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A Park for the People / Geographical

We’ve come in the blue light of dawn, hoping to catch the private security personnel off guard. Tomás idles the truck over the Rio Colorado towards the mountain hamlet of Alfalfal. The once- sleepy settlement of herdsmen and homesteaders is today obscured behind the great orange wall of the monstrous 531MW Alto Maipo hydropower construction project.

Our cab is stuffed with Chilean mountain guides, conservationists and activists. The bed is packed with ice axes, crampons, five days’ mountain food, camera equipment and an inflatable kayak. ‘Over there,’ says Tomás pointing to a stadium-sized concrete paved pool. ‘That’s where I use to play football in the grass.’ We sink low in our seats, bracing against the cold shadow of the cliffs above us as much as to remain out of sight of the checkpoint. Tomás, Vivi, Felipe and I have spent the past ten years trespassing in the central Chilean Andes to gain access to its privatised and prohibited mountains. But the plan for this expedition is by far the most outrageous.

Extract from the eight page feature story and photo set I created from our October 2020 clandestine expedition into the Río Colorado Estate. I put together a team of mountain guides, conservationists, activists and hired a mule herder to take us for five days into this 142,000 hectare territory on the outskirts of Santiago. Our aim was to explore the citizen led Queremos Parque (We Want a A Park) campaign that has gained majority support in the parliament and senate to declare an accessible national park for the capital’s 7million that would potentially be the biggest conservation story in Chilean history. Along the way our team made the first ever recorded ascent of Cerro El Barco and the highest known descent of the Rio Colorado. 

Many thanks to supporting comment from Senator Alfonso de Urresti, Kristine Tompkins, James Hardcastle from the IUCN, Viviana Callahan, Tomás Gonzales and Felipe Cancino; as well as expedition logistical support from Alpacka rafts and Patagonia Chile. 

Subscribers can read the full story in the February 2021 edition of the magazine. Out today. 

 

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Investigation. Anglo American’s error undermines its promise of no glacier impacts for $3bn Chilean copper project / Desmog

For the last year I have been investigating a local glacier contamination story, with an impact that is experienced by Santiago’s 7million. 

When mining company Anglo American released a “Fake News” statement partly in response to my previous investigation into the CO2 emissions associated with their Los Bronces operations, they added that their glacier contamination was “less than 10% of the Swiss norm.”

I followed up with the Swiss Office for the Environment and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research. The finding was that the ambient limit values for glacier contamination that the mining company has been using to justify current operations and their future Los Bronces Integrado expansion – don’t apply to glaciers at all.

Following the publication of the article, the local mayor Cristóbal Lira announced an investigation into the compliance by Anglo American with its environmental commitments.

I would like to express deep thanks to the glaciologists, air pollution scientists, environmental lawyers, NGOs and members of Chilean civil society who supported this investigation.

You can read the article here as originally published by DeSmog; or here for Chilean investigative news site Interferencia, in Spanish.

 

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Child soldier to world class ultra runner / Red Bull

Photo courtesy of Martina Valmassoi

There once was a Nepalese village girl called Mira Rae. From age 12 she worked all day carrying 28kg bags of rice to market.

At 15, she sneaked away from her village to join the Maoist guerrilla army. In the jungle she learned that she could be as strong as any boy. She practiced karate. And she carried a gun. 

When the war finished, Mira stumbled into a 50K race. And won.

She didn’t stop there. She carried on running. Going on to win on the world stage at the Marathon du Mont Blanc.

I was asked by Red Bull to tell Mira’s story. With lots of patient help from Mira and her good friend Keilem Ching, you can follow her journey.

Read it here

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Coronavirus’ real impact on the climate / Geographical

Covid-19 has forced us to reduce destructive atmospheric behaviours and has reminded us that we are at the mercy of nature.

This March I discussed with climate behavioural psychologist Paul Hoggett how the current viral crisis could affect our response and engagement as a species with the climate crisis. 

Published by Geographical, the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society.

Click to open and read in new tab. 

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A Climate of Inequality / Patagon Journal

For video reporting (in Spanish) from the streets of Santiago during the October social crisis, click this link. 

In the 21st issue of Patagon Journal I wrote and provided the photography for the lead story, “A Climate of Inequality.”

On the eve of the October 18th 2019 social crisis in Chile I was in the coastal town of Quintero, in an area commonly referred to be Chileans as a zona de sacrifico (sacrifice zone). Quintero is very close to an industrial corridor where multiple coal power plants and a national copper smelter  have been linked to chronic and acute air pollution incidents. I was meeting the Durán family that day, who are being broken up as they struggle to relocate their son to safety after he began passing blood in his stool as a result of exposure to the contamination.

I travelled back on the bus to Santiago that night, following increasingly dramatic reports of rioting in the city, until I could see the burning barricades for myself out of the window. 

The social crisis over rampant inequality  in Chile has strong links to the environmental crisis according to the head of the Chilean for Climate Science and Resilience CR(2), Maisa Rojas. 

I picked up these nexus issue of social-enviro-climate justice in Chile, for the Climate of Inequality story. You can subscribe to the magazine and read it here