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Let's make the world wild again

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    My siblings and I grew up
    on our great-grandfather's farm
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    in California.
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    It was a landscape
    of our family and our home.
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    When it was clear
    that nobody in our generation
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    wanted to take on
    the heavy burden of ranching,
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    the ranch was sold to a neighbor.
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    The anchor of our lives was cut,
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    and we felt adrift
    in the absence of that land.
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    For the first time, I came to understand
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    that something valuable
    can be best understood
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    not by its presence,
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    but by its absence.
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    It was impossible to know then
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    just how powerful the absence
    of those things we love
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    would have an impact far into my future.
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    For 23 years, my working life
    was with Yvon Chouinard.
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    I started when he was designing
    and manufacturing
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    technical rock and ice climbing equipment
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    in a tin shed near
    the railroad tracks in Ventura.
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    And when Yvon decided
    to start making clothes for climbers
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    and call this business Patagonia,
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    I became one of the first six employees,
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    later becoming CEO
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    and helping build a company
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    where creating the best products
    and doing good by the world
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    was more than just a tagline.
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    Doug Tompkins, who would become
    my husband years later,
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    was an old friend and climbing
    companion of Yvon's
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    and also an entrepreneur.
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    He cofounded The North Face
    and Esprit company.
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    All three of these businesses
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    were created by people
    who had grown up through the '60s,
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    shaped by the civil rights, antiwar,
    feminist and peace movements.
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    And those values
    were picked up in those years
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    and carried throughout
    the values of these companies.
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    By the end of the 1980s,
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    Doug decided to leave business altogether
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    and commit the last third of his life
    to what he called
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    "paying his rent
    for living on the planet."
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    At nearly the same time, when I hit 40,
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    I was ready to do something
    completely new with my life.
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    The day after retiring
    from the Patagonia company,
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    I flew 6,000 miles to Patagonia the place
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    and joined Doug as he started
    what was the first conservation project
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    of that third of his life.
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    There we were, refugees
    from the corporate world,
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    holed up in a cabin on the coast
    in southern Chile,
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    surrounded by primaeval rainforest
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    where alerce trees
    can live for thousands of years.
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    We were in the middle
    of a great wilderness
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    that forms one of the only two gaps
    in the Pan-American highway,
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    between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Cape Horn.
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    A radical change to our daily lives
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    spurred on as we had begun to recognize
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    how beauty and diversity
    were being destroyed
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    pretty much everywhere.
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    The last wild protected places on earth
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    were still wild
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    mostly because the relentless
    front lines of development
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    simply hadn't arrived there yet.
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    Doug and I were in one
    of the most remote parts on earth,
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    and still around the edges
    of Pumalín Park,
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    our first conservation effort,
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    industrial aquaculture
    was growing like a malignancy.
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    Before too long, other threats
    arrived to the Patagonia region.
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    Gold mining, dam projects
    on pristine rivers
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    and other growing conflicts.
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    The vibration of stampeding
    economic growth worldwide
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    could be heard even in the highest
    latitudes of the Southern Cone.
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    I know that progress is viewed,
    generally, in very positive terms,
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    as some sort of hopeful evolution.
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    But from where we sat,
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    we saw the dark side of industrial growth.
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    And when industrial worldviews
    are applied to natural systems
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    that support all life,
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    we begin to treat the Earth
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    as a factory that produces all the things
    that we think we need.
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    As we're all painfully aware,
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    the consequences of that worldview
    are destructive to human welfare,
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    our climate systems and to wildlife.
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    Doug called it the price of progress.
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    That's how we saw things,
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    and we wanted to be a part
    of the resistance,
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    pushing up against all of those trends.
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    The idea of buying private land
    and then donating it
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    to create national parks
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    isn't really new.
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    Anyone who has ever enjoyed the views
    of Teton National Park in Wyoming
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    or camped in Acadia National Park in Maine
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    has benefited from this big idea.
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    Through our family foundation,
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    we began to acquire wildlife habitat
    in Chile and Argentina.
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    Being believers in conservation biology,
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    we were going for big, wild and connected.
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    Areas that were pristine, in some cases,
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    and others that would need time to heal,
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    that needed to be rewild.
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    Eventually, we bought
    more than two million acres
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    from willing sellers,
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    assembling them into privately
    managed protected areas,
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    while building park infrastructure
    as camp grounds and trails
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    for future use by the general public.
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    All were welcome.
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    Our goal was to donate all of this land
    in the form of new national parks.
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    You might describe this
    as a kind of capitalist jujitsu move.
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    We deployed private wealth
    from our business lives
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    and deployed it to protect nature
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    from being devoured by the hand
    of the global economy.
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    It sounded good,
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    but in the early '90s in Chile,
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    where wildlands philanthropy,
    which is what we called it,
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    was completely unknown,
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    we faced tremendous suspicion,
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    and from many quarters,
    downright hostility.
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    Over time, largely by doing
    what we said we were doing,
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    we began to win people over.
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    Over the last 27 years,
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    we've permanently protected
    nearly 15 million acres
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    of temperate rainforest,
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    Patagonian step grasslands,
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    coastal areas,
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    freshwater wetlands,
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    and created 13 new national parks.
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    All comprised of our land donations
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    and federal lands
    adjoining those territories.
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    After Doug's death
    following a kayaking accident
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    four years ago,
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    the power of absence hit home again.
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    But we at Tompkins Conservation
    leaned in to our loss
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    and accelerated our efforts.
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    Among them, in 2018,
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    creating new marine national parks
    covering roughly 25 million acres
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    in the southern Atlantic Ocean.
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    No commercial fishing
    or extraction of any kind.
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    In 2019, we finalized
    the largest private land gift in history,
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    when our last million acres
    of conservation land in Chile
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    passed to the government.
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    A public-private partnership
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    that created five new national parks
    and expanded three others.
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    This ended up being
    an area larger than Switzerland.
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    All of our projects
    are the results of partnerships.
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    First and foremost with the governments
    of Chile and Argentina.
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    And this requires leadership
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    who understands the value of protecting
    the jewels of their countries,
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    not just for today,
    but long into the future.
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    Partnerships with like-minded
    conservation philanthropists as well
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    played a role in everything we've done.
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    Fifteen years ago,
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    we asked ourselves,
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    "Beyond protecting landscape,
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    what do we really have to do
    to create fully functioning ecosystems?"
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    And we began to ask ourselves,
    wherever we were working,
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    who's missing,
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    what species had disappeared
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    or whose numbers were low and fragile.
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    We also had to ask,
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    "How do we eliminate the very reason
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    that these species went extinct
    in the first place?"
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    What seems so obvious now
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    was a complete thunderbolt for us.
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    And it changed the nature
    of everything we do,
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    completely.
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    Unless all the members of the community
    are present and flourishing,
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    it's impossible for us to leave behind
    fully functioning ecosystems.
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    Since then, we've successfully
    reintroduced several native species
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    to the Iberá Wetlands:
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    giant anteaters,
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    pampas deer,
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    peccaries
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    and finally, one of the most difficult,
    the green-winged macaws,
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    who've gone missing
    for over 100 years in that ecosystem.
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    And today, they're back,
    flying free, dispensing seeds,
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    playing out their lives as they should be.
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    The capstone of these efforts in Iberá
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    is to return the apex carnivores
    to their rightful place.
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    Jaguars on the land,
    giant otters in the water.
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    Several years of trial and error
    produced young cubs
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    who will be released
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    for the first time in over half a century
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    into Iberá wetlands,
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    and now, the 1.7-million-acre Iberá Park
    will provide enough space
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    for recovering jaguar populations
    with low risk of conflict
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    with neighboring ranchers.
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    Our rewilding projects in Chile
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    are gaining ground on low numbers
    of several key species
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    in the Patagonia region.
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    The huemul deer
    that is truly nearly extinct,
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    the lesser rheas
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    and building the puma
    and fox populations back up.
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    You know, the power
    of the absent can't help us
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    if it just leads to nostalgia or despair.
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    To the contrary,
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    it's only useful if it motivates us
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    toward working to bring back
    what's gone missing.
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    Of course, the first step in rewilding
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    is to be able to imagine
    that it's possible in the first place.
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    That wildlife abundance
    recorded in journals
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    aren't just stories
    from some old dusty books.
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    Can you imagine that?
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    Do you believe the world
    could be more beautiful,
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    more equitable?
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    I do.
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    Because I've seen it.
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    Here's an example.
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    When we purchased
    one of the largest ranches
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    in Chile and Patagonia, in 2004,
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    it looked like this.
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    For a century, this land
    had been overgrazed by livestock,
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    like most grasslands around the world.
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    Soil erosion was rampant,
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    hundreds of miles of fencing
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    kept wildlife and its flow corralled.
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    And that was with the little
    wildlife that was left.
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    The local mountain lions and foxes
    had been persecuted for decades,
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    leaving their numbers very low.
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    Today, those lands are the 763,000-acre
    Patagonian National Park,
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    and it looks like this.
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    And Arcelio, the former gaucho,
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    whose job was to first find and kill
    mountain lions in the years past,
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    today is the head tracker
    for the park's wildlife team,
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    and his story captures the imagination
    of people around the world.
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    What is possible.
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    I share these thoughts and images with you
    not for self-congratulations,
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    but to make a simple point
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    and propose an urgent challenge.
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    If the question is survival,
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    survival of life's diversity
    and human dignity
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    and healthy human communities,
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    then the answer must include
    rewilding the Earth.
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    As much and as quickly as possible.
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    Everyone has a role to play in this,
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    but especially those of us with privilege,
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    with political power,
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    wealth,
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    where, let's face it,
    for better, for worse,
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    that's where the chess game
    of our future is played out.
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    And this gets to the core of the question.
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    Are we prepared to do what it takes
    to change the end of this story?
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    The changes the world has made
    in the past few months
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    to stop the spread of COVID-19
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    are so promising to me,
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    because it shows we can join forces
    under desperate circumstances.
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    What we're going through now
    could be a precursor
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    to the broader potential damage
    as a result of the climate crisis.
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    But without warning,
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    globally, we're learning to work together
    in ways we could never have imagined.
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    Having watched young people
    from around the world
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    rising up and going out into the streets
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    to remind us of our culpability
    and chastising us for our inaction
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    are the ones who really inspire me.
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    I know, you've heard all of this before.
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    But if there was ever a moment
    to awaken to the reality
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    that everything is connected
    to everything else,
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    it's right now.
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    Every human life
    is affected by the actions
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    of every other human life
    around the globe.
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    And the fate of humanity
    is tied to the health of the planet.
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    We have a common destiny.
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    We can flourish
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    or we can suffer ...
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    But we're going to be doing it together.
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    So here's the truth.
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    We're so far past the point
    when individual action is an elective.
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    In my opinion, it's a moral imperative
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    that every single one of us
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    steps up to reimagine
    our place in the circle of life.
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    Not in the center,
    but as part of the whole.
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    We need to remember
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    that what we do
    reflects who we choose to be.
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    Let's create a civilization
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    that honors the intrinsic
    value of all life.
  • 15:26 - 15:28
    No matter who you are,
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    no matter what you have to work with,
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    get out of bed every single morning,
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    and do something that has nothing
    to do with yourself,
  • 15:38 - 15:44
    but rather having everything to do
    with those things you love.
  • 15:44 - 15:47
    With those things you know to be true.
  • 15:47 - 15:51
    Be someone who imagines human progress
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    to be something that moves us
    toward wholeness.
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    Toward health.
  • 15:56 - 15:58
    Toward human dignity.
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    And always,
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    and forever,
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    wild beauty.
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    Thank you.
Title:
Let's make the world wild again
Speaker:
Kristine Tompkins
Description:

Earth, humanity and nature are inextricably interconnected. To restore us all back to health, we need to "rewild" the world, says environmental activist Kristine Tompkins. Tracing her life from Patagonia CEO to passionate conservationist, she shares how she has helped to establish national parks across millions of acres of land (and sea) in South America -- and discusses the critical role we all have to play to heal the planet. "We have a common destiny," she says. "We can flourish or we can suffer, but we're going to be doing it together."

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
16:22

English subtitles

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