Mining lithium and copper to supply the battery boom and fight climate change is wrecking a fragile ecosystem in Chile.
The oases that once interrupted the dusty slopes of the Atacama desert in northern Chile allowed humans and animals to survive for thousands of years in the world’s driest climate. That was before the mining started.
Sara Plaza, 67 years old, can still remember guiding her family’s sheep along an ancient Inca trail running between wells and pastures. Today she is watching an engine pump fresh water from beneath the mostly dry Tilopozo meadow. “Now mining companies are taking the water,” she says, pointing to dead grass around stone ruins that once provided a nighttime refuge for shepherds.
“No one comes here anymore, because there’s not enough grass for the animals,” Plaza says. “But when I was a kid, there was so much water you could mistake this whole area for the sea.”
Atacama has become one of the busiest mining districts on the planet in the intervening decades, following discoveries of massive deposits of copper and lithium.
In recent years that mining has intensified, thanks to booming demand for lithium, which is indispensable in the production of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles. Chile exported nearly $1 billion of lithium last year, almost quadruple the export value from four years ago.
For the rest of this article: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-06-11/saving-the-planet-with-electric-cars-means-strangling-this-desert