Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This is scary

Plans for the third largest hydroelectric dam in the world have been approved. Where's it going to be built? Brazil, on a tributary of the Amazon river, right in the middle of the rain forest. More than 70 more other dams are planned for the Amazon's tributaries.

Obviously the environmental impact of such a project will be massive, according to the article as much as 200 square miles may be flooded, this we know. What I find most interesting are the ethical questions that this damming project entails. Brazil is a country with an exploding population and this dam will be able to supply electricity to the homes of roughly 23 million people. This will allow for a more modern quality of life for the people of the region, at the cost of further development of the rain forest. Nobody will disagree that the loss of that much rain forest will be catastrophic, but who are we to say that these people don't have the right to endeavor to improve their quality of life. In general Americans and Europeans have grown accustomed to high standards of living, why should people in South America, Africa, and the Middle East not feel entitled to do the same.
It is a scary question to ask, but are we approaching a point where there are simply too many people? Has the human population exceeded the earths carrying capacity. Will earths natural wonders be able to survive alongside an increasingly advanced and numerous human population. So far the answer seems to be no. In my mind I want to draw this out to the sci-fi extreme where we have essentially engineered the planet to maintain our survival. If the global population continues to grow could this ever be the case; will we be able to accept that we may need to curb our lifestyles and live more simply. I think it would be like living in Europe during the dark ages in the shadows of the extinct Roman empire, or perhaps during the great depression. It would be very strange if everyday you encountered things which reminded you of a time when life was more complex and expectations higher. To look up at an aqueduct as you struggle to haul water from a well, or trying to sell apples at the foot of the office building where you used to work. Could it happen to us now, or in the near future? A collapse of the modern lifestyle. I think it is easy for those of us living comfortably to think in terms of the long term impact of damming tributaries of the Amazon. Those people in Brazil who will have a steady supply of electricity for the first time; I wonder how they feel. We did dam the Colorado during the Great Depression.

Please pardon my rambling.


  1. I actually really enjoyed the rambling. It's terrible to think of how much we are losing in the rainforest.

    Especially since I just saw Avatar and for some reason I now associate Pandora with South America.

    However, it really isn't that simple. How can we insist on environmental justice without examining social justice first?

    Good article.

  2. Tommy, your rambling is so scholarly and thoughtful. I'm very impressed by your ramble. True, one can say that ALL rivers in Tennessee and southern Kentucky, Oregon, Washington, and many other states are dammed. Why can we say that ours are able to be dammed, but theirs not?

    It reminds me of the bogs of Ireland. Many other European countries had expansive peat bogs, but they destroyed them to burn the peat as fuel long ago. Ireland is one of the few with remaining bogs. The other European nations are now paying Irish landowners to not use the peat as fuel. The others realized the importance of the peat, but after they had already exploited the resource. Okay, now I don't know what I'm getting at. But I just thought that it paralleled this article.

  3. On the other hand,,,the Amazon is the largest river in the world (by volume of water moved per second),,,so this is on a different scale than any other damming project.

    Well, god "dam"mit!


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