ecosistemas, and a leading international voice in the Patagonia Sin Repressas (Patagonia Without Dams) campaign.

    CharlaJuanPabloOrrego_PatagoniaElGolf_26JUL2011_RodrigoFariasM©Photo-11

    [Juan Pablo Orrego at Patagonia El Golf. Photo: Rodrigo Farias]

    The construction of five big hydro-power plants in the region of Aysen, considered the heart of Chilean Patagonia, has raised the national awareness of its negative impacts to levels never seen before. The complexity of the problem is evidenced in the many fronts that the debate opens, as well as in the variety of players that have joined efforts – from Patagonia to Santiago, Argentina, Bolivia, USA, Canada, Italy and Spain – to oppose this project that belongs to Enel (Italy), Endesa (Spain-Chile) and Colbún (Chile).

    The three main issues this project involves are the local impact, the national energy policy, and the “energivorous” development model (highly inefficient in the use of energy, and predator of natural resources) installed in Chile during the past decades.

    Continue reading "Juan Pablo Orrego Explains Why HidroAysen Threatens The Heart of Chilean Patagonia" »

    Don't Dam Patagonia - Now Is the Time to Dig In

    As the new Patagonia catalog hits your mailbox, we asked Craig Childs the author of "Rios Libres," the environmental essay in that catalog, to give us a little background on the essay. - Ed

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    [Taking the power of the Rio Baker's still-wild waters. All photos: ©James Q Martin]

    We did good work down there - interviews and camera lenses. We sat in a bishop's house in Coihaique, his cigarette tucked into his palm as he blew smoke to the ceiling and told us Chile's water is not for sale. A young man sitting by a warm cocina in a one-room shack explained to me that he is a habitante, one who inhabits this place. Because of that, he said he was necessarily an activist.

    Continue reading "Don't Dam Patagonia - Now Is the Time to Dig In" »

    Kohl Christensen Reports on the Dam Protests in Chile - Take Action to Keep the Pressure On

    by Kohl Christensen

    Marcha No a Hidroaysen for The Cleanest Line (c)RodrigoFariasPhoto-6b

    Editor's note: When the Patagonia community banged pots and pans in protest of the proposed dams in Chilean Patagonia, a large protest was scheduled to happen at the same time down in Santiago. Patagonia surf ambassador Kohl Christensen – who was visiting Chile for a surf contest – attended the protest and sent along this report with photos from Rodrigo Farias. At the end of this post, we have a new opportunity for you to Take Action against the dams.

    Seeing ¡Patagonia Sin Represas! (Patagonia without dams) spray painted above bus stops all around the capital of Santiago gives you an idea of where most Chileans stand on the proposed construction of the five hydroelectric dams that will destroy certain areas of Patagonia. I got invited to the protest that was happening in Santiago and happily agreed to check it out.

    [May 19, 2011, Santiago, Chile. Tens of thousands of Chilean citizens who marched in opposition to the proposed construction of five mega-dams in Patagonia's Aysén region. All Photos ©Rodrigo Farias]

    Continue reading "Kohl Christensen Reports on the Dam Protests in Chile - Take Action to Keep the Pressure On" »

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