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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: An article was just published today about an indigenous group that is installing wind turbines themselves to prove to the Brazilian government that wind power is a viable alternative to hydroelectric dams. Here is a great quote from the article:

    "Key to this is that the Makuxi installed the turbines themselves, so they know the technology and can fix it if it goes wrong. Other similar projects that use solar power have struggled because, unsurprisingly, giving people technology they don't fully understand leaves them unable to repair it when it breaks. Many tribal communities living in the Amazon region are excellent candidates for solar power on paper, but a combination of governmental disinterest and improper NGO and development implementation has scuppered its adoption."

    This is a fantastic example of human agency. It's easy to talk about issues like this in terms of who is doing what to indigenous peoples, but between the "occupy" movement and building wind turbines, the indigenous people of the Amazon have displayed their agency clearly and strongly.

    http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-05/13/brazil-indigenous-wind-power
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      May 14 2013: What a great article. The Belo Monte Dam project is an incredible anecdote for describing the energy paradox that is occurring across the globe. If the indigenous groups can overcome the government, this would be a rare and important defeat. The following quote is especially exciting to me:

      "In February, the Indigenous Council of Roraima, the Socioenvironmental Institute and the Federal University of Maranhão worked together to install three wind turbines in the territory to measure wind speeds over the course of a year, and verify the viability of wind power as an alternative to hydroelectricity."

      If Brazil can identify wind energy as being just as productive as hydro, then perhaps they may serve as a model for the rest of the world, which currently searches for energy sources.
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        May 14 2013: This could be especially powerful when you take into account the article that Chelsea posted below, which says that with reduced precipitation from deforestation, the dam may only produce a quarter of the energy that was originally projected.
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      May 14 2013: It seems like the government would be excited by the possibility of having to make just an initial investment (technology and possible instruction on how it works and how to fix it), while leaving upkeep and repairs to the local populations. This would lower their costs, lower risks to local ecosystems, and prevent the displacement of thousands of people.

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