Vision and Values
The Crux of It: Saving Biodiversity, and Leading Others to Do the Same
We see the loss of biodiversity as the greatest crisis of our time. The sheer number of humans and the scale of our impact on the Earth have triggered the most massive wave of extinctions since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. Unraveling ecosystems and associated species loss are severely undermining the planet’s ecological health, upon which all of us, non-human and humans alike, depend. Climate change now threatens to accelerate this assault on biodiversity.
We believe that humans have an ethical obligation to share the planet with other species, and that we must reorient our values and activities so that all forms of life can flourish. Toward this end, we direct our energies to park creation, activism, restoration, and ecological agriculture. Throughout diverse programs, we uphold our commitment to a common set of ideals: ecologically grounded local economies; local, renewable energy production; thoughtful, place-appropriate architecture and design; and meaningful work for individuals and communities. For a longer discussion on the environmental ethics and ecocentric thinking that guide our work, see here, where we share a more complete treatment of this highly nuanced subject.
We focus on environmental and conservation work (including agriculture) while supporting in spirit other progressive social movements. However, since we see that many foundations exclusively fund social justice, antiwar, and women’s issues, we direct our limited resources toward the areas where we can have the biggest impact and have the most experience: conservation and environmental activism.
Our Areas of Focus
We believe in the enduring value of wildness: our conservation work aims to conserve big, wild landscapes with their full complement of native species, including keystone species such as pumas and jaguars. We strive to inspire others to recognize the value in doing so, and to do the same themselves. The means to these ends? National parks. Read more
Ecological restoration is a “growth industry” and the work of the future: since we humans have degraded so much of the planet, we have almost endless opportunities to return ecosystems to health. While Nature left alone will begin to regain its balance, oftentimes thoughtful, direct actions can jumpstart the restoration process. We find it tremendously rewarding to play a role in restoring ecosystems, whether in the form of reviving habitat, monitoring wildlife species, or even reintroducing extirpated keystone species. Read more
Agriculture affects more of the land than any other human activity; for that reason, we devote substantial attention to developing more ecologically sound forms of agriculture. It is our contention that preserving wildlands and developing model organic agricultural systems are complementary areas of work. We strive to make conservation a consequence of production: that is, for agriculture and other productive activities to further, not diminish, conservation aims. Read more
The late Ed Abbey said, “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” We agree. Action takes many forms, from conserving threatened landscapes to educating the next generation of environmentalists. When shortsighted and selfish industrial activities threaten to undermine our conservation initiatives, we feel compelled to stand up and fight back. The combination of legal action and citizen pressure has won many campaigns, protecting conservation gains for generations to come. Read more
Some of Our Guiding Concepts
If humanity is to build a truly sustainable economy, we will have to abandon the premise of perpetual economic growth on a finite planet. Doing so will entail a shift from the globalized economy toward local economies adapted to particular places. In many places, this shift has already begun.
Local economies allow us to visualize the footprint of the products we use and to witness where our energy comes from. Transportation costs and energies are minimized. What we eat and consume takes direction from what our communities produce. We strive toward the ideal of making human economies small (and nontoxic) subsets of Nature’s economy.
To lead this transition, our teams have worked with local craftsmen to develop small-scale businesses that produce artisanal products such as honey (sold under the Pillán Organics label) woolen blankets, sweaters, wooden goods, and other crafts. These “cottage industries” provide jobs in the rural communities around our park projects. Our farms and ranches strive to produce for local markets and incorporate themselves into the local economy as extensively as possible. At our conservation and agro-ecology projects, we build facilities using local and/or recycled materials (locally quarried stone, recycled beams and shingles, recycled furnishings). Skilled local craftsmen play a key role in upholding regional style.
While we don’t expect that the global economy can be entirely reshaped in the near future, we experiment and strive to model what a place-based eco-local economy can look like on a small scale. Twenty years of hands-on, practical implementation have taught us plenty about what may actually succeed in the regions where we work.
Local, Renewable Energy
Modern society and its economy turn on energy. We hear frequently about looming energy constraints. The real question is: do we have an energy shortage or too large a demand? The current energy economy, supported by a one-time bonanza of fossil fuels and augmented by nuclear plants and mega-dams, inflicts massive damages on Nature and humans. We must reorient our economies to use only non-polluting, local, small-scale energy sources that do not diminish biodiversity, change the climate, or reduce beauty in our lives.
We believe the future energy economy will be based on distributed generation from locally appropriate renewables. Our conservation projects and small farms in Chile are incorporating small-scale hydropower, and we are implementing an energy plan for the future Patagonia National Park that would make it the world’s first national park run entirely on local, renewable energy.
Beauty as a Basic: Designing with Nature
Humans have an instinctual affinity toward beauty: in landscapes (both natural and cultivated), in designed spaces, in each other. We recognize the importance of this value, and witness how aesthetically pleasing places and objects attract care and respect. Nature’s beauty is a potent but often overlooked tool for inspiring ecological awareness: people take action to protect what they love.
We strive to promote beauty in the world around us, heeding the words of Josiah Stamp, who said: “Indifference to the aesthetic will in the long run lessen the economic product... attention to the aesthetic will increase economic welfare.” Too many ugly, carelessly constructed facilities already exist on earth, and we see no need to add to this trend.
At our park projects, spectacular wild landscapes and harmonious, well-designed human spaces model a balanced relationship between Nature and humans, in which human additions to the landscape pay heed to their surroundings. At our agricultural projects, well maintained, simple but elegant buildings, gardens and fields symbolize a respectful, deliberate approach to production.
In designing structures, we explore how the built environment becomes a tool for supporting thoughtful land stewardship and healthy communities. To us, good design requires careful ecological thinking. Human-created structures should harmonize with their landscape settings. Buildings should be energy efficient, use local materials, and carry forward cultural and historical patterns.
Our conservation and ecological agriculture projects have provided hundreds of Chileans and Argentines with engaging, challenging jobs that actively work toward a better future for the planet. Volunteer and intern programs at our park and farm projects have provided nearly one thousand interested conservationists with the opportunity to engage in hands-on work.
One definition of meaningful work is doing something in life that does not contribute to soil depletion or species extinction or increase climate change. Some might say that doesn’t leave many options—but we believe there are abundant opportunities to do useful work restoring damaged landscapes and rebuilding economies that are adapted to local conditions.
Reducing our ecological footprints is the fundamental challenge of our time. Imagination, good will, a love for all Nature and care for our own human societies can lead to meaningful work and therefore to a meaningful life.
Uniting Conservation and Environmental Activism
We got started as environmental activists long before we became conservationists, joining campaigns to clean up oil spills, push for clean drinking water, oppose proposed clearcuts, debate nuclear energy development, raise awareness of overconsumption, and more. Each campaign taught us the power of uniting people to advocate for the common goods of environmental protection and sound natural resource management. Now, half a century since birth of the “modern environmental movement” (dating from the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring), we see that this force has been unstoppable. Despite setbacks, awareness and concern about environmental issues continue to grow.
Many of our colleagues in the conservation movement express hesitation about getting involved in environmental activism. However, long-term protection of conservation areas requires putting political pressure on decision makers, pushing for strong legislation, and bringing corporate misdeeds to light. Stirring up a bit of controversy can be a useful tool for generating public awareness around issues that otherwise remain fringe concerns. Debates on resource management and conservation need a higher profile, so we encourage fellow conservationists to adopt the tactics of environmental activists and embrace the media attention that comes along with that.