TED Conversations

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 15 2013: Fossil fuels are a limited resource that is rapidly diminishing. For society as we know it to continue, new forms of energy must be harnessed. The economic and societal impacts that will occur if humanity is not able to meet their own energy demands is beyond me to predict, but they will be drastic, that much is certain. So I can understand the arguments for the building of dams because it is a source of renewable energy that will remain after the fossil fuels are used up. Having said that, the Belo Monte Dam is the wrong way to address the problem. The ecological price is simply too high for the payoff, at least at this point in time. Perhaps in the future, when energy is more scarce, perspectives might change and the loss of a few fish in the jungle will be worth having air conditioning in the summer, but I can't say.
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      May 15 2013: I agree with you, that while the building of the dam would create a renewable source of energy, it would also be extremely harmful to the environment. I feel like it would also set a precedent for further dam building along the Amazon off-shoot rivers which would cause even greater damages to the rainforest and greater ecosystems. I think it's also important to note that the building of the dam would endanger countless human lives, as well. That's not to say that human life is more important than ecosystem preservation, but it is certainly something to consider. The Amazon rainforests along these rivers provide many cultural ecosystem services and they're vital to the tribes and other settlers living along the river that the Belo Monte Dam will be stopping up.
      • May 15 2013: I totally agree. I'm not trying to support the Belo Monte Dam, I'm just recognizing that energy demands will rise and must be met. This particular dam is a bad way to meet those demands, but the demands are still there.
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      May 15 2013: I think you bring up a really good point... "for society as we know it to continue," we must figure how to get reliable and abundant energy in some way that is renewable. However, I think we need to ask ourselves if our current pattern of energy use is something we should strive to sustain. The fundamental problem with energy use and environmental degradation isn't just how we get our resources, but how MUCH we consume. The overconsumption of energy and resources by developed nations is what really needs to change; if we really want to preserve ecosystems like the Amazon, we need to admit that we simply cannot continue to live as we have. Of course, that's easy for us to say in the first world, where we already have well-developing infrastructure and whatnot. Developing nations are struggling to establish themselves and sustain themselves economically, just as we are realizing that the methods they must use to develop are unsustainable. I'm not sure how we as a global society need to go about solving this problem, but it needs to start with the recognition that the overconsumption is the real problem. But I don't know how Brazil can sustainably get the energy it needs!
      • May 15 2013: I 100% agree. Human overconsumption is the problem, and will continue to become a larger and larger issue as Brazil is swept higher in the ranks of developed nations. The rising energy demands are probably going to bring more of the planned dams (seen in the video) to fruition, unless some advances in clean energy are made. This sort of brings us back to the TEDconvo on renewable energy forms that have a minimal impact - there isn't one that will solve all problems yet. What seems to me to be important is realizing that we as humans consume and waste far too much, and make changes in our lives that can positively affect the rest of the world (not to say that would happen all at once).

        Previous TEDconvo: http://www.ted.com/conversations/17851/what_form_of_renewable_energy.html
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      May 15 2013: I think that you bring up a good point that we do need some form of energy that will help sustain us. However, building dams like this one seem to cause more harm than is necessary. I think that it would be better to find some form of energy that is less destructive and interfering. Obviously that is an ideal thought and would be hard to accomplish. At the moment, I think that the indigenous people absolutely have a right to fight for their land. I'm sure it is hard to look past the profit that might be made from this form of energy, but those in charge of the dam should be looking at other factors, such as the loss of biodiversity and native land. These ecological goods and services are worth much more than the people give them credit for.

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