In 2021, copper exports from Chile to the United States amounted to approximately 50.7 billion U.S. dollars. For decades, copper has been an important element, as it is durable, ductile and acts as a conductor. It is used in everyday items, such as wires, computers, lights, TVs, jewelry, pipes, and the doorknob you might’ve used this morning. Copper is a valuable resource, and it has been for centuries. Evidence of its use has been traced back to between 8,000 and 5,000 B.C., and we are still mining for it today. As I have stated throughout this project thus far, Chile is the top producer of copper in the world. This industry has greatly helped to shape Chile’s economy. The primary sources that I have found are specifically chosen to show the environmental and societal effects mining causes. Although beneficial to the economy, copper mining has had a history of being unsafe and causes many environmental issues.
To understand how Chile became so successful in the copper industry, we need to look from the beginning. Chile’s copper industry really began excelling after they gained independence from Spain in 1818. Following the Chilean War of Independence, the Chilean Declaration of Independence was declared on September 18, 1810. This completely changed things for Chile.
The Norte Chico is an area of northernmost Chile, which consists of arid lands running north into the Atacama Desert lying between the Andes and the sea. This area deemed very desirable for foreigners. The presence of British and American merchants began to take shape, primarily British merchants. Most of them stayed around Coquimbo or traveled north into Copiapó. There were a few memorable British participants arriving, George Edwards was one. He married and had a family in Chile and would eventually become a businessman and politician and serve as the President of the Provincial Assembly of Coquimbo. Alexander Caldcleugh published Travels in South America and John Miers, a mining engineer, published Travels in Chile and La Plata.  Not all these foreigners found success in Chile, however. For example, one of Miers friends wrote, “But the whole of Mr. Miers’ establishment is at least one hundred years too much civilized for Chile”  in response to Miers’ failures.
The establishment of British companies in Chile, soon failed as well. Four joint-stock companies were formed in 1825, the Chilean Mining Association, the Anglo-Chilean Mining Association, the Chilean and Peruvian Mining Association, and finally the United Chilean Association. Unfortunately, a few months later there was a London stock market collapse, and the depression that followed resulted in these companies failing. There were still British investors, however, and the relationship between Chile and Britain was maintained. 
Right before the joint-stock companies dissolved, however, another entrepreneur came into the picture. Charles Saint Lambert, who was hired as the general manager of the Chilean Mining Association, was a key person in Chile’s success. Known in Chile as Carlos Lambert, he was a Franco-British entrepreneur who excelled in copper mining and smelting. He made a few earlier visits to Chile, as seen in 1817, the first evidence of Charles Lambert being in Chile was found. He had made an official report on the Norte Chico, which was later published in the El Telégrafto newspaper. In this report, Lambert criticizes the organization of the mining at that time. But other than that small visit, not a lot is known about Lambert’s early life, or what drew him to Chile.
While manager, Lambert is said to have issues with commissioners on the job with him, as he believed he was superior to them. He was set in his ways and had a different vision of the mining company, compared to the others he worked with. He ended up leaving the Chilean Mining Association and went his own direction. Leaving the association allowed him to do business on his own account, which ended up greatly benefiting him. He was a hard worker, constantly evaluating mines to purchase, inspecting his own mines, and maintaining letters and a journal of his experience. His journal is basically a business diary, which contains record of the day-to-day activities of a successful entrepreneur. Through this journal, we can learn insight of one of his largest contributions to Chilean mining, the introduction of the reverberatory furnace. This technology, introduced in the 1830s, allowed low-grade ores to be exploited. This transformed mining.
As British involvement wavered, American involvement was steady. In today’s time, the United States remains a strong partner to Chile and Latin America as a whole. The United States government has supported Chilean independence and transition to a democracy. Chile and the U.S. also have a Free Trade Agreement, established in 2004, that allows duty-free export to Chile of 100% of U.S. consumer and industrial goods. Finally, as I stated previously, the United Sates is a huge importer of Chilean copper. 
Throughout this entire history of Chile, the environmental effects have been lurking. Unseen or ignored because of the economic success, the concern for the environment is put on the back burner. One of the biggest problems are mineral treatment plants contaminating both underground and aboveground water. This is particularly harmful in Chiles’ Norte Chico area, as it is arid and already has a shortage of water. Mining also destroys vegetation, causes erosion, and increases the amount of dust and pollution. Open pit mining destroys the geography of mountains and disrupts their ecosystems. The Chuquicamata mine is an example of an open pit mine from Chile. Other negative effects include deforestation and wildlife destruction.
The “solutions” to these problems may be legitimate, or not, depending on who you talk to. For example, tailing dams are a preventive measure put in place, used to store waste to avoid water contamination. The International Mountain Society believes that this is a “partial solution” but doesn’t seem to have any strong negative feelings towards them . On the other hand, Tom Gatehouse, author of the “Mining and Communities” section of the book “Voices of Latin America: Social Movements and the New Activism”, is very adamant that tailing dams are no solution. He labels them as “dangerous” and adds on to the list of negative effects. He discusses how ,due to the loss of water reserves, mining is causing the glaciers between the Atacama and Metropolitan regions to melt.
Copper mining doesn’t only damage the environment, it also divides communities. It physically threatens the communities as it increasingly damages the environment housing them. Mining also causes displacement, as people move or get pushed out. People in the last decade have come together to resist this issue. They have challenged government claims about safety and sustainability.
Finally, although new jobs were being created, which boosts the economy, copper mining has led to seriously dangerous and poor working conditions. Working in the dry, hot regions was physically demanding and exhausting for workers. There were several mine collapses and thousands of deaths. Toxins were released into the environments and the health risk for both miners and local communities increased4. Silicosis was a common lung-disease brought about from mining labor. Rosario Salgado, a man who died from various diseases including silicosis, was an example of the harsh condition miners endured.
Copper is a part of our lives, and a huge part of Chile’s economy. But the success cannot take away the damage occurring to the environment, our societies, and our miners. We are often blinded to the negative side effects. In this case, the world is enthralled with copper, and we fail to realize the problems occurring. The purpose of this project is to better inform readers on both the history of copper mining, the effects, and to provide new perspectives through the primary sources.
 Mayo, John. “The Development of British Interests in Chile’s Norte Chico in the Early Nineteenth Century.” The Americas 57, no.3 (January 2001):363-394. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1007561
 Lambert, Charles. Mining in Chile’s Norte Chico: Journal of Charles Lambert, 1825-1830. Edited by Mayo, John and Collier, Simon. Dellplain Latin American Studies, no. 26. Boulder: Westview Press, 1998.
 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. U.S. Relations With Chile. September 22, 2022, https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-chile/#:~:text=Bilateral%20Economic%20Relations,U.S.%20consumer%20and%20industrial%20goods.
 “Mining.” Mountain Research and Development 4, no. 2 (May, 1984): 175-159. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3673110
 Santiago, Myrna. “Extracting Histories: Mining, Workers, and Environment” New Environmental Histories of Latin America and the Caribbean, no. 7 (2013): 81-88. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26241138
 Gatehouse, Tom. “Chapter 7 Mining and Communities.” In Voices of Latin America: Social Movements and the New Activism, edited by Tom Gatehouse, 147-172. NYU Press, Monthly Review Press, 2019. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1f88609.11
 Vergara, Angela. “The Recognition of Silicosis: Labor Unions and Physicians in the Chilean Copper Industry, 1930s-1960s.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 79, no. 4 (Winter 2005): 723-748. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44449493