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Teresa Zañartu: In Chile we cannot let the left appropriate environmentalism

Teresa Zañartu, Constitutional Program Director at the Jaime Guzmán Foundation

Chile has a unique geographical position, which provides a wide variety of climates and landscapes. From the dry desert up north in the Atacama, to the steep, freezing peaks of Torres del Paine; from over four thousand kilometres of coastline, to the impenetrable barrier of the Andes, Chile is a country of natural diversity, even natural contradiction. As such, it is home to many endemic species of plants and animals and has the third biggest reservoir of fresh water worldwide. It is a haven of biodiversity.

Thanks to its geographical uniqueness, Chile is rich in natural resources: the biggest shares of its annual income come from the export of materials like copper, lithium, and wood. Many of these will be even more sought after in the years to come thanks to their importance in the road to sustainability, and the money they produce helps fund the government programmes that make the ever-growing list of social rights a reality. Economically, Chile is still, first and foremost, an exporter of raw materials.

Thus, in the 21st century, with climate change threatening life as Chileans know it, the country seems to face a crossroads: does it protect its natural resources or exploit them to produce the income necessary for the development of its people? But the crossroads is not real: there is no need to choose one or the other. However much the left keeps feeding this false narrative, Chile can, and must, combine economic growth, with the effective protection of nature. We cannot let ideology prevail over human welfare.

It is true that environmental issues have become urgent, and that the current global situation demands that governments place sustainability in the centre of their policies. Chile - just like the rest of the world - cannot continue to sleep on pressing matters such as protection of its water sources, wildlife conservation or carbon emissions. However, while the economy cannot be forsaken, it doesn’t need to be. It is thanks to the private entrepreneurship and human ingenuity that flourish with capitalism that new technologies are invented which can boost our fight against the climate crisis and produce wealth for nations to grow, which is especially important in developing countries such as Chile.

There is no need to discard capitalism: with education, powerful legislation and regulation, the environment and the economy can be strong allies. A free market economy can be sustainable. Leftist solutions would leave Chile with a crippling economy unable to satisfy the needs of its people, and with no private-developed technologies to fight climate change. Ecosystems would be unchanged, but at what cost?

This is why the constitutional moment Chile is experiencing is a perfect opportunity to create a new deal on the environment. The right must stand for truth, scientific evidence, and the people: we can develop while we protect our natural diversity. This can be achieved by the consecration of effective sustainable principles and specific legal derivations: the Constitution itself cannot create a green economy, but it must lay the foundations over which codified law can. We cannot let the left appropriate environmentalism: putting the planet over human flourishing is no more acceptable than the reverse. Chile has a privileged chance to pioneer on the issue. It is time to act, but we must act right.


Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to

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