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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: I am personally against this dam, but we must also think of the international problems it creates by taking an active approach to the construction. Is it really in our right to demand certain things from the Brazilian Government in regards to how they want to run their own country? Given the fact that the environment is the world's responsibility and we should all be doing our part in trying to conserve it, but where do we draw the line in international policy. As other comments said, Brazil is trying to industrialize their country and by industrializing, something has to be given but to what extend is debatable. However, what right does the U.S. have to demand certain protocols of other nations. I personally don't believe that the US is the best "outstanding" example of environmental protection. This can be said for almost, if not all, nations worldwide because we all have our own problems.
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      May 14 2013: I believe it goes beyond allowing Brazil to run their own country. With the CO2 levels as high as they are and with the amount of pollution in the world it becomes everyones problem when something like the Belo Monte Dam is about to be constructed. We cannot afford to lose such a valuable ecosystem. And with the methane emissions that will be produced and emitted into the atmosphere I think that this becomes everyones problem.
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        May 15 2013: I think Robby has a good point. The U.S. has a bad reputation, especially in South America, for manipulating political powers and exploiting resources. We are also among the highest per capita energy consumers in the world, and therefor have little room to criticize. In my experience traveling through Latin America, I was faced with this hypocrisy, the way we Americans want to solve poorer countries problems, fix their corrupt governments, and educate their children, but we are less likely to look at our own habitat destruction, bad education, corruption. Maybe it is easier for people to deal with problems that are vague and far off.

        That said, the Belo Monte dam is going to have a devastating effect on an area of high biological and cultural significance, and I think it is great that there is resistance, and that people all over the world are showing concern. I just wonder how effective it is to sign online petitions, and donate money. I dare say that this conversation is a waste of time unless it leads to any real action from some of it's participants. I feel that our potential to protect and benefit an environment goes down in proportion to our distance from that environment. I know that each of us can dramatically improve a portion of the Willamette river if we chose to, be it through eradicating invasives, or fighting riverfront construction. For some reason it is easier for us to focus on problems in Brazil.
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          May 15 2013: As much as the USA wants to fix everyone else's problems when we should really focus on fixing our own problems. In that same sense, Brazil is going to be the only country that has the final say in situation such as this one. Unless, does the involved have to be global uproar? UN involvement? At what point can a government be persuaded to change on their own?
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        May 15 2013: I definitely agree that this goes, or at least it should go, beyond Brazil governing themselves. Times are changing, and I think its time to start viewing all people as one instead of being separated amongst nations. These are big issues at hand, and regardless of what people think, it will effect everyone. This is everyone problem. People can't continue to sit on their asses and watch while people ignorantly destroy precious ecosystems.
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      May 15 2013: I agree that individually countries have no say in how other countries operate. I think the bigger question to ask is if the construction of dams and power plants is a governmental thing or a global population thing. I think that if a government wants to do something that would have a large effect as the Belo Monte dam would, then the country should have to go through a larger group that has more in mind than money. The United Nations exists for a reason. It deals more with humanitarian issues, but has no real power behind it besides enforcing trade sanctions. Could the United Nations be the only way to scuttle this project or is there a better way?
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        May 15 2013: I think that is a good idea. Individual countries cannot dictate what another country decides to do. But, there should be a global law or procedure for things such as this that have to get approved by a higher group. This is something that is not only going to impact Brazil.

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