Last October, Argentina passed a conservation law unique in the world, protecting the nation’s glaciers. Although the law, which primarily effects mining operations, suffered considerable resistance in this era of record gold prices, the government has finally began implementing the Glacier Law.
Argentina’s glaciers are among its most popular attractions, most famously Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares National Parks, as well as epic Perito Moreno Glacier. Even more importantly, these glaciers supply some 70% of Argentina’s drinking water.
The threat to Argentina’s glaciers from global warming is well known, and largely out of Argentina’s control. But, gold mining beneath the glaciers—a water intensive, high pollution industry—is something the government can curtail, and now will thanks to widespread popular support. As gold prices have risen, mining has increased, some 950% since 2003 in San Juan province alone, with exports soaring 4,400%. The Midas Touch, however, trades the region’s glittering future of water and ice for temporary profits.
Thus, the Ley de Protección de Glaciares was passed in 2010 (after being vetoed in 2008), with mines voluntarily implementing proposed regulations even before the preliminary inventory of glaciers began. Worries that the law would hobble the Argentine economy have been swept away with consistent growth ever since, clocking in at an impressive 8.2% for 2011 so far.
Moreover, Argentina’s commitment to conservation is attracting tourism. The nation was recently selected as one of the World’s Best Ethical Destinations. “Travel is one of the biggest industries on Earth, and our economic power as travelers is enormous,” explains the Ethical Traveler website. “Argentina continues to impress with its environmental initiatives, particularly an innovative new law designed to protect its glaciers.” Other Latin American countries that made the list include Costa Rica, Chile, and Uruguay.
Argentine environmental protection has intensified over the past decade. In addition to 38 national parks and protected areas, Argentina is a founding member of the Grupo de Buenos Aires, an 11-nation council dedicated to the protection of whales and other marine life, currently pushing for the creation of a Southern Atlantic Sanctuary that would block whaling ships from South American waters. Earlier this year, the Argentine Senate unanimously approved the
Law of Exploitation of Hydrocarbons in Argentina’s Continental Shelf, “which imposes sanctions on companies engaged in oil exploration or exploitation” without the explicit permission of the Argentine government.