The Anthropocene is an uneven phenomenon. Accelerated shifts in the functioning of the Earth System are mainly driven by the production and consumption of wealthy economies. Social, environmental and health costs of such industrialization, however, bear on low-income communities inhabiting severely degraded territories by polluting activities (i.e., sacrifice zones). How global, national and local socio-economic and governance processes have interacted in perpetuating socio-environmental inequalities in these territories has been rarely explored. Here, we develop an historical quantitative approach integrating a novel chemostratigraphic record, data on policy making, and socio-economic trends to evaluate the feedback relationship between environmental injustice and Anthropocene in sacrifice zones. We specifically outline a case study for the Puchuncaví valley -one of the most emblematic sacrifice zones from Chile-. We verify an ever-growing burden of heavy metals and metalloids over the past five decades paced by the staggering expansion of local industrial activities, which has ultimately been spurred by national and transnational market forces. Local poverty levels have declined concomitantly, but this path toward social equality is marginal as costs of pollution have grown through time. Indeed, national and international pollution control actions appear insufficient in mitigating the cumulative impact brought by highly toxic elements. Thus, our sub-decadal reconstruction for pollution trends over the past 136 years from a sediment record, emerges as a science-based tool for informing the discussion on Anthropocene governance. Furthermore, it helps to advance in the assessment of environmental inequality in societal models that prioritize economic growth to the detriment of socio-environmental security.
- Anthropocene risks
- paleopollution records
- socio-economic trends
- socio-environmental inequalities
- trace elements