Katrina Holcomb

student of biology, University of Oregon

This conversation is closed.

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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    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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    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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    May 14 2013: Up until April 2013 at least 800,000 dams have been constructed worldwide. Dams can provide positive and negative benefits to the nearby communities and ecosystems in which they reside. Dams deliver clean energy, water storage and the ability to control floods. Given the right implementation and location dams can have hugely positive effects for a society and have low operational costs. Although some dams can bring positive changes upon construction the plan to build the Belo Monte Dam is a very poor decision. Building a dam in the heart of the Amazon creates huge ecosystem destruction and massive land change. An estimated 85% of Brazils electrical energy that is produced comes from renewable hydroelectric dams throughout the country. Although energy independence is key for a country, the addition of the Belo Monte dam would cause massive environmental disturbance. This dam would affect local animals and the Bacajá Indigenous area by redirecting water due to flooding and reservoir location. Redirecting such great water volumes from the natural geographical inclination will either, strip land areas of water or over saturate them. Droughts, floods, deforestation, redistribution of species and displacement of indigenous species are all expected if the dam is completed. Dam completion would negatively affect many biomes and trophic levels at a magnitude never seen before in the Amazon basin. I believe alternative energy strategies could be implemented in Brazil to meet its energy needs without destroying the amazon basin. Solar, wind and tidal renewable energy strategies all could create renewable energy without impacting the environment in such a drastic way. Only through listening to the indigenous people can the government make a decision that both benefits the people and the growth of the country.

    http://www.brighthubengineering.com/geotechnical-engineering/71200-negative-impacts-of-hydroelectric-dams/

    http://amazonwatch.org/work/belo-monte-dam
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      May 15 2013: I also think alternative energy strategies that don't impact the environment so severely need to be implemented in Brazil. But an interesting problem comes up when choosing an energy source that has the lest affect on the environment. What do we designate as "acceptable"? This goes back to your TED conversation about renewable energy sources. Wind turbines kill 573,000 birds a year in the US alone according to the Associated Press (1). Imagine the effect on the numerous tropical and endemic birds in the amazon basin. Solar power doesn't harm the environment directly, but the production of PV cells requires toxic and carcinogenic materials such Arsenic and polysilicone. Although we dont know much about the environmental impact of tidal power, we can learn from similar technologies such as conventional hydropower and wind power that tidal power will also have negative effects on the environment. With that said, how do we determine what degree of impact is acceptable? Do we choose a number that we determine is an acceptable amount of species lost per year? Or some other measure of species loss? Its difficult to say which form of renewable energy is the best alternative. Maybe there are certain strategies that have less impact in certain types of environments. Hydroelectric dams in the Amazon does however have too great of an impact on the environment to be deemed "acceptable".

      1. http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_WIND_ENERGY_EAGLE_DEATHS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-05-14-07-57-59
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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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    May 14 2013: This isn't only an issue in brazil, China also plans to build a series of 13 hydro-electric dams in China's last free flowing river, the Salween a.k.a. Thanlwin. The project will supposedly displace about 40,000 people and submerge 20 miles of land. I believe these questions apply for all rivers being threatened by plans to build major hydroelectric dams.
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      May 14 2013: In an article from Scientific American, they discuss the damming options on the Yangtze River. "There are 338 kinds of freshwater fish in the Yangtze River and the 162 of them are endemic to the river. It seems obvious that many or all of them could be impacted by a dam in the middle of the reserve." The Xiaonanhai Dam will be built in the middle of the Upper Yangtze Native and Rare Fish Reserve.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=damming-the-yangtze

      Wow, and we thought the Amazon has it bad. Imagine what this will do to China's native fish species. It's absolutely amazing how these huge dam projects are being undertaken and rarely do we hear them publicized. How many other countries are doing the same as Brazil and China? And even if there are, is there a way to make them change their minds about destroying biodiversity for energy generation?
      • May 14 2013: It's amazing to me that is this going on in Brazil and yet this is the first I have heard of it! The fact that China may be headed the same direction is really scary. It's always easier to see and except quick reward for choices that are made but the consequences are not considered until it is too late. Unfortunately money talks and holds a lot of power in our world even if it hurts us in the long run.
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        May 14 2013: It appears that nothing stands in the way of progress. Not world protest, not biodiversity, scientific scrutiny, not rainforest...

        Came across this bit while reading about Itaipu dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. This dam was built in the 70s and 80s. It is extremely efficient and is considered one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, BUUUT......

        "When construction of the dam began, approximately 10,000 families living beside the Paraná River were displaced.[11]
        The world's largest waterfall by volume, the Guaíra Falls were drowned by the newly formed Itaipu reservoir. The Brazilian government liquidated the Guaíra Falls National Park, and dynamited the submerged rock face where the falls had been, facilitating safer navigation, thus eliminating the possibility of restoring the falls in the future. A few months before the reservoir was filled, 80 people died when an overcrowded bridge overlooking the falls collapsed, as tourists sought a last glimpse of the falls."

        Pretty bleak. And this is nothing new indeed.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itaipu_Dam

        Edit: Here's an article about the destruction of Guaira falls http://www.internationalrivers.org/es/node/1611
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    May 14 2013: In a report published in Nature Climate Change, Philip Fearnside, a leading Amazon scientist, explained that tropical dams are little more than green washing. He said that various mathematical errors had been made by electrical authorities when attempting to estimate the amount of greenhouse emissions from the dams. He described how dams constructed in tropical areas act as “methane factories,” especially during the first few decades after construction. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and has an even stronger impact on global warming than carbon dioxide. He went on to point out that these first few decades of heavy methane emissions correspond exactly to the narrow window of time we have to bring global warming under control in order to avert its worst effects.

    A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concluded that deforestation may significantly decrease the hydroelectric potential of tropical rainforest regions. Deforestation can inhibit rainfall in tropical regions, decreasing precipitation by anywhere from 6 to 36 %. It was stated in the paper that this could potentially decrease the electrical output of the Belo Monte dam to just a quarter of its projected capacity.

    As others have pointed out, there are many energy alternatives that Brazil can pursue, including wind and solar. Fearnside mentioned key areas where consumption could be reduced. For instance, the use of inefficient electric showerheads consumes 5% of the nation’s energy usage. Replacing electric showerheads with solar water heating would significantly reduce energy demands. Halting aluminum exports was also recommended. Aluminum mining is an energy-intensive process that is highly destructive to the environment, and, according to Fearnside, produces too few jobs for what it’s worth.

    I think that the Brazilian government should carefully reconsider the science behind the issue and contemplate what it might be forecasting about their future energy security.
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      May 14 2013: Chelsea I would love to see the papers you reference. Do you have links handy?
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          May 14 2013: These links about the flawed dam analysis and reduced generating capacity due to lack of rainfall are very interesting. From other information I've read Brazil is basically looking for a very quick and 'cheap' way to produce a lot of power for increasing energy demands from a growing population and industrial sector. As a few other people have stated, the perception of this hydroelectric source as cheap is skewed because it fails to take into account (in terms of money) how valuable the ecosystem services offered by this extremely biodiverse region really are, in addition to indigenous land claims.

          The perception of a massive increase in energy demand is also being misrepresented in terms of how much and to what extend energy will be needed. This is because Brazil is using a quick and dirty way to gather energy for what is in many ways an inefficient system of infrastructure and electronic products. While I do not know much about specific standards Brazil has in place related to energy efficiency, I do know that there is always more that can be done. The government should be looking for ways to make the current energy consumption as efficient as possible because increases in efficiency can provide the growing economic/manufacturing sectors with some leftover energy that is not being used (and otherwise would have been used). In terms of biodiversity, increases in efficiency can reduce some impacts of growing energy demand and many sources of efficiency would have a much less dramatic impact on biodiversity.

          In the end I think it boils down to this: the government of Brazil should be looking to other sources of energy like wind/solar and increases in nationwide efficiency related to all sectors instead of spending $14.4 billion on one large project. Rather, the money should be invested in a myriad of different energy solutions, including research on new technologies, best practices, environmental impact, and efficiency.
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    May 14 2013: An interesting question was posed in class today: Does Brazil have the "right" to build dams on the Amazon? This question is incredibly complicated to answer, because in my opinion there is no correct answer. Does a nation have a right to develop the infrastructure it feels it needs to provide electricity to its citizens? Most people would probably say yes. At the same time, it seems undeniably tragic that an incredible ecosystem that is unequaled on our planet would face such destruction. I wonder what influence other nations or organizations could exert on Brazil? Geopolitics is typically subject to the idea of sovereignty, and the believe that nations can do what they will with the land and natural resources within their borders. That said, I do not know how we can ignore the construction of a dam that would flood the homeland of numerous indigenous tribes.
    Brazil is a nation that has been really emerging in recent decades as a major economic and political entity on the global stage, and its development has understandably led to rising demands for the cheapest electricity possible. Many people have brought up great points about the possible alternatives (e.g. wind, solar, etc) but what motivation is there for Brazil to invest in these more expensive technologies? We need to remember that every decision made by the government of a developing nation will be guided by economic realities. If we want to protect the Amazon, we need to figure out how alternative sources of energy can be made equally economically feasible.
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      Mario R

      • +1
      May 14 2013: Well said Alex, in an ealier comment, I linked an article that described a breakthrough in solar technology made by Brazlilian scientists. This was the incorporation of photo voltaic cells into thin sheet of plastic. The research and development that went into the production of this discovery was only $10 million, a fraction of the cost of the Belo Monte Dam Complex. While that's still a lot of money, the Dam project is projected around $17 billion. I think that if this $17 billion was diverted to the research and production of more projects like this one, the potential for cheaper alternatives would be very helpful in accounting for the energy demands of Brazil.

      Your point regarding the entitlement to land is an excellent one. While biodiversity, and groups of people, will almost always be affected in most kinds of cleaner alternatives, I think that other alternatives will pose less of an adverse affect to wildlife than the Belo Monte.

      Here's the article: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/brazilian-made-plastic-solar-panels-a-clean-energy-breakthrough
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      May 14 2013: I completely agree! This is a complicated issue but the bottom line is the country's economic needs. We can find an alternative manner to supply energy and some form of capital gain, the amazon ecosystem at risk could be saved. There needs to be an alternative to their energy needs that will meet these needs. The use of microalgae for energy might be an interesting alternative. Jonathan Trent gave a Ted talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_trent_energy_from_floating_algae_pods.html) that suggests using microalgae in waster water to create biofuels and sequester carbon dioxide. He calls his invention OMEGA, Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae. They us solar energy to grow, and the wave energy on the surface provides energy for mixing the algae, and the temperature is controlled by the surrounding water temperature. The algae that grow produce oxygen, biofuels, fertilizer, food other bi-algal products of interest. I wonder if this could be applied as a remedy to this situation.
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      May 14 2013: I agree that there is no good answer to the question you posed. Natural resources at the scale of the amazon, and the ecosystem services they provide, have benefits far beyond national borders. Yet, coming from a nation that has exploited resources at home and abroad to the detriment of the global environment, I find it difficult to see the US imposing more stringent environmental standards on Brazil.

      There are a few policy tools that could change the equation as it stands right now. One is to do as Mario suggests, and make the cost of alternate energy sources cheaper. That could happen through investment in technologies or through subsidies for "clean" energy (I think we've learned by now that there is no such thing as truly clean energy) either from Brazil or external financing institutions. Another option would be to internalize the externality, or put a price on the ecosystem services being lost. It seems unlikely that Brazil would impose this on itself, but the US could role model by beginning to internalize the cost of carbon in our economy.

      Wouldn't it be incredible if international financial institutions like the World Bank used their financial power to encourage sustainable development? We have set ourselves up for a huge expansion of practices that degrade the environment. Developing countries very understandably want the quality of life experienced in first world countries, and the tools we've given them to accomplish this through Structural Adjustment Programs rely on a free market economy. So, with severely limited social safety nets and measures meant to encourage business, how can we expect anything else but exploitation of the environment and indigenous people? Of course in the name of development and bettering quality of life for everyone in the country. As is being discussed here though, the Amazon itself will be much more valuable in the long run than a dam that causes the release of large amounts of methane.
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      May 14 2013: I agree. The economy decides what they can do. However, they need to consider other problems what they would face after that such as loss of ecosystem services and functions.They might pay more on those than building a dam?
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    May 14 2013: Although it would be great if the construction of the dam could be stopped, it doesn't seem very likely. The dam's construction was momentarily halted in December of last year ue to the influence of a federal judge but it has since started up again.

    I think the aim now should be to investigate ways to save some of the species and mitigate the damage done. It might be a good idea to start collecting species in the local habitat and transporting them to safer environments (maybe zoo's but hopefully other natural locations). Also, it would interesting to see if the dam's construction includes any fish passage ways that will enable fish to travel upstream to their natural breeding grounds. Fish ladders would be a good start but have they looked into any more advanced technologies?

    Oregon has been a leader in these kind of technologies and it would be hoped that can be applied in this situation.
    http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2011/07/29_innovation_leads_way_for_fish_swimming_upstream.html

    Also, would it be possible to dig moats, dikes, or trenches around certain parts of the forest in order to maintain small pockets of dry land (e.g. nature preserves)?
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      May 14 2013: I agree with you Ben. I think that unfortunately, Brazil will indeed go through with the construction of the Belo Monte Dam. While I think that trying to conserve current endemic species is absolutely critical while the occupy movement is currently in swing, there also needs to be some thought put into how to reduce the carbon monoxide emissions that will inevitably result from the decomposing vegetation. Not to mention the deforestation that will result which compounds the effects of the carbon emissions. And how to best accommodate all of the indigenous tribes that will invariably be affected.
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      May 15 2013: I was also curious about the idea of fish ladders, and it seems that they are planning on constructing some kind of fish ladder system or other forms of passage for the local fish communities, but from the reading I've done it sounds like they won't make much of a difference. Fish ladders are very effective for really large dams because the fish simply can't make it that far up, but for smaller dams they can be more helpful. So I imagine that, if they end up using ladders, they won't really help to maintain the local fish populations due to the expected size of the Belo Monte Dam.
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    May 15 2013: Those indigenous people absolutely have the right to protect their ancestral homeland. No one want to see the place where he live to be harmed. Constructing dams would definitely exerted bad influence on biodiversity and habitats in Amazon Rainforest. However; the huge benefits behind it drive the government to make that decision. So, in my opinion, it may be hard to stop dam construction. The best way to solve this problem maybe that government and indigenous resident representatives can communicate and come up with feasible ways. Actually I have no idea about the solution to this issue.
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    May 14 2013: The part that I don't like is that the dam is going to be used to power huge industrial/manufacturing plants. I think if they are going to spend that much money on building a dam they might as well spend their money on a renewable resource that will have less impact on the environment and have a greater turn around for future energy needs. They can use solar power, wind turbines, or even tidal power. Why spend millions of dollars on something that is going to destroy our natural environment when there are other options for energy.
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    May 14 2013: Continuing:
    Two comments that didn´t fit in the previous post:
    Belo Monte was estimated to custo approx 8 billion dollars and it is now at 14 billion dollars. It is a money machine and prices charged higher than market prices are just going down corruption drains.
    Laslty, concerning the cost of renewable energies: I recently read somewhere that the only reason why oil based energy sources are so competitive is because they are heavily subsidized. If reweable sources received the smae kind of incentives, they would probably be very competitive as well.
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    May 14 2013: The biggest problem with tropical dams is of course the release of the greenhouse gas methane, which holds in atmospheric heat 21 times better than carbon dioxide. Methane is a product of the anaerobic decay of plant matter that sinks to the bottom of the reservoir after flooding. This occurs because all the oxygen is used up at higher water levels. The release of methane doesn't decrease as time goes on because plant life returns and sinks to the bottom again because the flow of water is so slow. You can flood a smaller area to get the reservoir you need if you can manipulate mountaneous terrain, but on flat land you need quite a large area. The methane is released all along the waterway, making methane capturing devices cumbersome. However, people need energy one way or another to put it simply, and my first impression is to be ok with the project. It is very unfortunate that the tribes' lands will be flooded, but many people will benefit. Nevertheless I believe the displaced people should be compensated somehow. And dams despite their flaws do take the place of fossil fuels which are slightly worse.

    http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2010/ph240/ashe1/
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    May 14 2013: Indigenous people in the Amazon definitely have the right to decide their ancestral homeland’s future and boycott the construction of Belo Monte project and future upstream dams. Since Brazilian government’s logic of how Belo Monte dam is necessary for providing electricity for all Brazilians, is actually based on several myths. First of all, Belo Monte will not provide “clean and renewable” energy as the project predicted, Belo Monte’s 668Km2 reservoir will flood 400Km2 of forest and big dams in tropic area will cause enormous emission of methane gas. Methane is 25 times more potent than CO2. Secondly, Belo Monte will become the most energy inefficient dams in Brazil, since during dry season it can only produce 10% of its 11233MW predicted capacity. What is more, not all the energy will power Brazilian families. Only 70% will be sold to the public, the rest 30% energy will be resold to energy-intensive industry, such as mining. The establishment of the dams actually increases mining expansion in the Amazon region, and will lead to vicious cycle in energy consumption. Mining also lead to other threats in biodiversity.
    However, the definitive installation license of the dam was granted in June 2011 and the construction seems to move onto accelerating phase. We should aim to think up of backup plan to decrease the threat of the mega-dam to biodiversity, if the program cannot be stopped. For instance, Stop future construction of upstream dams; Establish laws to strictly regulate hydroelectricity energy use in order to avoid waste or further pollution, such as mining threats; Establish conservation program for threatened species, such as captive breeding, zoos. Compute the overall risks of other energy alternatives and find out the cleanest one.
    The “Amazon Watch” is a major website for supporting indigenous people and protecting Amazon region, you can find much more valuable information there and take action to tell the government that the Amazon is not for sale.
    http://amazonwatch.org/
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    May 14 2013: I understand the Brazilian government's need to provide electricity for its citizens, but building the Belo Monte Dam definitely does not seem like the right way to achieve this. While the dam is expected to alleviate the electricity crisis in Brazil, it also comes with many negative consequences that probably can't be reversed. The amazon rainforest is home to ecosystems with some of the highest biodiversity in the world, and I constantly hear the phrase "save the rainforest," so I'm confused why the Brazilian government would be willing to destroy such important habitats.

    If the dam is constructed, it will certain cause decreases in the number of aquatic species as well as land species. The indigenous people who inhabit this area of the forest will be greatly affected by these changes, since they rely on these resources to survive. This will force these indigenous people to be displaced from their homes and moved to new habitats. Moreover, the entry of many immigrants to this area during the construction of the dam can bring diseases to the indigenous people, putting their lives at risk because they have little resistance to outside diseases. I think that the indigenous people absolutely should have a say in what happens to their homeland. However, I'm not sure about Brazil, but I know in many other Latin American countries, the indigenous people are treated with a lot of discrimination and have little to no influence in the governmental issues of their countries.
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      May 15 2013: It really saddens me to begin to consider the biological diversity that will be lost through this project. I think the consequences of the dam are only a portion of what will ensue. Going one step further concerning the introduction of immigrants, bringing diseases is just the beginning. As people relocate to the area, roads will pave the way for complete exploitation and disturbance of the once secluded Amazon area. From clearing areas for timber/agriculture, hunting (introduction of guns for hunting), and pollutants, the complex ecosystem will be inevitably be dismantled.
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    May 14 2013: Dams will most certainly be an amazing source of energy for Brazil; the small amount of intermittency provided by rivers ensures optimal peak energy service. This is very helpful for Brazil’s growing economy. Is it the best intention for Brazil to do this? From an economic stand point, yes. From a social standpoint, no. The externalities and other social damages are unaccounted for, leaving the diverse habitats fragmented and potentially uninhabitable by terrestrial species.

    It does beg the question: Are we allowed to potentially slow the growth of Brazil? From Brazil’s standpoint they are a growing economy, aspiring to become a 1st world country. Because of this, the demands for power must be met. This may include using the cheapest electricity source like any economy does. Many states in the U.S. rely on coal-fire plants to meet their energy needs. Yet, do we have other countries coming into our economic affairs?

    But it also begs on another question: is it ethical to destroy a diverse habitat in the Amazon? I personally think it isn’t. Growth must controlled and not just managed. The rate of Brazil’s growth is putting immense strain on the neighboring habitats and by reducing biodiversity and promoting fragmented, less diverse habitats. This can put many species at risk for extinction.

    At what point do we owe it to preserve nature? In the recent course of events, it appears it will happen when we need it most.
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      May 14 2013: You make a great point about questioning the rate of growth and the point that our modern society needs to put nature above the booming expansion of infrastructure. The earth is something shared between all people and all organisms, the Dali Lama spoke about that while he was here at the U of O. At what point do we need to stop massacring natural diversity epicenters and treat them as keystone ecosystems?

      A quick bit of info about Brazil's dams. The Belo Monte Dam project was build to use what is called "run-of-river" damming. This utilizes a relatively smaller reservoir than the traditional types of dams. This might sound good, but when the reservoir is still the size of Chicago, I think it's still more harm than good. Anyway, using this smaller reservoir dam relies heavily on the amount of rain fall each year. This last year Brazil's reservoirs finished at just 30.5% of capacity. This means that these dams aren't actually running at full capacity! The Belo Monte project will produce only 10% of its 11,233 MW installed energy generating capacity during the 3-5 month-long dry season, an average of only 4,462 MW throughout the year, or 39% of its nominal capacity.

      http://amazonwatch.org/work/belo-monte-dam
    • May 14 2013: I agree that allowing for economic autonomy is of utmost importance in maintaining international relationships. But that said, I find it hard to believe the energy produced by a hydroelectric dam system on the Amazon could out weight the value of its ecosystem services. Provided links above are all clearly one sided, against dam construction; but even still, if we considered best case scenarios, I don't know if the numbers could match up.

      And again inline with the Dali Lama's view of earth shared by all humanity and the fact we now live in a global community, should the rest of the world be trying to step in (contrary to my previous statement), giving Brazil some economic incentive not to construct the Belo Monte Dam?
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        May 14 2013: I too find it very difficult to understand how this dam provides more benefits than ecosystem services. I personally feel that many countries should work together rather than compete with one another. We are a globalized society, yet our perception is blinding reality.

        I know many countries could work together to subsidize Brazil, and other developing nations, with clean energy through the use of offsets, however, fraudulent offsets are a real problem in the world of carbon sequestration.
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      May 15 2013: I think its very interesting that you bring up social vs economic sides to the belomonte dam. Economically the dam will bring in a lot of money and yes I agree help with the growing economy. But at what cost? To play devils advocate, who are we do to tell Brazil what they can and can’t do in their own country? Did anyone come into our country telling us to stop the environmental atrocities that have been committed here? That being said, if someone had come in and stopped us im sure many of our environmental issues could have been avoided.
      I think the most crucial aspect of this debate is how to get the Brazilian government to understand the horrible consequences of the dam construction. It seems like our ethical duty to try our hardest to persuade the government to halt construction. At the very least we should try to implement innovative ideas into the dam that could help curb the ecological side effects. How can this be said to the government? How can it be explained to the government the severe costs of going through with dam construction when so many other countries have done similar atrocities and continue to do them everyday?
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        May 15 2013: I was also thinking about the social aspect of this issue and the fact that the U.S. uses about 25% of the world's fossil fuel resources when we only have 5% of the world population, so who are we to dictate environmental degradation opinions when we have so much work to do in our own efforts. I'm not sure if trying to convince the government will necessarily work because the goal of the project is money, and in a capitalist market that rules everything. I think it's important to look at other countries when it comes to massive projects of habitat destruction, but if we want to be taken seriously we need to address the issues in our own country and with our own government as well.
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    May 14 2013: One of the more surprising things on this topic for me was that when we discussed this topic in class it was the first that I had heard about it. We grew up in the generation of "save the rain forest" and yet this issue had someone evaded my knowledge until now. I may not follow all environmental problems of the world religiously but I like to think I am relatively well informed about most environmental issues. For the impact these dams would have on the ecosystem I don't understand why it has not received attention of the environmental community for it to be common knowledge. There are great videos, articles, and blogs about this topic that are definitely helping to spread the word through social media. I wonder if it would help if some of the organizations that fight against deforestation in the Amazon would get on board with the native people to get this message out there. The potential loss of species and displacement of people is staggering and I feel that if more people knew there would be a bigger protest globally. Thank you Katrina for bringing this topic to out attention!
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    May 14 2013: Part (1/2)
    What a great, current, and relevant topic Katrina! I think that spreading awareness and starting discussions about projects such as the Belo Monte Dam are much needed, and will have such expansive consequences, that it is something people all over the world need to be aware of.
    The interplay between the conservation/destruction of biodiversity, its interactions with indigenous people, as well as the motivating political and economic factors is something that I think about a lot and read about on a daily basis. As we have learned, ecosystems are complex webs of interacting elements, and changing one aspect can have a huge affect. This project itself will not only directly affect the biodiversity of the area but will also lead to a myriad of indirect affects that together, in my opinion will be devastating to the world.
    The leading cause of the biodiversity loss today and in the future is climate change. Climate change encompasses and is fueled by the many ecological changes that are occurring on our planet today as a result of human activity. Magdoff and Foster in their book What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know about Capitalism explain that climate change acts as a set of tipping points that, when reached, are extremely difficult to recover from and can lead to permanent damage or change of an ecosystem. Unfortunately the world is already very close to many of those tipping points that have been estimated by scientists because we simply aren’t doing much to ameliorate the situation. Initiatives to curve climate change, for example the cap and trade system for fossil fuels, are fronts put up that make people think that something is being done about the issue while emissions aren’t actually decreasing; If anything, they are increasing. As less developed countries continue to develop following the “American” model, increasing their consumption, their use of fossil fuels, and exploiting their resources beyond recovery we will surely reach those tipping
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    May 14 2013: Before this TEDconversation i had no idea that this was going on in Brazil, which is shocking since this is a huge issue. From the research i have done on my own about it i haven't found a benefit to putting the Belo Monte Dam into the Amazon. With the evidence that has been provided to the government about the hundreds of negative affects this dam will cause not only the ecosystem but the local human population its hard to believe that the government is doing this for any other reason then big money. The power from these hydro plants will go to support the mining operations which will only cause more destruction to the Amazon. At the end of the youtube video they discussed all the affective ways the government could decrease there energy use, increase there renewable energy and create tons of jobs to stimulate the economy. This dam is a serious problem that needs to be focused on. Losing endemic species and land that helps local indigenous tribes will have devastating affects, that will have irreversible consequences.
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      May 14 2013: In one documentary they talk about the business investments that are driving the construction of the dam. This includes Brazil signing large contracts with foreign business suppliers for materials to build the Belo Monte project. The video also suggests that the pressure from international interests are a driving factor of why Brazil chose to build the dam instead of investing in other energy options. This documentary has a lot of interviews with the indigenous people including Chief Raoni Metuktire and his successor Megaron Txucarramãe. It's a full length movie, but very interesting.

      Here's a link for it on youtube:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoRhavupkfw
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      May 14 2013: I feel the same way, I never knew this was going on or heard anything about the Belo Monte Dam project until this discussion. It is scary how much control the government can have. It seriously blows my mind that this type of thing can even be considered when so many thousands of people will be removed from their homes, and homeland flooded or dried up, as well as all the impacts it is going to have on the environment. Money really is the source of all evil :(
  • May 14 2013: Brazils need for power is predicted to go up by 6000MW a year for the next ten years. With the energy sources it has in place it will not be able to meet this need. So it is going to have to do something to get this energy. Brazil has many choices, offshore oil and gas, hydropower, soar and wind, sugarcane bagasses as well as shale gas. All of which have pros and cons. Because of Brazils vast diversity it has many choices in which way it would like to go to harness energy. It is interesting that they seem to have chosen hydropower. With any choice they make biodiversity will be lost but are they making the best choice? Seems they are going forward with this regardless. Not scientific but really good a recent article from The Economist below which goes into depth about the impact on the native people in which Brazil plans to pay people for migration and compensation. However is that right?

    http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21577073-having-spent-heavily-make-worlds-third-biggest-hydroelectric-project-greener-brazil
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      May 14 2013: Interesting article, and good point that no matter which energy source Brazil chooses to pursue, biodiversity will inevitably be affected. The effects upon biodiversity that the Belo Monte Dam (and all its related structures) will cause sounds like it could be quite massive - the video we watched said 10 species just in the Big Bend alone! However, since I don't think Brazil will consider simply not providing power to all of its people as an option, they will have to find some other major energy source. The article was saying how Brazil has one of the greatest capacities of any country in the world to harness wind and solar energy. I don't know if Brazil could satisfy its power needs completely with wind and solar power (probably not), but a major pro of this option is that it wouldn't force indigenous people from their homes or destroy their livelihoods. Yes, wind and solar would also have negative effects on biodiversity, but at least these peoples' lives would not be disrupted. Another idea I had came from an article I read in the local newspaper yesterday, which described how popular American cars produced for the growing Brazilian auto market are less safe and are much less efficient than the same cars produced for US and European markets. Perhaps if Brazil tightened its regulations on fuel efficiency of vehicles, this could help bring down its fuel and power needs as well?
      • May 14 2013: I completely agree about using wind and solar as a better alternative. And agree it probably isn't enough to power all of their needs. A compromise would be nice to see maybe using wind, solar and hydropower all together. Using a different dam not nearly as massive and where it would not cause as much damage as the purposed dam would at the big bend. That to me might be ideal.
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        May 14 2013: Wind and solar are great, biologically-sound alternatives to hydroelectric dams, but they would likely not provide enough energy to power the local, intensive mining industry in the Para state of Brazil. Another con of these two harmless energy sources is the idea that they require more care and labor than hydropower, so the area could potentially be disturbed by urbanization, which causes immense losses to biological diversity.

        I think Dan's idea of having more, smaller dams could potentially cause as much damage as one larger dam. We need to discover more sources of energy that can provide the necessary energy needed for the region without causes permanent damage to local plant, animal, and indigenous communities.
        • May 14 2013: I think the idea the of discovering a new energy source would greatly beneficial. But I don't think that Brazil has the time to develop a whole new energy sources altogether. To meet the demand they are facing in the near feature it seems they are going to have to go with sources that are already reliable. Which is why it seems they chose to go forward with hydropower.
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    May 15 2013: Belo Monte Dam project is actually the project which will provide the enough electric power to brazilians, so it is benefit for the society. But for the nature and environment, it will bring a huge harm, because this project will submerge most part of Amazonas tropical rainforest, and damage tne local entironment. What's more, at least 30 thousands aboriginal will be forced to move. Some people who are against this project show more probale result if the project is carried out. As people know, leaves grab and absorb a lot of carbon elements, once they are submerge in the water, these leaves will produce huge amount of methane by methanogens without oxygen. Methane will casue global warming, and it will be more harmfulthan carbon dioxide. Even though there are some harmful to the environment of this project, we can't deny that this project will solve the electric power problem of brazillians. What's more, this project have an important water resource regulatory function, and it will transfer the damage of flood period to the resource of drought period. So this project will make the electric source like a renewable resource. Personally, I think the benefit of this project is more than the harmful, and just for now, people don't have a better idea than this project.
  • May 15 2013: Wars are started for two reasons, resources and ideals. The Belo Monte dam (ironically named after what it would destroy) would be attacking both. Robbing locals of their homelands and destroying unmeasurable amounts of ecosystem services and resources, in lee of economic prospects for mining and industrialization. Even with the facts on the table, developers refuse to accept (what clearly seems to be by this conversation) common reality.

    So, could we be at the point in globalism and human-induced environmental degradation where travesties like this merit militant actions, either by locals and internationals?
  • May 15 2013: It's not surprising that the government is not concerned with the long term effects of this project. In their eyes they have found a solution to some of their problems, despite how many problems it may cause. That the military is needed for surveying speaks volumes. There are other plausible directions that the government could take but they would require more time and more work that they seem unwilling to put in. The long term effects that the Belo Monte dam will have not only on the environment but the communities surrounding it will be devastating probably to an unknown degree. As stated in other comments the dam is not going to be in a vacuum and the could cause unknown chain reactionsI hope that calling attention to the problem and the protests of the indigenous people will at least slow the project down.
  • May 15 2013: There are many problems in the construction of this dam. Social and environmental assessments were not appropriately done. The license provided by Brazilian government did not take in to account the technical reports of the environmental agency, especially considering the quality of water of the Xingu River in the Volta Grande area. The indigenous and traditional communities living in the Volta Grande will not only have less water, but its quality will also be affected (there is also a gold mining project for the same region being discussed). Indigenous consultation guaranteed in the Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization was not implemented. It is really worrying that a project this size and importance is being implemented like that!
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    May 15 2013: Brazilian government have tried to develop alternative energy. They introduced wind energy, biomass, etc. However, those alternative energy provide less energy than the energy that they can get from Amazon Rainforest. Getting energy from the forest is economically efficient, additionally it may be easiest way for Brazil government to get energy source. So, from the perspective of Brazil government, it is not too unreasonable to develop the forest to get energy though it causes deforestation. Because the forest is possessed by Brazil, other countries cannot force them not to exploit the forest energy source. But, other associated nations can make Brazil government not to depend on the forest as supporting them in the energy source with a treaty stopping them to exploit the Amazon forest for global ecosystem. This would not be disadvantage for both Brazil and other nations, but be win-win.
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    May 15 2013: When viewing the environmental impacts of the Belo Monte project, especially those relating to biodiversity, I think it's important to remember that this project is not occurring in a vacuum. Estimating how much water the dams will displace, and how many people and ecosystems will be displaced or otherwise harmed by the construction does not take into account holistic or cumulative effects. Would it be possible for us to look at dam construction in Brazil as if dams were a species, and apply to concept of beta diversity to better understand how "dam populations" correlate with biodiversity loss, displacement of indigenous and rural people, and the proliferation of mines? That is to say, could we adapt a tool from biology which accounts for the relationships of populations across space and time to gain a broader perspective of how dams will impact surrounding people and ecosystems?
    While the individual impacts of Belo Monte sound awful for the majority of people in the area, and for local ecosystems, it seems likely that they impacts of the dam, when viewed in context of increasing mine and dam construction, would be even worse. This type of research might be able to give a new and strong voice to indigenous rights advocates and conservationists in Brazil.
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    May 15 2013: Brazil is in dire straits right now to compete on aninternational level with the other developed nations of the world. They need to generate revenue for their goals, and unfortunately mining appears to be a good answer to their problems. The massive amount of raw iron, copper and aluminum materials available in their country allows them to be one of the bigger competitors in these markets and supply the rest of the world. They also will provide Brazil with some of the greatest amount of renewable energy. However, this is obviously not going to be a permanent solution. We can’t dam everything up and so new research into solar and air power need to be investigated. These kinds of energy sources could be a solution, but not now. They need reliable energy, and unfortunately only coal and hydro are current proven providers for what the country requires. This incident is sad to examine because of the reality of what will happen. The Belo Monte Dam is going to be built, but that doesn’t mean that we have to let the dam destroy everything. The Belo Monte Dam is a large stepping-stone towards huge amount of biological diversity loss. The surrounding area’s endemic species will go extinct as well as many more unless something is done to preserve them. We may not be able to save the ecosystem that they came from, but we can examine the idea of a relocation campaign. Saving as many species as we can while the “occupy” movement is delaying construction. Future solutions for renewable energy need to be researched now and designed with a logical plan. Unfortunately due to the well laid out plans for the dam, it will happen. However, a plan for using air along the coast or solar panels using these raw materials they are mining could stop future ecosystem destruction. There are solutions and they can change how we look at energy needs, but its far too under developed for implementation in areas with such massive population and energy needs.
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    May 15 2013: The sad thing is that I am not surprised that Brazil is ignoring the pleas of the indigenous peoples and environmental advocates, seeing as how they have clear-cutted so much of the Amazon Rainforest already in their country. I think it is ridiculous that they are having to rely on the military to complete surveys of the areas. I think that the Brazilian government should take a hint that maybe they should not build these dams, when so many people are trying to stop them, to the point of them declaring war on the Brazilian government. Why not look at other energy alternatives that are not so destructive to the land around them?
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    May 15 2013: Not only is the Brazilian government willing to green-light the dam, but this project also can most certainly garuantee to endanger animal species in that area. If displacing several natives is not a big deal to them, then probably realizing that this project would be its most costly disaster (in more ways than one) later on should certainly do the trick. I also read somewhere that there may be more dams to be built in Brazil (same project as Belo Monte). What worries me is which other rivers (aside from Xingu) would be involved. Since the Amazon is shared by Brazil with Peru, Columbia, Ecuador and other neighboring countries, I'd assume they must share several other rivers with Brazil. I have to wonder if those other countries will also be affected by this dam project; I'd imagine that trying to come up with a plan for your own country, in an area that's shared by other countries, without getting them involved, would be a very hard to do.
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    May 15 2013: I believe a similar situation like this one happened on a smaller scale in Haiti in 1957. A dam was built which created Lake Péligre. This lake submerged much of Cange, a rural impoverished village in Haiti. Many of the people who had lived along the Artibonite River were displaced, just as they will be in Brazil. Much of the power generated by the dam doesn't even benefit the people of Cange, who were the most effected. I can only speculate on the biodiversity lost in this case, but I'm sure there was some. Considering Cange was engulfed in diseases like malaria and TB before the implementation of this dam, the results I'm sure only got worse. Considering malaria and TB combined can be incredibly more debilitating than either one separately was a huge concern, especially to Paul Farmer who took root in Cange and has battled malaria, HIV/AIDS, and TB for countless years there. I can only imagine the devastating impact this dam will have on the regions health as well as the impacts on biodiversity.
    It is a sad day when history repeats itself, especially when it is for the worse. The rich and powerful are the ones that matter and have the ultimate say. It is a sad truth to this world that I hope can change soon because everyone is a human being and deserves basic human rights, no matter how little money they may have.
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      May 15 2013: Large-scale development that has been occurring recently is frightening because the consequences are not concrete.The Cange area is difficult because they are faced with one problem while trying to fix another. Its a fine line because poverty promotes disease and disease promotes poverty. These government have just chosen an option that harms biodiversity and human health. Sadly, people tend to only react when it directly affects them so in this case I wonder does the Brazilian government think they will be doing it differently and therefore the consequences wont be as extreme?
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        May 15 2013: I think that dams are a great way to generate power, but in the case of Brazil at what cost? I think the Brazilian government is trying to find ways to generate more electricity and hydroelectric power is a very logical choice considering how many rivers flow through the Amazon Basin. The calculated loss of biodiversity and displacement of people the construction of these dams will cause is not worth it in my opinion and the Brazilian government would see that if they were actually trying to benefit the entire country. I doubt any of the displaced people would even get much of the benefits of the hydroelectric power which would be generated which is very sad.
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    May 15 2013: When I first heard about this project I was unaware of the plans for building future dams. I think that it's a very sad situation for the species in the area that will go extinct and the people that will lose their homes when the area floods. Unfortunately I think this is another example of money controlling a governments decision on the environment. Brazil isn't looking at the endemic species of amphibians or the culture that will be loss when entire tribes are wiped out of an area. They're looking at the amount of money that will come into their country because they will be able to have more access to mines, and more access to consumers. I read somewhere in this thread that a group of indigenous people have actually set up wind turbines themselves, in an attempt to show the Brazilian government that it could be done. Honestly, that sounds like the best possible choice. Teach the people that live in those areas how to harvest the energy all around them. I hope this project doesn't happen, and if it does it is done on a smaller more ecological friendly scale.
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    May 15 2013: I actually had no idea the Brazillian government had planned on erecting multiple dams across the amazon in order to acquire energy. While the video did suggest wind and solar energy would be good alternatives, these require high maintenance (especially solar panels) and are a large initial investment. Additionally, while it is guaranteed that the amazon river will continue to flow and thus supply a dam's turbines with flow, there is no certainty that solar and wind energy will be sufficiently available to meet the high and growing demands of such countries as Brazil. As for an alternative to all this, I do not have a solution besides the fact that the most efficient way to cope is to use less energy per capita.
  • May 15 2013: Usually, dam has multiple purposes such as storing water, generating energy, and preventing flood. However, this dam does not seem to have many other purposes but more likely only generating energy. In fact, the efficiency of electricity generation by dam is significantly low than other power source like thermal or nuclear. South Korea has built 15 multipurpose dam, but it only generates 1.7% total demand of electricity(In contrast, 17 thermal power plants generate more than 40% of electricity.) According to one government report in the South Korea, Building a dam is actually not a profit-making in long term perspective in terms of losing tourism and other possible uses of the nature.
    I think the better way is to build nuclear power plant(Well, green power generation like wind sounds wonderful, but the efficiency is not that good because of instability by seasonal and daily weather effects) by international fund + their own fund and conduct a research project how to develop this area to make better profit by tourism and other possible uses.
    Do not just say them " no dam, we save the amazon and indigenous people's homeland." It cannot convince the Brazil government.
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    May 15 2013: Sorry if this has been stated/asked already, there are too many comments to sort through at this point. Although we have covered in class that it is exceptionally hard to assign a dollar amount to biodiversity, has anything been done to try to calculate the revenue that will be lost due to the environmental disruption caused by this dam? If it could be calculated and pointed out that the loss of biodiversity would generate a lot of loss in the terms of money, it might be a more convincing way to stop the project. Even obscure costs should be pointed out (such as cost for treating a higher number of malaria cases due the increased mosquito population that the dam will bring about.) Do you think it is possible/have you found anything in your research about the long term cost of the dam?
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      May 15 2013: I would assume that most of the costs are highly subjective. For example, in the video, it showed how flooding from the dam would put part of a city underwater. Well you can put a $ value on the property loss, but you can't put a value on the lives of the people who lived there, which would be destroyed. Another example is the habitat destruction that would lead to population losses in various species. Not to sound crude, but it's the middle of the freakin' jungle, so those animals that would die aren't likely to have much of a dollar value, but that doesn't mean that their loss would be low-cost (not taking into account biodiversity loss).
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        May 15 2013: I was wondering this as well because I think you can put a value on lives lost or changed. insurance companies tell us everyday how much they think our assets and lives are, and we are repaid appropriately for their loss. However, I'm wondering if they're getting well compensated for this inconvenience and loss of their own personal assets or has the Brazialian government ignored their cries for help. So as not to ignore the loss to biodiversity because they obviously can't easily be paid back, but would some other de-forestation projects be created from the profits of these dam building and mining operations?
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        May 15 2013: Derek: Even though it's the middle of the jungle I think there must still be a market value to all the fish in the area. I imagine the extinction of certain species will indirectly bring harm to some valuable wildlife. But again, it's hard to assign value to these types of thing especially with such an unpredictable outcome.

        Patrick: You bring up a good point. I would imagine the people in the city would be compensated, but probably not the tribes.
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    May 15 2013: Considering the social and environmental effects that it has, the excess flooding appears to be the most prominent problem associated with the Belo Monte Dam construction. The flooding will cause indigenous peoples to lose their homes and communities. Some tribes are even threatening to declare war because of this. On top of that, these floodplains will contribute massive emissions of methane gas to the atmosphere, due to the decomposition of plants in those areas. It is my belief that, due to the combination of these outcomes, this is the most problematic aspect of the dam. Of course the loss of many populations of species, and possibly even the entirety of some species, is a close second.

    The best solution to these problems would definitely be to halt the construction of the dam, begin utilizing other forms of renewable energy, such as solar or wind energy, and expand efforts to reduce national energy use. However, the Brazilian government doesn’t seem to have any plans of stopping the construction of the dam any time soon. That being said, I think it is now most important for us to determine how to minimize the effects that this project will have on biodiversity. Some people have mentioned the idea of capturing animals and relocating them to places where they could thrive. I like this idea, but I’m not sure where they would be relocated to. Many of the places that are similar enough to these animals natural environments are also going to be influenced be the construction of the dam, which may make those environments equally as dangerous to those animals. The other option would be to take the animals into artificially created environments, like zoos, but that always sounds like a bad idea due to the unethical nature of trapping animals. What would be the best way to reduce the negative effects that this dam will have on biological diversity.
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    May 15 2013: This issue is very similar to the issue we had during the Manhattan Project. The federal government would choose areas of the country, such as the Four Corners area in the Navajo Nation, and designate them as a “national sacrifice areas” in order to legitimize environmentally unregulated uranium mining and and nuclear weapons production. These projects would generate waste that would affect local biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, water quality, and human health. The government was ok with these negative externalities because they were trying to produce benefits for the country as a whole (safety and energy, later on). In almost all cases, the only people that felt the impacts were the native people who did not have the money, media outlet, or political influence to resist the process. These projects left Native Americans unemployed and exposed to unfathomable amounts of nuclear waste.
    In the case of the Belo Monte Dam, the Brazilian government is approaching the problem with a similar mindset—sacrificing local native people and ecosystems for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Unfortunately for the people trying to provide renewable energy for Brazil, they must deal with the fact that they live in one of the most biodiverse areas of the world. Because of this blessing/curse, Brazil’s politicians and engineers must be patient and focus on more creative ways to capture energy that will have less of an impact on endemic species and native people. One alternative has been the use of wind turbines that would be managed by the locals. However, it is important to note that wind turbines could present an issue with endemic birds. Brazil’s biodiversity and rich cultural history, coupled with its tremendous amount of uncaptured renewable energy, make it a a frustrating and challenging project. If they can find a way to creatively work around this, I’m sure their end result will serve as a model for other renewable energy projects around the world.
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    May 15 2013: The indigenous people definitely have the right to decide what happens to their ancestral homeland. The Brazilian government has no right to destroy homes, lives and biodiversity by creating the Belo Monte. As good as it sounds, the Belo Monte will increase renewable energy but is it worth the loss of biodiversity and the people of Brazil's lives? There must be another way to utilize the dam's water source to create renewable energy. These indigenous people will be left with no source of water, transport and food. How can the government be ok with this devastating consequences? Just as the video says, "The river is the life and blood of these people".
    What further consequences will the creation of this Belo Monte dam have on the environment? Pollution?
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      May 15 2013: At this point it seems like an inevitability for the dam to be made. I wanna know more about what they are actually doing for these people. They obviously are going to need a lot of help to move and get reacquainted in their new environment. I know this isnt the first time something like this has happened to indigenous people and I wanna know how they deal with this problem. What kind of reparations are in order?
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      May 15 2013: I, along with most people commenting would agree that the indigenous people should have a say in this massive dam project which would significantly change their homeland. While the dam would produce much needed renewable energy, as the video explained, reducing the current energy consumption by using more efficient lights would free up more than enough energy for the mines, which unfortunately could be a whole other topic on pollution and land destruction from mining. It would be great if funds could be raised to supply the area with energy efficient lights and educate people on other forms of renewable energy which would be less devastating to the natural ecosystems. If they continue building damns to support land destroying and polluting mines without say from indigenous people, much of the natural ecosystem will be forever changed.
      • May 15 2013: Ryan, where I 100% agree with you, and most people commenting on this post, that the Belo Monte damn is a bad idea I do not feel as if the videos idea of the simple fix being "efficiency with their energy". I feel as if that task is more complicated than it seems, first of all it did not specify what measures should be taken, nor did it mention how the country could pull off the switch. Over all I don't agree with the damn but I don't see the alternatives clearly enough...
  • 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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    May 14 2013: Dams are not the where all and end all of renewable energy. All things being considered, burning natural gas would have a lessor impact on the environment then damming most any river. Consider water flow and effects on recharging aquifers, size of storage pools, effects on wildlife, but the biggest waste of all is that dams are not usually near the consumption of power. About half of the power is lost every 500 miles of transmission.. Brazil is screwing up. All they need to do is see what has happened here in the USA by dams.
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      May 15 2013: I think the sheer stupidity of what the Brazilian government is doing by allowing this dam to be built is a red flag that there are other matters at play here. As Juliana Ferreira somewhat mentioned earlier, the ecological and economical ramifications for building this dam are unbelievable. They are, which is why it in turn is unbelievable that any sane government would approve this dam. I am of the opinion that the Brazilian government, much like a large portion of the American government, is controlled by lobbyists and big corporations, because they provide the money. True, there is a net loss for the building of the dam for Brazil, but the energy corporation who runs it makes big bucks, part of which goes to the politicians who allowed it to be built.

      The solution here is not to try to make the Brazilian government realize that what they are doing is wrong, because they are far too corrupt to care, but this issue needs to be brought to the attention of the world so it can become an international political conflict. Only then will the Brazilian government be forced to back down.
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      May 15 2013: Definitely. Brazil is in a unique position in that they have many viable options for alternative energy. But rather than going a less intrusive route, or even making a serious attempt at investing in energy efficiency at a fraction of the 18 billion or whatever dollar price tag, they have chosen a path that does incalculable damage.
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    May 14 2013: Dams can be a great source of power, there is no arguing that. I feel that the Brazilian government has clung to the first idea that it has been given. An idea that they have the rivers for and furthermore will be an effective source of energy. They haven't looked any further. many other forms of energy are just as viable and will have much less of an impact on biodiversity. Another aspect that they need to include is all of the carbon that the flooded land would be able to sequester the carbon that will be released.

    Also, since the occupy movement was such a huge failure, why would they emulate that instead of other more successful movements? It brought attention to their point, but didn't do anything beyond that.
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    May 14 2013: Belo Monte Dam construction is already underway in the Xingu River. According to amzonwatch.org up to 40,000 people could be displaced. The Brazilian government claims that the dam will produce clean energy but what about the methane emissions that are produced? And then 30% of the energy will be going to mining companies which cause pollution and deforestation. The effects from building this dam and all the other ones that will be incorporated along with it, including two canals bigger than the Panama Canal, will be devastating and could be irreversible. It will "pave the way" for more roads, mining, and deforestation. If the Brazilian government has already started with the construction is it too late to stop them? They obviously do not care about the impacts of their actions or the effects the Belo Monte Dam Project will have on people, wildlife, and ecosystems. All that matters is the money. How can they be stopped?
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    May 14 2013: As Clarissa said earlier "Save the rainforest" is a common phrase in the mainstream. So why do so few people know of the Belo Monte Dam project? The immediate loss of species in the river due to the restriction of access to breeding grounds and their natural range of habitat is a huge issue not to mention the loss of organism (plant, animal, fungus, bacteria, etc.) due to the flooding of the rainforest. Biodiversity is so dense in the Amazon that even 2% of its loss is detrimental to the surrounding area. With the new reservoir that will be filled in place of the forest the ecosystem will change. Areas around the new reservoir will also be dictated by a water environment. This will impact the type of plants and animals that can live in proximity to the reservoir. The high methane emissions of the reservoir will further this dictation. Organisms that are able to inhabit the area will have to be able to withstand the temperature increase, due to the release of methane, that will likely occur quickly in the immediate area.More and more we see humans making decisions at the detriment of other humans and the organisms they depend on.
    Currently there are many dams being proposed in the Mekong region of Southeast Asia. The region is susceptible to climate change which is impacting its agriculture and fishing (the Mekong River is the most productive freshwater fishery in the world). Dams would be a further stress on this region's ability to sustain people from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam which rely heavily on the river for their livelihoods.

    http://www.voanews.com/content/climate-change-dams-threaten-mekong-region-experts-warn/1628527.html
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      May 14 2013: Paige, you bring up some great points. I think this is a case of people caring more about the money they're going to make off of the dam rather than the people and the area that are going to be affected.

      A similar issue is happening in china with there Three Gorges Dam. The building of this dam forced many people out of there homes, and threatened multiple plant and animal species. Currently the dam is causing landslides and endangering not only the people that live below but is also causing a decline in biodiversity.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=chinas-three-gorges-dam-disaster
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      May 15 2013: to answer your first question you bring up about why people haven't heard about this, people become desensitized to issues quite easily. This especially true when they don't see/recognize signs of the issue. Media further panders to what people want to see and when people have become desensitized, they stop/reduce the coverage of said topic. So, it follows that a subject like this would only spread in circles already well invested in the subject
  • May 14 2013: I definitely believe that the construction of the Belo Monte dam project will do much more harm than good for the Amazon River Basin. It was already stated earlier how energy inefficient the dam would be, but in order for this dam to provide a year round water supply, multiple other dams upstream of Belo Monte would have to be constructed. One of the other sad facts about this project is that a lot of the energy produced by this dam will be going straight to mining. Another by product of the Brazilian governments need to produce more hydroelectric power for their mining needs is the amount of deforestation that is currently occurring. The Brazilian research institute IMAZON conducted a study in 2010 stating that the amount of indirect deforestation stemming from the Belo Monte is over 5000 km2. Not only would this decrease biodiversity and possibly threaten multiple species, but it will also cause the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to rise. This number is also expected to rise from the large amount of people migrating to the area to find work with the project, who will settle in forested areas potentially causing widespread deforestation by illegal logging and cattle ranching. Another issue caused by the increased migration to the project area is the doubling of violent crime, such as murder, child prostitution, and drug use. The construction of these dams are not only affecting biodiversity of the area, but they are causing many human rights violations that are being ignored by the Brazilian government.

    http://amazonwatch.org/work/belo-monte-dam
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    May 14 2013: I feel like they are trying to go through with building this dam because they don't want to appear weak and back down. I can see no other reason for the Brazilian government to go through with the construction, changing the ecosystems, killing endemic species and displacing so many people especially with all the research that has been done regarding alternative choices. Does anyone else get this feeling?
  • May 14 2013: Although the dam will supply power to the city, I believe the costs outweigh the benefits of the dam. The destruction of endemic species, new breeding grounds of mosquitos, release of gases, and destruction of indigenous tribal populations are only some of the costs. This construction of this dam is just one step farther into the destruction of our planet.
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    May 14 2013: (Continue to the below comment)
    If you consider the time change and the increased value of dollars, the estimation would be much higher than what it stated.
    Finally, many studies show the advantages of renewable energies as we discussed in the first conversation. The Brazilian government should try to build renewable energy facilities rather than building a dam.
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    May 14 2013: As the video shows, the biodiversity in Amazon would be altered tremendously due to the environmental changes, and the impacts would be miserable as predicted.I think that the Brazilian government does not have a right to build a dam although they need to provide the demanding electricity to the country. They have another option that would be more eco-friendly and not disturb the beautiful rainforest. It is not only the Brazilian government including us as an individual. We as an organism live in this ecosystem with other organism, symbiotic. We share the earth with other species, but we think we are the higher organism who can do whatever we want, so sad.
    It is not the only problem in Brazil that there are many countries with a large dams. There is a paper which shows the impacts of dams on biodiversity.It reported that "about 60% of the world's river flow is regulated with more than 40,000 large dams and more than 100 dams with heights >150m. Reservoirs cover a total area in excess of 500,000 km^2 (1)." This led many fresh-water fish species extinction already and threats many species including terrestrial species. Robert Costanza's study also shows that the value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital was estimated $16-54 trillion per year with an average of $33 trillion per year where the global gross national product total is around $18 trillion per year (2). However, this paper was published in 1997.
    (1)http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDgQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fintranet.iucn.org%2Fwebfiles%2Fdoc%2Farchive%2F2001%2FIUCN850.pdf&ei=B3aSUdKpKoryyAHv2oD4Bg&usg=AFQjCNFBfYxilsScVlYjQo3tD3wsKM8wDw&sig2=hK46cAYzCUWz6j6VwXTjVA&bvm=bv.46471029,d.aWc
    (2) http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDYQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.esd.ornl.gov%2Fbenefits_conference%2Fnature_paper.pdf&ei=JXySUbz8PIqniALgtIDoAw&usg=AFQjCNFNrZ6_QxiFR8fr5agQ2TNZKUfAOA&sig2=ZbxRm8Wodzs71SkLom1ePQ&bvm=bv.46471029,d.cGE
  • May 14 2013: Think of nature as a self replicating machine, the more water an area has, the more rainfall it will generate. The more trees it has, the more trees it will generate, provided the water meets their demand. Then according to science, the dams generate a lot of methane, that I believe will inhibit rainfall for that area and well beyond. It seems dams must destroy biodiversity, eventually ruining the self replication in nature.
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    May 14 2013: Perhaps this is a situation where giving a monetary value to ecosystem services could be useful in convincing people about the importance of preserving the rainforest. This project will have a huge negative impact to the environment and the indigenous peoples there, but evidently the corporations and Brazilian government who have control over this project do not see this. If we put the scale of these costs in terms of money, I think they will be much more receptive. If they don't build the dams, they are losing out on a lot of money, so you have to make the alternative solution more worth it to them than the dam. If you can calculate what monetary the loss of those trees, fish, and land will be it might disuade them building the dam (assuming the cost is higher than the potential profits from the dam).

    When large amounts of money are involved, especially for a developing nation, simply telling a big organization not to do something because it is wrong/harmful is not going to stop them. What will is determining that they would actually lose money through the disruption of ecosystem services, and that the profit from the dam will not offset the costs.
  • May 14 2013: This project seems very short sighted. It may be able to create some energy in the short term, but long term, usually the further it is removed from working with the natural environment, the less sustainable and more damaging it is. The Amazon is an area that is so precious to the global environment, that I feel as though it is something that should be very protected. There is so much in that forest that can be used, but we cannot get too greedy and shortsighted. I think that we should only take enough so that whatever we take can most likely be replenished in a reasonable amount of time. We must also be considerate of the indigenous people. It is their land and they know it in ways others cannot. They were raised on that land, it is their home. They probably know things that if we spoke with them and cooperated in a way that works for everyone, then we may be able to do a lot more good. We assume that we are right, that our way of life is better, but that seems presumptuous and ignorant of them.

    Just look at what has happened to other indigenous groups... such as the native americans and their home.

    We have to draw a line very soon and just say enough is enough. We have to live more sustainably and stop throwing away resources so selfishly. People say they are all for sustainability, but then they go ad drive SUVs that use finite forms of energy.
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    May 14 2013: Should government construct dam as the energy source of Brazil? It is a hard question to answer because it can be seen from different perspectives. Just concentrate on the Environmental perspective, Brazil actually need a large amount of energy to develop industry, so does dam hydroelectricity really make a worse effect on environment than other forms of energy? Not actually, at least it is more clean than fossil fuels. However, it actually cause some negative effects on environment. So mitigation of the effect caused by dam is important. Moving the location of dam or just stopping construction is actually not a good option.

    According to researches, the most common mitigation measures taken in the US is to release more water from the reservoir then would be the case of the dam were operated only to maximize power or water storage. Another way is to control the temperature of water being released to keep the down stream temperature of the water at the normal temperature for the current time of year.
    For the question of who have rights to decide the dam construct or not, both of their suggestions need to be considered. Indigenous people have rights to protect their homelands but sometimes their ideas are one-sided and cannot consider overall impact. And governments have power to build dam, but consideration of effect on environment before is necessary.
    Although dam could make negative effects on biodiversity and species habitats, if comparing with other forms of energy, it is less detrimental and more efficient, we should choose it.
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    May 14 2013: Part (2/2)
    points in the near future (meaning VERY near, within our lifetimes!)
    I used to believe that there were laws in place that would prevent massive destruction of habitat such as what would occur from the implementation of the Belo Monte and other dams, so I looked into things such as mandatory environmental impact reports. What I found was that even if these were completed as required, often the governments ignored the scientific advice, approved the project before the reports were issued, or large corporations simply didn’t listen and went ahead with the project anyways. One example of this is oil palm plantations that are currently responsible for the deforestation of hundreds of square miles in Cameroon. Herakles Farm along with numerous large corporations and NGOs all under the ownership and direction of a single individual not only started deforesting the area before receiving government approval, and without the permission of the local populations, but also with environmental impact reports that all unanimously said that the conservation value of the project was severely inadequate and that it would have devastating environmental affects.
    I am left utterly confused and hopeless. The science is no longer debatable, we KNOW that this project will have serious negative impacts on the biodiversity of the area, including the cultural diversity of the local populations, as well as contribute majorly to global climate change. At the same time as an American whose consumptive practices are one of the indirect drivers of the situation, who am I to tell a country how to develop or use their resources? Having said this, how can the government not listen to the people who do live off that land and require those resources to survive?
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      Jon Cox

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      May 14 2013: Hi Eleni,

      Maybe you were there, too, but just recently Dr. Joshua Linder, a primatologist and conservationist from NY who has been working in Cameroon's Korup Natl. Park gave a guest lecture at the UO on the impacts of the oil palm industry as well as bush meat trade on the people and wildlife around the park. Over the years he has seen primates steadily disappear from Korup, returning each time to find fewer and fewer signs of them. He is personally fighting Bruce Wrobel's plan to convert something like 70000 HECTARES of land/rainforest into palm plantation. There is overwhelming scientific and environmental opposition to this project, the legality of it all is dubious at best, and the local populous that hasn't been bribed or coerced is strongly opposed... It boggles the mind that an American company, without scientific support or even proper legal support, can get a project like this underway in Cameroon. There was no silver lining to Linder's talk, just reality, and it was all confusion and hopelessness.
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        May 14 2013: Yep, I was there and completely agree... my mind was boggled. Since the talk I have chosen the topic as a focus of my term paper in a global environmental issues class. I've been conducting some primary research in the form of short interviews with students asking a few simple questions much like he asked during his talk such as: "Who here has consumed palm oil?". The majority of the people I ask have no idea and often say no, however almost everyone has at some point, since it is used in so many processed foods. It seems like such an insurmountable challenge to do something about the damage being caused by large palm oil plantations but I have been doing my best to be an educated consumer and avoid products that contain it.
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          Jon Cox

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          May 15 2013: Cool project! Good luck trying to stay sane :]

          Educating ourselves, keeping an open mind and making thoughtful choices is usually the best we can do!

          If you're interested in the palm oil industry's effect on orangutans here are a couple videos:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMmWAgkNHtc (about 27 minutes in)
          and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyiqflVeTrQ

          It is crazy to think we are effectively trading orangutans' existence for junk food and beauty products...

          Also, cape perpetua!
  • May 14 2013: Because it wasn't covered in the conversation starter, I'll talk a bit about one of the reasons why the Brazilian Government is pushing for the dam project. As proposed the dam project would be built in the state of Para, a major center of the mining and mineral refining industries in Brazil. More info on that here --> http://www.infomine.com/countries/SOIR/brazil/welcome.asp?i=brazil-soir-3 , but I'll pull out some of the big numbers for you.

    Brazil is the world's 3rd largest producer of Iron, and the state of Para is responsible for 26% of the country's output. Industry projections from 2011 predicted $37 billion in investments from the iron industry by the year 2016.

    The state of Para is home to the largest known deposit of copper in Brazil. 2011 output from one mining complex approached 130,000 tonnes per year. Constructing a photo-voltaic solar array capable of producing 1 megawatt of power takes, on average, one tonne of copper.

    There's bauxite, an ore of aluminum. The state of Para is responsible for approximately 12% of all bauxite production on Earth - 21.76 million tonnes per year.

    In total, the products of mining operations represent the majority of Brazil's exports. By value, iron ore alone represented 82% of exports in 2010. Mining in the state of Para accounted for ~$11 billion in that same year. The Brazilian government rightfully sees any way to improve the efficiency of its mines as a way to further increase raw material exports. And when Brazil develops further into a manufacturing based economy, it will need those raw materials even more.

    Finally, as to why the dam and not another form of electrical industry development, the basic reasoning can be found in this study ---> http://www.nuca.ie.ufrj.br/gesel/TDSE35.pdf , from the University of Brazil. You can copy paste it into google translate if você não fala Português, but the gist is that the Bella Monte dam strikes the right balance between cost and environmental impac
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      May 14 2013: With so many resources available, it's a wonder the mining companies haven't gotten to it sooner. As for cost evaluation, in the great article Dan Straub linked in the economist that outlines potential cost of hydroelectric versus wind.

      90-100 reais/MWh was the bid for windpower
      77.97 reais/MWh was the bid for the Belo Monte project (original budget of 16 billion reais, went for 19 billion at time of winning the bid). Since that time its budget has risen by a third!

      It's really sad that they chose to go this route, especially since it displaces so many people and entire ecosystems. Had they actually calculated the weight of biodiversity with the actual cost to build the dam, do you think they would have chosen to go with wind? Or do you think they would still choose to mine the area?

      Additional link to the economist article:
      http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21577073-having-spent-heavily-make-worlds-third-biggest-hydroelectric-project-greener-brazil
      • May 14 2013: It isn't a question of choosing wind or mining. The power levels that are being discussed are orders of magnitude more than would ever be used in a residential setting by the local community. Brazil's major population centers are more than 1700 miles away. The lions share of the proposed power would go to mining whether it was generated by hydro or wind or solar or coal or happy thoughts. It can be assumed that a wind power proposal would see similar cost overruns - all construction projects have them, especially when federal money is involved.

        As for calculating the differing effects on biodiversity, I've yet to find an estimate for the impact of clearing enough room for the 600-1500 turbines it would take to produce an equivalent power output