Nature is beautiful. Nothing quite tickles the soul like the thought of trekking through an unspoiled wilderness. Chile has plenty of it. Patagonia in particular, famous for being one of the least inhabited places in the world, just might be the place to go when you want to get away from it all and disappear into the wild. It is one of the last truly “virgin” territories in the world, and is home to renowned glaciers, lakes, and forests. Unfortunately, Patagonia is also at the center of a debate over whether destroying parts of it is necessary for the future of Chile.
The problem is, Chile has an energy shortage. Recently, Chile’s power needs have become so unfulfilled that a blackout left the capital, Santiago, in the dark and halted operations at the country’s copper miners. The Chilean government had toyed with the idea of nuclear power, but that idea has been shot to hell ever since the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. Like Japan, Chile also sits on the area of high seismic activity known as the Ring of Fire. The government also was discussing buying gas from Argentina, until the Argentine government drove up prices and then reneged on the idea.
Now, here comes to debate. The Chilean government wants to dam five rivers in Patagonia in order to increase Chile’s electrical capacity by 30 percent. The downside is that over 14,000 acres of land would be flooded. According to critics, the project would destroy countless numbers of plants, animals, and natural wonders while creating a 1,000 mile flood plain. In addition to the destruction caused by the dams, there will also be secondary effects, like the construction of power lines in the middle of a forest, and population growth in a rural area due to 5,000 workers building the dams over a ten year period.
The President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, has supported the project, arguing that Chile’s rapidly growing economy needs the added power. Recently a Chilean court “overturned the suspension” of the $7 billion project, bringing it one step closer to completion.
Choices are never easy, and I know I am not one to meddle in a serious decision that Chileans have to make on their own. Some are supporting the project and others are opposing it, and the decision lies with the elected leaders of the Chilean people. The choice between providing adequate power to a nation with an increasing growing population and rising economy, or protecting one of the world’s last great wildernesses, is a tough one. One can only hope that nations around the world find a way to balance progress and preservation.