Express your opposition to HidroAysen’s proposal to dam the Baker and Pascua – two pristine rivers deep in the heart of Patagonia, Chile.
Make a difference by taking just a few minutes to write a letter to ENEL – the giant Italian electric utility company that owns a controlling interest in the European partner for HidroAysén.
This letter, written by a leader in the fight – Patagonia Sin Represas – argues that these dams will not benefit the development of Chile and will, in fact, impede progress, harm nature and negatively impact the people who live in these areas. The letter asks the president of Enel to step back from the project and urges him to seek other energy options for chile, including those based in developing renewable resources.
Please join the fight to keep these rivers running freely!
Questions? Email Chris at email@example.com
by Craig Childs
At night, the face of the earth is webbed with light. Our cities have swallowed almost everything. When you see this image, where does your imagination fall, on the dazzling, viral spread of humanity or the last dark places in between?
Late one night, I slipped naked into a lake full of stars down along the serrated edges of southern Chile, where on satellite images of the earth at night, the tail of South America blends into the black sea. Rivers and lakes do not emit light, nor do ice caps or chains of mountains. The sky rippled ahead of me as I swam through the cold water of Patagonia. I pushed my arms into this darkness, felt it across every inch of my skin, took it into my mouth and drank.
To understand a place, you need to drink from its many waters. For weeks in Patagonia, I have been drinking from holes in the ice, dipping my cupped hands into creeks, dousing my water bottle in rivers. Exploring the Río Baker from glacier to sea, I have hoped to grasp one of these last dark places on earth. My quest brought me to the proposed Baker 2 dam site, currently a waterfall where cloudy gray tongues of the river heave over an edge with steel-bending force, sheets of mist ripping into the air. This waterfall is where one of five local dams is being planned (two on the Baker and three on the Río Pascua). Concrete would stand 340 feet over my head, switchbacks blasted into the canyon, cranes swinging with cycloptic heads above ropes and cables, machines of industry and progress piercing the air with back-up warnings as men in hardhats roll out blue scrolls, hold up radios, sit eating lunch over a siphoned, dry riverbed that once carried the largest river in Chile.
I don’t know why I want this river to run. I could not sit at a table with a microphone and explain it. I don’t know why the heart breaks when we have drawn and quartered yet another landscape, named it as ours, used it to fuel our every global ambition from paper clips to plastic cups. But god do I want this river to move, another dark thread binding the surface of this planet, another path uninterrupted.
It is not just the dam that will change this place. Dams will require an infrastructure of roads, highways and new supply ports. Many who live in this sparsely populated region fear what this could do to their lives as small towns become busy construction centers, and as future industries pour in through newly established routes.
After visiting the waterfall, I thrash upward through a thousand feet of thick vegetation and granite outcrops. Finally, I stand in the wind in a country of waterfalls, streams plunging all around me. I see the lay of the land from up here, ragged summits rising from a gleaming white ice cap. Clouds snag on the highest blades of rock, or, rather, those high rocks make the clouds, their warm, hard bodies touching cold westerly winds, drawing moisture that has been circling the globe looking for a place to land. This is the earth rising up on its toes, reaching into the sky and raking thought it as it passes, bringing down rain and snow; ice for the glaciers, water for the rivers. This is not done for anyone. It simply happens. This is how rich the world is, miracle upon miracle for no one.
Standing on this high point, I see it is not about dams or transmission lines, or even about that river way down there. It is about what we want to do with our time here, how we want to leave this place. The day is coming when the rarest resource will not be oil or even water, but a place that does not smell of us. Maybe we won’t even notice the passing of an era as we crawl deeper into our shells of light, but we notice it now. We can say for sure that it was real, that there was once a place where you could feel in your bones a greater world, where you did not possess their air or water, and a river did not stop for you.
I come here from a highly developed country with a long-standing infrastructure of interstates and power grids, every major river dammed. Asking Chile not to do the same smacks of environmental imperialism, but I do not wish for this country to be undeveloped, only to develop differently. Maybe building dams is the best that can be done down here, serving civilization at large by pumping hydroelectricity to mines and cities in the north, assembling independent energy for South America (although recent studies say that the dams will lead to an expensive over-supply that could be handled much more efficiently by using alternative sources). On the other hand, consider what would be lost.
When you look at the image of earth at night, do you find hope where the darkness of the Himalayas shoulders into the blaze of India, where Siberia, Sahara, and the interior deserts of Australia hold our advances at bay? Let your eye follow the southern curve of South America. Nothing is there, the gap not yet closed. Gauchos cut their lassos out of cowhide. Rivers race from beneath glaciers. Pumas wait in the shadows. At night, you can still pour yourself into a lake, sending a ripple through the stars.
by Craig Childs
At night I lay in my tent listening to the thunder of collapsing seracs, multi-ton columns of ice breaking free and falling a thousand feet. Smack, crack, rumble, groan. In these deeply-cut canyons, echoes build and fade. The ice-bound head of the Rio Baker is not a stable or quiet place.
In the morning we walk along an exposed wall of the Neff Glacier. A thirteen-story slab breaks away, tilts in slow motion, bursts into powder and bergs. How do you not feel fragile in this landscape?
On the ice, crampons crunch across a surface darkened by wind blown dust. The sound of meltwater emerges from deep below
us, mumblings in the belly of the glacier. I peer down a hole where shadows within shadows lead into a blue Jules Verne landscape, journeying into the source of the Baker. Oxygen-rich ice near the surface is white. Below it, baby blue falls into a saturated indigo so deep and rich it seems perilous. Becoming aware of the depths, I feel dizzy.
Every hole and crack emits a sound. Some places are whispers, and some rumble like a ship engine below deck. Unseen rivers roar and hiss as one of the largest ice caps in the world melts under our feet. Jonathan Leidich, a local glacier expert whose knowledge comes from 15 years on the ice, takes us to a measurement station that he maintains in conjunction with CECS, Centro de Estudios Cientificos de Valdivia here in Chile. A PVC pipe sticks up from a hole. Leidich runs a tape measure, says that a month ago the surface of the glacier was six feet over our heads. That much has melted in 30 days across this entire expanse. Hearing this, I take in the scope around us, daggers and ridges of ice, holes shaped like giant’s navels. Ice stretches as far as I can see, rising up through the teeth of mountains where the Patagonia Ice Cap spills through from the other side. I can feel it all melting. This is how the river starts.
by Craig Childs
The Río Baker is the color of topaz with the visible depth of sapphire. Entering one of its gorges, a smooth, ceramic lip of water crashes into malestrom. Kayaks flash through like swift, tiny birds. Feeling this wild tumult, you can understand why one might want this kind of power. You would be a god to have this under your control.
Throw a switch and the raw, terrifying force of nature crimps down into cables and transformers — becoming the hum of millions of refrigerators across South America.
Every time you walk into a room and turn on the lights, every familiar tone of an Apple computer coming awake carries a grain of river, a hundredth of a kilowatt of what groups like NRDC and Patagonia Sin Represas wants you to think is sacred.
Kayaks take the run, skating across the water, airborne for moments. This is how you do it without taming the river, without conquering or consuming its power. You become a feather on a current and suddenly the river’s power is at your fingertips.
by Chris Kasaar
Images of the magnificence of Patagonia abound: snow-capped peaks, flowing rivers, pristine forests, indigenous people, beautiful cultural traditions. Visual depictions of this amazing land and the people who call it home are the first thing that you notice when you arrive in this region of Chile – in airports, airplanes, restaurants, cafes, hardware mega-stores, on roadside billboards… Everywhere.
However, despite an obvious national pride for the area, the wild character of Patagonia is at risk. This is why each member of our team of 7, also known as “Rios Libres”, have spent the last few days working our way here from various points on the globe. There’s a proposal to put 5 dams on 2 of Patagonia’s most pristine rivers and we’re down here to do our damndest to create something that will help draw international attention to the issue.
by Craig Childs
This is how we reach the interior of Patagonia: spider-webbed windshield and a blown-out side-view mirror on a Mitsubishi 4×4 van carrying a crest of kayaks. A long and dusty road wanders beneath enormous summits. We come around the corner to find our raft listing badly, a wheel missing from the trailer, axle bent. How many times have you been in this position: foreign country, sitting on the side of a road, things gone awry? It’s how it works. You can only bring so much schedule and expectation into a wild place. Uncapping a bottle of pisco, we each take a shot. It is what must be done.
A flatbed the size of a yacht grinds up the road and Timmy O’neill flags it down. Our entire assemblage soon gets hoisted atop it, tied down, and we are gone again. Small miracles are everywhere. The kindness and openness out here saves us at every turn. I cannot help but think of that same kindness buried under earthquake rubble, families out here who have lost people they love. The memory and dread follows us as word comes of aftershocks and body counts. Lives are so fragile we can do nothing from here but pray.
Still driving that night, we watch the full moon rise through the Andes. The river sings in the river below. Meanwhile, this continent grinds against its neighboring plate. Everything is in motion.
Dawn. I walk through the town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo to where the river meets a broad, blue-eyed lake. The arc of the sky tilts, moon sets into peaks and glaciers. The sun cracks through a high ridge. I think, these simple faces of morning would be the same if dams were here, if this pristine valley were choked with buildings and smoke, but our lives would be changed. Only one god would remain, the small gods of these round, glistening stones, and the loud mumble of the Rio Tranquilo gone.
By sunset, we reach our put-in. The Rio Baker begins.
Osprey Note: Osprey Athlete Timmy O’Neill is in Patagonia, Chile this month with James Q. Martin and company for a descent of the Rio Baker in order to capture the epic beauty and adventure of this ancient Aysen waterway. They are documenting the trip to aid local NGOs in their efforts to prevent the river from being dammed.