For years I’ve dreamed about figuring out a way to protect Cochamo from development—whether in the form of damming, mining, timber, or industrial. I envisioned something along the lines of what Doug and Kris Tompkins had done for other Chilean wildernesses: Parque Pumalin, or Parque Patagonia.

I had visited both previously, and they left a major impact on me. The Tompkins strove with both parks to protect not just indigenous flora and fauna, but indigenous cultures, practices, and ways of life. In other words—incorporating human inhabitants with sustainable practices into the ecosystems we preserve, rather than removing them. What they’ve done in South America is the future of conservation, while Disneyland-style amusement parks like Yosemite are a thing of the past.

I know what I’ll do,

I thought, one harebrained day:

I’ll contact Doug Tompkins!

Doug Tompkins, the North Face founder

Doug Tompkins. Photo: Sam Beebe

So I sent a long rambling email to the contact page for Tompkins Conservation. I never expected him to actually get back to me. I didn’t expect his secretary to get back to me, or an automated message to get back to me. I’m used to a world where many people just don’t get back to you—why would a bazillionaire with more on his plate than I could ever imagine get back to a random bum like me?

I don’t know. But in September of 2014, a week after my 30th birthday, he did.

Not his secretary, but Doug, himself. To me, this was like getting a personal letter from the president. I stared in disbelief at his words, reading and re-reading them. He didn’t have the time or resources to help me with my project (which I expected all along, I think). But he was encouraging, and also, more confident and uplifting about the state of conservation in the world today than I ever would have allowed myself to be. He made me excited about the future, which is not something many people are able to do.

I thanked Doug via email, and that was that. We never spoke again. But I always hoped (and maybe even guessed) that one day I would meet him in real life, to thank him for his words, and work. I believe Doug was a great man, and I am sorry now that he is gone. It is a great loss, and my heart goes out to those who were close to him.

Below, I have included the text from Doug’s letter to me. I hope it will provide anyone reading with the same encouragement, and excitement, that it provided me.

The environmental movement is unstoppable

… thanks in part, Doug, to you.


Hello Chris,

Thank you for your long letter which was forwarded to me from our office in San Francisco.

Yes of course I know about Cochamo, now for many years, and the Endesa project on the Puelo, the power lines and so forth. This is just one more example of an out of control economy hell bent on growth at all costs and to hell with the environment, landscapes, beauty or the secondary impacts of a population with too much cheap energy (humanity has always gotten in trouble with too much energy). Chile is in the same bag as virtually all the countries in the world. This is the reason however, that there is an environmental movement. Otherwise, in an ideal world there would be no need for one.

As for our organization’s involvement in the issue at hand there in the Manso/Puelo watershed we are just simply up and over our heads with other activist questions, and other conservation projects that take up more time and resources that we actually have. In fact, my poor wife is out hustling for support from around the world as it is. I haven’t a spare second to do another thing. We are maxed out, in other words with things already in the pipeline, so for that reason alone we just can not participate in another campaign. This will have to be done by people like yourself rallying others to the cause, much like anywhere in the world. But, with determination, perseverance, high energy, good ideas and lots of hard work you may find yourself getting what it is you want to do done.

So, on this one you will have our best wishes and solidarity in spirit if not in person or with our organization’s help, but don’t let that discourage you in the least. It is always this way in these things. The campaign against Endesa which was a marvelous coalition of some 60 organizations (some of course more involved than others), won an epic victory over the Goliath of Endesa/ENEL that no one thought could be done. So good things happen when enough good people put their minds to it. I wish you all the best of luck.

Remember too , that the environmental movement is unstoppable. If you look back and see where the modern environmental movement began (circa 1960) and where it is today, it has been a non stop continual exponential growth. There is no sign in any sector that this growth is stopping or receding. It is however, a response to the massive overshoot of “development” and the Myth of Progress, and from the looks of it the developers are going for broke, and perhaps it will be the broken economy and culture that will result, but meanwhile there is nothing more righteous than to get up each morning and work with spirited people to put the friction on bad development. In the case of mega-centrales (dams) they are obsolete and out of date now, new solar energy is coming in fast and the environmental movement’s task is to stop these projects only for a few more years until the tide shifts into renewable solar (wind and sun) and politics and economics dictate that this is the only way to go. I would say that in 5-8 years from now there will be no contemplation of big dams anymore, that era will have passed. That is my view on it, if it helps you a bit in your thinking.

All the best,
Doug T.


If you found these words from Doug inspirational, don’t share this post, or click a like button, or update your status (I mean, you can do that… but don’t JUST do that). Let them become a part of your ethos. Absorb them into your own worldview, allow them to inform your optimism and guide your energy through this world. Whatever Goliath you find yourself up against, whatever impossible odds stand between you and your dreams, pick up a stone, and start taking aim.

Remember too, that the environmental movement is unstoppable … meanwhile there is nothing more righteous than to get up each morning and work with spirited people to put the friction on bad development.

– Doug Tompkins

Learn more about Tompkins Conservation, and don’t forget to vote.

This article was originally published on Chris Kalman’s website, Fringe’s Folly—a climbing media platform for the purists, dirtbags, and salty oldtimers who live climbing.

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