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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: Eugene ourselves, most of our electricity power is so "clean" and cheap because of hyropower from BPA. However, We heard too much stories about hyrdopower and its impact on biodiversity. In the high biodiversity and species dynamic area such as Amazon forest. I can not image what would happen if Belo Monte dam project get built. Haven't we learned enough from past lessons? Three Gorges Dam which caused many old historical buildings and statues disappeared in China. Moreover, the dam caused 57% of plant species endangered and deforestation (Wu,2003). Another recent research about dam building activities in India also showed that "almost 90% of the Himalayan valleys would be affected by dam building and that 27% of these dams would affect dense forests with unique biodiversity." (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130117105659.htm)

    Brazil does have large potential to design a scalable renewable energy, such as wind and solar. Brazil has the cheapest and successful wind energy in the world however it is not stable and they have to use coal-fired power plant to achieve stable energy in grid system. If they would invest more money on transmit full energy generated by wind and store them. Also, postponed the Belo Monte Dam project after complete and understand the full research of impacts on biodiversity and indigenous tribes.

    Brazil is hosting 2 largest world sport event in 2014 and 2016. This might be the reasons they are highly desired to build a huge hyropower plant to sustain the energy usage. However, maybe building a more energy efficient stadiums and well-planed city transportation would be better than building a monster that will affect millions of people and species?

    Wu, Jianguo, et al. “Three-Gorges Dam— Experiment in Habitat Fragmentation?” Science 300-5623 (May 23, 2003): 1239–1240.
    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/brazil-may-favor-gas-over-wind-to-fulfill-world-cup-energy-demand
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      Mario R

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      May 14 2013: I agree Vesta, as the attached video mentioned, Brazil could potentially reduce their energy demand by ~40% by 2020 if they focused on more energy efficiency. This switch alone would be able to account for the energy produced by 14 Belo Monte dam complexes. The Belo Monte Dam project alone racks up a massive 17 billion dollars for the entirety of the complex. If focused on more renewable energy, like the recent development in solar power, I think that Brazil could potentially negate the need for the construction of the Belo Monte Dam Complex. This new solar power breakthrough embeds voltaic cells on thin polymer plastic. These solar panels are effectively light, and easily maneuverable making them an excellent incorporation into isolated areas. They can also be used to power electronics and automobiles reducing both the demand for energy and the carbon emissions produced by fossil fuels. If even a small amount of the budget from the Belo Monte Dam project was diverted to green research projects such as this, great leaps can be made to neutralize the need for the dam complex.

      http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/brazilian-made-plastic-solar-panels-a-clean-energy-breakthrough/
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        May 14 2013: Yes! Definitely, more green research than complicated Dam project. That is so awesome solar panels are light and easy to use in daily life. It seems generating on site energy it should be implanted more into the design and build environment. :)
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      May 14 2013: Vesta, you make a really good point about Brazil hosting the world cup and Olympics in the coming years. I think that if the indigenous peoples of the region are able to use that increased global exposure to spread their message it would greatly benefit their cause. As one of the members of the exclusive G-20 "club" it is clear that Brazil is a major emerging power in the world today, and as such is most likely very sensitive about issues regarding their international perception. Them disregarding the rights of the indigenous peoples living in the Amazon would be quite the black mark if picked up on by major news media outlets. The point being, I think there is still hope that the construction of this ill-advised dam can be averted.
      This would be best done though if the Brazilian government was aware of the benefit in investing in energy strategies like the ones posed above by Mario which would not just save them money, but also make them out to be an extremely progressive nation. In the end I think that's the best bet at alleviating this situation, playing up the international relations angle.
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        May 14 2013: Exactly Erik, I totally agree with you. If this dam get postponed this year. Next year people from all over the world will be in Brazil and support the indigenous people and Amazon rain forest. And as you said, this will be great opportunity for them to gain support from international community. If Brazilian government can weight the consequences of short-term and long term benefits on tourism, green energy technology and good reputation for their country. I believe there will be better way than building this project!
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      May 14 2013: Another great point made by Vesta is the fact that wind energy, although renewable, can probably not support the extractive industries that will be otherwise powered by the Belo Monte dam. The necessary energy to power the nearby mining industry seems to exceed the energy that can be provided by renewables, which makes me think that the Brazilian government should reduce the number of allowed mines in the Para state. Mines could either be reduced in total number or just moved to different areas around Brazil. This could potentially reduce losses to biological diversity as more clean energy would be used to power "dirty" industry.
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      May 14 2013: Definitely, I agree with you. The biggest problem is we don't learn from the past lessons which is the most important to prevent a tragic event. So sad.

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