In Patagonia, Caught Between Visions of the Future –

Which way do you turn when you presented with two opposing visions of the future? A decision like this can change the course that you follow in life. A weighty decision can be a burden, and even more so if your past represents a life kept isolated from change.

This is the condition of the debate pitting clean energy developers against conservationists near Cochrane, Chile, a small village wedged between two visions. On one side stands the developers, a group composed of a Chilean company and Italian-Spanish one, who wish to build a ~2,700 megawatt hydroelectric dam. On the other stands the conservationists, local and international groups highly associated with Conservacion Patagonica a foundation run by the former chief executive of the Patagonia clothing company, who wish to protect the land, creating a national park whose goal would be to bring tourism to glimpse at protected wilderness. In the middle is the village of Cochran whose once isolated inhabitants are now rolled up in the debates where old versus new, development versus preservation, and energy versus tourism stand opposed to each other.

As an undergrad, I saw a debate in the same vain as this one going on in Chilean. Working as a engineering intern for a wind energy producer in Eastern Washington state, I saw a community break from traditional pathways and choose a vision of ‘development’ for better or for worse. Two sides, like in Cochrane, formed. One advocated for the installation of wind turbines, while the other side wanted to ban them, opting for the preservation of existing lifestyles – wheat and soy bean farming. The wind turbines were built, changing certain landscapes, but adding well-paying jobs to many in a community roiling for the closing of a Jolly Green Giant factory just years earlier (the plant moved to Peru). The new jobs brought income to the community who very regularly spent money on their main street increasing the number of jobs affected by the turbines. But, as the article in Chile brings up about jobs associated with the hydroelectric dam, some benefited from these wind turbines, but other did not. Out of town developers got their development, wheat farmers got a new source of income (allowing them to pay down debts whose origination stems as far back as World War II), conservationists lost, main street businesses won new customers, the city won a new export – electricity – in addition to wheat and soy beans, but only so many can be brought up in the rush to development of a single new industry. Other workers not benefited from the development had to look for other work, possibly including a move to another town or state. But, so is life sometimes.

Very interesting article – a must read for those interested in development versus conservation debates.