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The Republic of Chile is a developing country in South America that has undergone many political, social, and economic transitions since becoming a democratic state in 1989. Known for its spectacular natural beauty, Chile has a varied landscape that is dotted with the Andes mountain range, the Atacama Desert, diverse forests, rich agricultural land, glaciers, and coastal environments. With a population of over 16 million inhabitants, this country has taken great strides to alleviate poverty and incorporate itself into an increasingly globalized world. A country desperate to achieve rapid economic growth and development, it initially paid little regard to the environmental consequences that would arise with such progress. This resource-rich country adopted aggressive neoliberal policies in its post-dictatorial phase, which led to impressive growth rates, macroeconomic stability, and reductions in poverty. Due to these key advancements, Chile is often praised as a model for other Latin American countries. Nevertheless, there have been troubling environmental and social repercussions as increasing pressures have been exerted on natural resources in pursuit of economic gains.
The country’s forests, agricultural lands, fisheries, and minerals have been exploited to such an extent that massive degradation and ecological destruction have compromised these ecosystems and biodiversity. High rates of air pollution attributed to copper mining and vehicle emissions have posed serious health threats to a large percentage of the Chilean population. Pesticide use and other waste products have put water quality at risk, and overharvesting of fish species has led to stock depletions. Native forests face heavy deforestation as well as loss of plant and animal species diversity. With these resources at risk, the poor are especially vulnerable because they largely rely on these resources to support their livelihoods. Also, most of the accumulated wealth has remained concentrated in the hands of the elite, further widening disparities and tensions between rich, poor, marginalized, and indigenous groups. The indigenous Mapuche Indians have suffered tremendous injustices, experiencing discrimination and loss of land to forestry and energy companies. They are well known for their aggressive struggle to reclaim land rights in order to preserve their culture and heritage. International attention has put these social and environmental issues in perspective.
Intervention for the Environment
After years of neglect and abuse, international pressure forced the Chilean government to acknowledge the need to mitigate detrimental practices by establishing proper environmental legislation and institutions. It was understood that the economy could not grow, let alone be sustained, if resources were in jeopardy and unsustainable practices were continued. In 1994, the General Environmental Framework Law came into place with its three sustainable development tenets revolving around environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, and equitable growth. At the same time, the decentralized National Environmental Commission (CONAMA) was formed to take on the responsibility of coordinating government environmental policies and regulations. These efforts were crucial in creating a forum for environmental dialogue and democratic participation. The 2005 environmental performance review undertaken by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) made numerous recommendations for a greener future. The more notable recommendations included strengthening international environmental cooperation and the efficient implementation of environmental policies. As Chile continues to grow in the 21st century, it must consolidate environmental policies with larger social, economic, and sectoral decisions if sustainability is to be achieved for current and future generations.
- DDavid Caruthers, “Environmental Politics in Chile: Legacies of Dictatorship and emocracy,” Third World Quarterly (v.22/3, 2001);
- Jane New-bold, “Balancing Economic Considerations and the Rights of Indigenous People Mapuche People of Chile,” Sustainable Development (v.12, 2004);
- OECD, Environmental Performance Review: Chile (U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2005).