As quality of life improves, Chileans get eco-active

Last Saturday, thousands of Chileans marched in 14 cities to celebrate two environmental victories. Green activists helped to shut down the Valdivia wood-pulp facility (owned by the country’s biggest industrial firm, Copec) after pollution from the plant killed hundreds of black-necked swans in a nearby wetland; the plant owners are now looking for a safe water-treatment system. Next, greens pressured the government to demand changes to the Pascua Lama mining project, proposed by Canada’s Barrick Gold; the original plan involved moving parts of two glaciers. Several factors contribute to growing eco-consciousness in Chile, including the country’s dropping poverty rates, zippy economic growth, and the need to meet strict European environmental standards in order to export goods there. Says activist Norma Tapia, who marched in Santiago on Saturday, “We’re waking up. We were asleep. All of Chile was woken up by the swans and now the Pascua Lama project.”