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Case Study: The Impact of Lithium Extraction in Chile

What are the downsides of lithium mining in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile? How does it affect the people of the region?
Landscape of a lithium extraction section in the dessert of Atacama, Chile with mountains as the landscape.
© Formando Rutas

San Pedro de Atacama is a region in Chile known for its vast lithium reserves, making it one of the world’s largest sources of lithium production. As mentioned in previous steps, lithium is a critical element used in the manufacture of batteries, particularly for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage systems.

The extraction of lithium in this region is primarily through the process of lithium brine mining. Lithium-rich brine is found under the salt flats, also known as salars, in the Atacama Desert. The most important salar in the region is the ‘Salar de Atacama’.

Lithium mining has raised environmental and social concerns due to its impact on local ecosystems and water resources. Lithium extraction requires significant amounts of water, and in the arid Atacama Desert, this can put a strain on the already limited water supply.

Landscape of a stepp in Chile, with a group of wild Llamas Group of llamas in their natural habitat in Chile. Endémico Magazine (n.d.)

Moreover, the extraction activities have led to debates about the preservation of local indigenous communities and their ancestral lands. Discussions and initiatives are underway to ensure responsible mining practices and fair treatment of the local communities affected by the mining operations. One very important initiative in the region is called ‘Formando Rutas’.

Formando Rutas

Formando Rutas initiative logo Program logo. Formando Rutas (2023)

Formando Rutas is an audiovisual educational program focusing on lithium mining in the Atacama Desert in Chile, the responsibilities of car companies, and solutions beyond individual electric vehicles.

The educational program raises concerns about conventional ‘green growth’ narratives promoted by governments, corporations, and certain non-governmental organizations that benefit large-scale mining and car manufacturers. The next video shows the impact of lithium mining in the region and the testimonies of local people:

The greys of lithium

Through short films, teaching guides, posters and virtual discussions, alternative discourses are presented so that community educators and secondary and higher education teachrs can build a foundation of critical thinking to guide students as agents of change.

You can find more videos about these initiatives on their website: Formando Rutas

What do you think about this video and about ‘Formando Rutas’?

Let us and your fellow learners know in the comments below:

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