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  • Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • My siblings and I grew up on our great-grandfather's farm

  • in California.

  • It was a landscape of our family and our home.

  • When it was clear that nobody in our generation

  • wanted to take on the heavy burden of ranching,

  • the ranch was sold to a neighbor.

  • The anchor of our lives was cut,

  • and we felt adrift in the absence of that land.

  • For the first time, I came to understand

  • that something valuable can be best understood

  • not by its presence,

  • but by its absence.

  • It was impossible to know then

  • just how powerful the absence of those things we love

  • would have an impact far into my future.

  • For 23 years, my working life was with Yvon Chouinard.

  • I started when he was designing and manufacturing

  • technical rock and ice climbing equipment

  • in a tin shed near the railroad tracks in Ventura.

  • And when Yvon decided to start making clothes for climbers

  • and call this business Patagonia,

  • I became one of the first six employees,

  • later becoming CEO

  • and helping build a company

  • where creating the best products and doing good by the world

  • was more than just a tagline.

  • Doug Tompkins, who would become my husband years later,

  • was an old friend and climbing companion of Yvon's

  • and also an entrepreneur.

  • He cofounded The North Face and Esprit company.

  • All three of these businesses

  • were created by people who had grown up through the '60s,

  • shaped by the civil rights, antiwar, feminist and peace movements.

  • And those values were picked up in those years

  • and carried throughout the values of these companies.

  • By the end of the 1980s,

  • Doug decided to leave business altogether

  • and commit the last third of his life to what he called

  • "paying his rent for living on the planet."

  • At nearly the same time, when I hit 40,

  • I was ready to do something completely new with my life.

  • The day after retiring from the Patagonia company,

  • I flew 6,000 miles to Patagonia the place

  • and joined Doug as he started what was the first conservation project

  • of that third of his life.

  • There we were, refugees from the corporate world,

  • holed up in a cabin on the coast in southern Chile,

  • surrounded by primaeval rainforest

  • where alerce trees can live for thousands of years.

  • We were in the middle of a great wilderness

  • that forms one of the only two gaps in the Pan-American highway,

  • between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Cape Horn.

  • A radical change to our daily lives

  • spurred on as we had begun to recognize

  • how beauty and diversity were being destroyed

  • pretty much everywhere.

  • The last wild protected places on earth

  • were still wild

  • mostly because the relentless front lines of development

  • simply hadn't arrived there yet.

  • Doug and I were in one of the most remote parts on earth,

  • and still around the edges of Pumalín Park,

  • our first conservation effort,

  • industrial aquaculture was growing like a malignancy.

  • Before too long, other threats arrived to the Patagonia region.

  • Gold mining, dam projects on pristine rivers

  • and other growing conflicts.

  • The vibration of stampeding economic growth worldwide

  • could be heard even in the highest latitudes of the Southern Cone.

  • I know that progress is viewed, generally, in very positive terms,

  • as some sort of hopeful evolution.

  • But from where we sat,

  • we saw the dark side of industrial growth.

  • And when industrial worldviews are applied to natural systems

  • that support all life,

  • we begin to treat the Earth

  • as a factory that produces all the things that we think we need.

  • As we're all painfully aware,

  • the consequences of that worldview are destructive to human welfare,

  • our climate systems and to wildlife.

  • Doug called it the price of progress.

  • That's how we saw things,

  • and we wanted to be a part of the resistance,

  • pushing up against all of those trends.

  • The idea of buying private land and then donating it

  • to create national parks

  • isn't really new.

  • Anyone who has ever enjoyed the views of Teton National Park in Wyoming

  • or camped in Acadia National Park in Maine

  • has benefited from this big idea.

  • Through our family foundation,

  • we began to acquire wildlife habitat in Chile and Argentina.

  • Being believers in conservation biology,

  • we were going for big, wild and connected.

  • Areas that were pristine, in some cases,

  • and others that would need time to heal,

  • that needed to be rewild.

  • Eventually, we bought more than two million acres

  • from willing sellers,

  • assembling them into privately managed protected areas,

  • while building park infrastructure as camp grounds and trails

  • for future use by the general public.

  • All were welcome.

  • Our goal was to donate all of this land in the form of new national parks.

  • You might describe this as a kind of capitalist jujitsu move.

  • We deployed private wealth from our business lives

  • and deployed it to protect nature

  • from being devoured by the hand of the global economy.

  • It sounded good,

  • but in the early '90s in Chile,

  • where wildlands philanthropy, which is what we called it,

  • was completely unknown,

  • we faced tremendous suspicion,

  • and from many quarters, downright hostility.

  • Over time, largely by doing what we said we were doing,

  • we began to win people over.

  • Over the last 27 years,

  • we've permanently protected nearly 15 million acres

  • of temperate rainforest,

  • Patagonian step grasslands,

  • coastal areas,

  • freshwater wetlands,

  • and created 13 new national parks.

  • All comprised of our land donations

  • and federal lands adjoining those territories.

  • After Doug's death following a kayaking accident

  • four years ago,

  • the power of absence hit home again.

  • But we at Tompkins Conservation leaned in to our loss

  • and accelerated our efforts.

  • Among them, in 2018,

  • creating new marine national parks covering roughly 25 million acres

  • in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

  • No commercial fishing or extraction of any kind.

  • In 2019, we finalized the largest private land gift in history,

  • when our last million acres of conservation land in Chile

  • passed to the government.

  • A public-private partnership

  • that created five new national parks and expanded three others.

  • This ended up being an area larger than Switzerland.

  • All of our projects are the results of partnerships.

  • First and foremost with the governments of Chile and Argentina.

  • And this requires leadership

  • who understands the value of protecting the jewels of their countries,

  • not just for today, but long into the future.

  • Partnerships with like-minded conservation philanthropists as well

  • played a role in everything we've done.

  • Fifteen years ago,

  • we asked ourselves,

  • "Beyond protecting landscape,

  • what do we really have to do to create fully functioning ecosystems?"

  • And we began to ask ourselves, wherever we were working,

  • who's missing,

  • what species had disappeared

  • or whose numbers were low and fragile.

  • We also had to ask,

  • "How do we eliminate the very reason

  • that these species went extinct in the first place?"

  • What seems so obvious now

  • was a complete thunderbolt for us.

  • And it changed the nature of everything we do,

  • completely.

  • Unless all the members of the community are present and flourishing,

  • it's impossible for us to leave behind fully functioning ecosystems.

  • Since then, we've successfully reintroduced several native species

  • to the Iberá Wetlands:

  • giant anteaters,

  • pampas deer,

  • peccaries

  • and finally, one of the most difficult, the green-winged macaws,

  • who've gone missing for over 100 years in that ecosystem.

  • And today, they're back, flying free, dispensing seeds,

  • playing out their lives as they should be.

  • The capstone of these efforts in Iberá

  • is to return the apex carnivores to their rightful place.

  • Jaguars on the land, giant otters in the water.

  • Several years of trial and error produced young cubs

  • who will be released

  • for the first time in over half a century

  • into Iberá wetlands,

  • and now, the 1.7-million-acre Iberá Park will provide enough space

  • for recovering jaguar populations with low risk of conflict

  • with neighboring ranchers.

  • Our rewilding projects in Chile

  • are gaining ground on low numbers of several key species

  • in the Patagonia region.

  • The huemul deer that is truly nearly extinct,

  • the lesser rheas

  • and building the puma and fox populations back up.

  • You know, the power of the absent can't help us

  • if it just leads to nostalgia or despair.

  • To the contrary,

  • it's only useful if it motivates us

  • toward working to bring back what's gone missing.

  • Of course, the first step in rewilding

  • is to be able to imagine that it's possible in the first place.

  • That wildlife abundance recorded in journals

  • aren't just stories from some old dusty books.

  • Can you imagine that?

  • Do you believe the world could be more beautiful,

  • more equitable?

  • I do.

  • Because I've seen it.

  • Here's an example.

  • When we purchased one of the largest ranches

  • in Chile and Patagonia, in 2004,

  • it looked like this.

  • For a century, this land had been overgrazed by livestock,

  • like most grasslands around the world.

  • Soil erosion was rampant,

  • hundreds of miles of fencing

  • kept wildlife and its flow corralled.

  • And that was with the little wildlife that was left.

  • The local mountain lions and foxes had been persecuted for decades,

  • leaving their numbers very low.

  • Today, those lands are the 763,000-acre Patagonian National Park,

  • and it looks like this.

  • And Arcelio, the former gaucho,

  • whose job was to first find and kill mountain lions in the years past,

  • today is the head tracker for the park's wildlife team,

  • and his story captures the imagination of people around the world.

  • What is possible.

  • I share these thoughts and images with you not for self-congratulations,

  • but to make a simple point

  • and propose an urgent challenge.

  • If the question is survival,

  • survival of life's diversity and human dignity

  • and healthy human communities,

  • then the answer must include rewilding the Earth.

  • As much and as quickly as possible.

  • Everyone has a role to play in this,

  • but especially those of us with privilege,

  • with political power,

  • wealth,

  • where, let's face it, for better, for worse,

  • that's where the chess game of our future is played out.

  • And this gets to the core of the question.

  • Are we prepared to do what it takes to change the end of this story?

  • The changes the world has made in the past few months

  • to stop the spread of COVID-19

  • are so promising to me,

  • because it shows we can join forces under desperate circumstances.

  • What we're going through now could be a precursor

  • to the broader potential damage as a result of the climate crisis.

  • But without warning,

  • globally, we're learning to work together in ways we could never have imagined.

  • Having watched young people from around the world

  • rising up and going out into the streets

  • to remind us of our culpability and chastising us for our inaction

  • are the ones who really inspire me.

  • I know, you've heard all of this before.

  • But if there was ever a moment to awaken to the reality

  • that everything is connected to everything else,

  • it's right now.

  • Every human life is affected by the actions

  • of every other human life around the globe.