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Katrina Holcomb

student of biology, University of Oregon

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Will the Belo Monte Dam project on the Amazon River cause more harm to the environment or will it be a good source of energy for Brazil?

The Amazon rainforest is an internationally recognized epicenter of biodiversity. Countless campaigns to stop the cutting and burning these rainforests have fallen on deaf ears. Now the Brazilian government plans to build what would be the world's 3rd largest dam [1] on the beautiful and ancient Amazon River. The Belo Monte project would span the Xingu River with 3 different dams: 233MW Pimental, 233MW Bela Vista, and 11,000MW Belo Monte. In addition, two artificial canals must be built to divert the river, which together will span more area than the Panama Canal.

These dams will have a myriad of negative impacts on the local environment. Construction of the dam will cause about 400-640 sq km land upstream to become flooded for a reservoir - an area equal to the size of Chicago. The town of Altamira will be flooded as well as countless acres that house the region's tribal populations. The impact on biodiversity includes 6-8 species of fish endemic to the Amazon River that will likely go extinct as well as a 2% decrease in the total forested area of the Amazon rainforest.

Organisms endangered by the construction of Belo Monte cannot verbalize their traumatic destruction of their ecosystem, but the indigenous people of the Amazon can; they are currently protesting the construction of the Belo Monte project through an "occupy" movement.

Belo Monte project is the first of many dam projects planned for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon River. Do these indigenous people have a right to decide what happens to their ancestral homeland? Or is the Brazilian government in the right by providing power for the majority of their country? Will the Belo Monte become the Belo "Muerte" dam (aka dam of death)?

Here's a 10 minute video that covers the impact the Belo Monte dam on the Amazon:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-seAAIsJLQ [1]

Related articles:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/03/brazil-dam-activists-war-military [2]

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    May 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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