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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: Hello all,
    I think many great points were covered in this conversation so I am not going to repeat arguments. But I do think there are some crucial things we have to think about here. First, Brazil has been playing a dangerous game of doing one thing and then manipulating numbers to seem like a different thing. Our gov claims that inflation is under control when we know it is not, but they manipulate number to look that way (Financial Times has an article on this). The same happens to the environment; Gov swears that impacts of Belo Monte are minor both to biodiversity and to indigenous people, while any minimally informed person knows this is a blunt lie. There is a concern to play good guys for the international community while doing the oposite here. So yes, Belo Monte will have a major impact. Another issue is why it is being built there. Of course we need progress and energy, but it is a trade here. Energy for the population and some environmental impact? May be ok. However, in this case, it is not energy for rural communities, it is for minning industries. And not a minor environmental impact, it is huge, and plus the social impact. Do we really want to make this choice?
    Thirdly, the social impacts are not just the direct ones. The construction itself brought approx 28 thousand workers to an otherwise small town. Just see what happened to Tucurui after they had a hydroeletric powerplant built there. Huge unemployment after construction was over, not enough schools and hospitals, diseases and pregnant teenagers. Also, look at Brazil´s wastes on old transmition lines. Some say it is around 50% of the production. Lastly, let´s just look at who is behind this billion dollar contract. Oddly enough the same companies who fund political campaigns and paid (and have been paying) travels to politicians and much more. This is just an economic game for them. They helped put politicians on power, now they get there share.This is much more than just energy needs.
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      Jon Cox

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      May 14 2013: Hello Juliana,

      Thank you so much for the insightful post. Politics and greed are driving this project forward in the face of intense, justified opposition. It is almost unbelievable...
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        May 14 2013: I agree, it is unbelievable. The fact that this project is even being considered with everything known about what it will do blows my mind...
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        May 15 2013: The whole thing seems more like a world epidemic where our paradigm needs a drastic shift. It also reminds me of the problems going on between organizations and the Japanese government over whaling.
        I think projects like this dam stress the importance of placing a monetary value on ecosystem services. There is a lot of stigma surrounding this kind of thing, but it may be the only way to make an impact. Maybe the Brazilian government should be charged for the ecosystem services they destroy.

        http://www.economist.com/debate/sponsor/214/Dow%20Chemical
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      May 14 2013: So, it basically comes down to those who have money throwing it around to get more money and in the process they end up not thinking about anyone else when they do it?
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      May 15 2013: Thanks for the insight, Juliana!
      I was wondering if you could maybe tell us more about what kind of attention this issue is getting locally within Brazil? Is public opinion leaning one way or another, or is there more of an even split? Also how much attention is it getting? Is this something that is being discussed by major news outlets regularly or is it being willfully ignored?

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