Is Mining In the Amazon Rainforest Unwise?

October 7th, 2017 by

It’s not a great surprise that a persistent tension exists between mining companies and environmentalist groups. Exploiting the planet’s natural resources is one of the human race’s greatest achievements, making virtually all of the wonders of the modern world possible. The problem is that most of this activity, when undertaken without the proper precautions, threatens the environmental stability of many of the last true areas of wilderness left on Earth.

While responsible miners are careful to properly plan for the containment of toxic waste that their projects inevitably produce in the form of tailings, there is only so much that can be done to mitigate the impact of large-scale mining operations. In many cases, the simple act of clearing forests or drilling beneath the ground can have a disruptive influence on the natural water cycle, the surrounding landscape, and the ecosystems they support.

In this context, Brazil is opening up vast swathes of the Amazon Rainforest to new mining endeavors, especially copper and gold exploration. But at what cost?

Copper and Gold In the Amazon

The BBC reported in August that the Brazilian government has chosen to revoke or abolish “national reserve” status, which comes with special protections, for a huge 17,800-square-mile (46,000 km²) region of the rainforest commonly called the Renca Reserve. This area has been protected and targeted for preservation by virtue of the reserve designation given to it by legislation passed in the 1980s.

For reference, that chunk of wild land is roughly the size of the entire country of Denmark.

However, the area is also believed to be rich in mineral resources such as gold. That tends to get folks’ attention.

Mine tailings. © Paulrommer |

While of course the pursuit of untapped precious and semi-precious metal deposits is an economic decision, the environmental consequences of expanding mankind’s destruction of the world’s dwindling tropical rainforests could make the economic gain seem comparatively small.

Critics point out that allowing mining operations to take place in lands it once seemed reasonable to protect will likely have a chain reaction or domino effect that stems from, but goes beyond, deforestation.

Just a brief list of these risks include:

  • land rights conflicts
  • loss of biodivesity
  • destruction of water resources
  • displacement of indigenous cultures
  • demographic explosion

Authorities are insisting that certain pockets within the reserve will still be protected, but this nonetheless opens up a can of worms regarding the risk posed by deforestation.


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