TED Conversations

Katrina Holcomb

student of biology, University of Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    May 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 Bacaj√° 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.


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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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