Chile faces a conjunction of the Constitution and climate change. The focus might appear to be rather unusual on the face of it, but the preface to the country”s new Constitution that is on the anvil describes a “climate and environmental emergency”.
Not only will the statute prescribe the praxis that will guide governance; it will also determine the future of lithium, an essential component of batteries found in the salt, metres beneath the vast desert in the periphery of the Andes mountains. The demand for lithium is increasing as the global economy seeks alternatives to check climate change.
Chileans in general are vehemently opposed to the endeavour; they argue that the country’s economic model, based on the extraction of natural resources has exacted too high an environmental cost. Furthermore, it has failed to spread the benefits to all citizens, including the indigenous segment of the populace. Ergo, it devolves on the Constitutional Convention to take the fundamental decision ~ What kind of country does Chile want to be? The Constitution will also spell out whether mining should be regulated and whether local communities should be entitled to have a say in the operations.
At least another three questions relate to whether Chile should retain a presidential system. Additionally, should Nature and generations yet unborn be entitled to rights? The red herrings are not uniquely Chilean. Nations across the world face not dissimilar dilemmas. The forests of Central Africa and Native American territories are trying to address the climate crisis without repeating past mistakes.
For Chile, the major issue now is to shape the national charter. “We have to assume that human activity causes damage. So how much damage do we want to cause?” was the query of Cristina Dorador Ortiza, a microbiologist who is a member of the Constitutional Convention.
And then the query that must be pertinent to the comity of nations ~ “What is enough damage to live well?” Among the issues that will figure in the Constitution is life’s essential ~ water. It has often been remarked that the murderous drought has been “supercharged” by climate change. It thus comes about that the Constitutional Convention will decide who owns Chile’s water. Reports suggest that it shall also weigh the fundamental question ~ What exactly is water?
The present Constitution in Chile was crafted in 1980 by people who were handpicked by the then military ruler ~ Augusto Pinochet. It opened the country to mining investments and allowed water rights to be bought and sold. Over time, Chile prospered by exploiting its natural resources ~ copper, coal, salmon and avocados. But even as it became one of Latin America’s richest nations, there was considerable frustration over inequality.
Chile reached a turning point on 19 December 2021, when Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old former student activist, was elected as President. He had campaigned to expand the social safety net, increase mining royalties and taxes, and create a national lithium company.