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Big Philanthropy, Big Conservation: Spectacularizing Nature in Chilean Patagonia

Authors: Clare Beer*, University of California, Los Angeles
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Latin America
Keywords: environmental philanthropy, conservation, resource spectacle, state-natures
Session Type: Paper
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Chile’s public conservation estate has expanded by unprecedented margins in recent years, owing to several large-scale designations of marine and terrestrial protected areas, including the Route of Parks (RoP) project in Chilean Patagonia. This paper considers the role of two coupled forces behind these designations, big philanthropy and resource spectacle, arguing that both have been key to compelling the state to take actions it would not have otherwise. International philanthropic foundations such as Tompkins Conservation and the Pew Charitable Trusts have campaigned to increase the state’s protection of Chilean Patagonia by framing local ecologies as a spectacular natural resource too valuable not to conserve. Born out of this campaign, the RoP proposes an alternative development model for the region based on conservation instead of extraction. The RoP turns on spectacle and speculation in a number of senses, from leveraging imagery and imaginaries of Chilean Patagonia as ‘the last wild place on Earth’ to stoke tourism markets and raise $65 million in philanthropic capital for a conservation finance fund, to speculating that protected areas will become more profitable than copper mining to the national economy. In contrast to resource spectacles courting buy-in from investors, big philanthropy in Chile conjures conservation in Patagonia as a resource spectacle in order to court buy-in from the state. Its success with the RoP suggests that spectacle not only operates as a social relation, following Debord, but also as a political relation, with considerable potential for shaping environmental governance and the production of state-natures.

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