Mining is one of humanity’s oldest industries, but today’s mines bear little resemblance to those of the past. Since the development of open pit mining roughly 100 years ago, the scale of mining operations has increased exponentially. Covering areas large as five square kilometers and requiring the collaboration of governments and multinational corporations, open pit mines have unprecedented social, environmenta, and economic impacts on the communities they affect. This Plan examines the impact of open pit mining in Latin America, drawing on the author’s experience studying the Pascua Lama and Bajo de la Alumbrera pit mines while working with social-environmental NGOs in Argentina and Chile.
All large-scale mining projects begin with an environmental impact assessment (EIA) that is meant to clearly and accurately predict the societal and environmental impacts of a proposed pit mine. While EIAs tend to accurately predict the economic benefits that a mine will present to the region, they often underestimate the damage they can cause to their host community. In general, pit mines and the companies that operate them prioritize short-term growth over a region’s long-term economic viability. Although a large mine can stimulate enormous productivity in a region, it often destroys or contaminates land previously used for other more sustainable industries (for example, tourism or agriculture). Furthermore, because pit mines typically hire few local workers, they offer little employment opportunity in their host regions. Especially in developing countries, significant work must be done to make sure the risks and benefits of open pit mines are evenly distributed between the corporations that manage them and the communities in which they operate.
“While the information contained in EIAs can be useful, the findings of a given assessment are not necessarily absolute. The fact that an EIA has been conducted can signify very different things from country to country—or from one political situation to another.”
“Mining may produce jobs, but it also has the potential to decrease employment in other sectors. In the long term, mining can offer employment in an area for about 20 years. On the other hand, more sustainable economic activities (such as agriculture, fishing, and tourism) do not, when carried out sustainably, have as strict a time limit.”