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Katrina Holcomb

student of biology, University of Oregon

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Will the Belo Monte Dam project on the Amazon River cause more harm to the environment or will it be a good source of energy for Brazil?

The Amazon rainforest is an internationally recognized epicenter of biodiversity. Countless campaigns to stop the cutting and burning these rainforests have fallen on deaf ears. Now the Brazilian government plans to build what would be the world's 3rd largest dam [1] on the beautiful and ancient Amazon River. The Belo Monte project would span the Xingu River with 3 different dams: 233MW Pimental, 233MW Bela Vista, and 11,000MW Belo Monte. In addition, two artificial canals must be built to divert the river, which together will span more area than the Panama Canal.

These dams will have a myriad of negative impacts on the local environment. Construction of the dam will cause about 400-640 sq km land upstream to become flooded for a reservoir - an area equal to the size of Chicago. The town of Altamira will be flooded as well as countless acres that house the region's tribal populations. The impact on biodiversity includes 6-8 species of fish endemic to the Amazon River that will likely go extinct as well as a 2% decrease in the total forested area of the Amazon rainforest.

Organisms endangered by the construction of Belo Monte cannot verbalize their traumatic destruction of their ecosystem, but the indigenous people of the Amazon can; they are currently protesting the construction of the Belo Monte project through an "occupy" movement.

Belo Monte project is the first of many dam projects planned for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon River. Do these indigenous people have a right to decide what happens to their ancestral homeland? Or is the Brazilian government in the right by providing power for the majority of their country? Will the Belo Monte become the Belo "Muerte" dam (aka dam of death)?

Here's a 10 minute video that covers the impact the Belo Monte dam on the Amazon:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-seAAIsJLQ [1]

Related articles:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/03/brazil-dam-activists-war-military [2]


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  • May 14 2013: Brazils need for power is predicted to go up by 6000MW a year for the next ten years. With the energy sources it has in place it will not be able to meet this need. So it is going to have to do something to get this energy. Brazil has many choices, offshore oil and gas, hydropower, soar and wind, sugarcane bagasses as well as shale gas. All of which have pros and cons. Because of Brazils vast diversity it has many choices in which way it would like to go to harness energy. It is interesting that they seem to have chosen hydropower. With any choice they make biodiversity will be lost but are they making the best choice? Seems they are going forward with this regardless. Not scientific but really good a recent article from The Economist below which goes into depth about the impact on the native people in which Brazil plans to pay people for migration and compensation. However is that right?

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      May 14 2013: Interesting article, and good point that no matter which energy source Brazil chooses to pursue, biodiversity will inevitably be affected. The effects upon biodiversity that the Belo Monte Dam (and all its related structures) will cause sounds like it could be quite massive - the video we watched said 10 species just in the Big Bend alone! However, since I don't think Brazil will consider simply not providing power to all of its people as an option, they will have to find some other major energy source. The article was saying how Brazil has one of the greatest capacities of any country in the world to harness wind and solar energy. I don't know if Brazil could satisfy its power needs completely with wind and solar power (probably not), but a major pro of this option is that it wouldn't force indigenous people from their homes or destroy their livelihoods. Yes, wind and solar would also have negative effects on biodiversity, but at least these peoples' lives would not be disrupted. Another idea I had came from an article I read in the local newspaper yesterday, which described how popular American cars produced for the growing Brazilian auto market are less safe and are much less efficient than the same cars produced for US and European markets. Perhaps if Brazil tightened its regulations on fuel efficiency of vehicles, this could help bring down its fuel and power needs as well?
      • May 14 2013: I completely agree about using wind and solar as a better alternative. And agree it probably isn't enough to power all of their needs. A compromise would be nice to see maybe using wind, solar and hydropower all together. Using a different dam not nearly as massive and where it would not cause as much damage as the purposed dam would at the big bend. That to me might be ideal.
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        May 14 2013: Wind and solar are great, biologically-sound alternatives to hydroelectric dams, but they would likely not provide enough energy to power the local, intensive mining industry in the Para state of Brazil. Another con of these two harmless energy sources is the idea that they require more care and labor than hydropower, so the area could potentially be disturbed by urbanization, which causes immense losses to biological diversity.

        I think Dan's idea of having more, smaller dams could potentially cause as much damage as one larger dam. We need to discover more sources of energy that can provide the necessary energy needed for the region without causes permanent damage to local plant, animal, and indigenous communities.
        • May 14 2013: I think the idea the of discovering a new energy source would greatly beneficial. But I don't think that Brazil has the time to develop a whole new energy sources altogether. To meet the demand they are facing in the near feature it seems they are going to have to go with sources that are already reliable. Which is why it seems they chose to go forward with hydropower.

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