Woven Landscapes

Romy Hecht M. For Lofscapes
Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi <> © YouTube (2015)

Today we propose the possible applicability of the notion of deep ecology in a country like ours that, as we know, during the 1970s had different concerns and passions than those surrounding the celebration of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

In recent weeks we have been surrounded by information about the tragic death of the American Douglas Tompkins, founder of the North Face and Esprit companies, but better known to Chileans, particularly for the peoples of northern Patagonia, as “a billionaire gringo environmentalist who arrived [to Palena in 1990] from San Francisco to save the forests and, along the way, the planet”(1). As good Chileans, I have no doubt that we all have our own opinions about Tompkins’ actions and I can assure you that no one is lukewarm about him, regardless of whether you come from the side led by Christian Democratic politician Belisario Velasco or environmental activist Sara Larraín.

(1) See William Langewiesche, “Eden: A Gated Community,” The Atlantic (June 1999).

For this reason, it seems more relevant to raise here the central idea of deep ecology, an absolutist vision of the environment coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1973. According to Naess, all elements of nature, living or inanimate, have equal weight and value; Man is not a superior being and, therefore, his social practices have to be challenged, particularly the excessive use of technology and addiction to economic standards (2). Under these principles, in his quarter of a century in Chile, Tompkins bought about 600,000 hectares of land, founded a series of environmental groups − Patagonian Conservation, Pumalín Foundation and Yendegaia Foundation, among others − and built Pumalín as an ecological community demonstrating that it is possible to live better if you are in direct contact with nature, or with what is left of it. All Tompkins’ efforts were consistently associated with restoring lands to their primitive and pre-human condition, leading, for example, to selling the animals included in the acquired properties, removing dividing fences, and incessantly extracting invasive plants.

(2) See Naess, “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement,” Inquiry 16 (1973), 95-100.

Between the ideas of Naess and Tompkins’ pragmatism for executing them, it is possible to find a wide range of authors from the US who, in equivalent terms, have shown us that nature and culture are inseparable, i.e. our anthropic transformations of and manifestations in the natural systems we inhabit cannot be separated. Just read John Muir, Edward Abbey, John McPhee, Wendell Berry, Anne Dilliard, Bill McKibben or Michael Pollan. However, in a country like Chile, lacking practices − philanthropic or institutional − associated with the conservation of natural systems and regulations that can overcome the banality imposed by the legislative notion of “landscape value,” or “the portion of territory, visually perceivable that has a unique scenic beauty derived from the interaction of the natural elements that compose it”(3), how can we build an intermediate space between the global environmental and pro-national trenches?

(3) See Reglamento del Sistema de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental (Standards for System of Environmental Impact Assessment) D.S. Nº95/01, modified 26/01/2011).

Throughout 2015, we have sought to position LOFscapes as a possible path by subscribing to the idea that the landscape is that intermediate space and that it has to be identified, understood and visualized as an evolutionary, historical, dynamic and connected continuum between natural and anthropic systems. In our hands, we have the opportunity to evoke, but at the same time overcome the nostalgia of what I believe are the two emblematic narratives of the problem we have at hand: the vision of Joni Mitchell when visiting Hawaii for the first time (“Big Yellow Taxi” in Ladies of the Canyon, 1970) and that of Marvin Gaye in transmitting the rejection of a Vietnam War veteran who returns to North America (“Mercy Mercy Me” (The Ecology) in What’s Going On, 1971). And along the way, we need to realize that the most important thing Tompkins did in Chile was precisely to try to impose a radical idea that forces us to think collectively how to conserve biodiversity without separating nature and culture, science and politics.

Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) <> © YouTube (2015)