While many rich people do less than they are able to in order to help others and the environment — despite being responsible for an overwhelming portion of the damage caused to it in many ways, including their use of super yachts and private jets — one wealthy couple has shown the world that there is another option for One Percenters.
Kris Tompkins, a former CEO of Patagonia whose father was in the oil industry, and her late husband Doug Tompkins, one of the founders of The North Face Inc. and Esprit, spent over $345 million on land in South America that they then returned to the Chilean and Argentinian public, as Reasons to Be Cheerful has reported.
The Tompkins’ gifts to the governments of these two countries, completed in 2019, constituted the largest private land donation in history, as CBS News reported that year. In total, they created or significantly enlarged six national parks, conserving 14.7 million acres of land and 30 million marine acres, per Reasons to Be Cheerful. The land will remain protected for at least 99 years, according to the agreements with the governments.
However, in giving this land back to the public, Kris Tompkins realized that it was not enough to simply un-privatize the property — it was also crucial to safeguard the species that lived there. South American species, like species across the globe, are under threat from the effects of human-caused pollution.
“It’s not enough to protect the land. We have to bring back the species that have been missing,” Tompkins told Reasons to Be Cheerful. “Landscape without wildlife is just scenery. We consider the extinction crisis the mother of all crises that must be addressed. The entire ecosphere and its future depend on healthy, vibrant and rich biodiversity.”
Through the organization Tompkins Conservation, she began directing efforts to ensure the survival of several threatened species, such as the Huemul deer, and rewilding species, like the collared peccary, the Andean condor, Darwin’s Rhea, green and red macaws, tapirs, and giant anteaters. The effort marked the first time macaws or anteaters had ever been rewilded, according to Reasons to Be Cheerful.
At a time when our society’s wealthiest members are continually vacuuming up money and resources, making our world less livable for everyone else, the Tompkins’ work is a beautiful — but extremely rare — example of how the ultra-wealthy could actually make a huge difference, if they cared to.
Returning the land to the people of Chile and Argentina was “a kind of capitalist jujitsu move. We deployed private wealth from our business lives … to protect nature from being devoured by the hand of the global economy,” Tompkins said.
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