Dam. Say it again. Dam.
That’s the sound of degraded wild rivers, devastated fish populations, planetary warming, and indigenous and local residents losing their homes and livelihoods. Damn.
While large-scale dams have long been touted as an environmentally friendly energy resource—as green—they are anything but.
In the tropics, a slew of mega-dams over the last few decades have led to crippled fisheries, conflicts with local and indigenous peoples, severe deforestation due from road networks created to build dams, and large releases of methane—a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.
Because they spew out so much methane, dams in the tropics can actually produce more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fossil fuels such as coal.
Today, Brazil is planning nearly 50 dams on the Tapajós River Basin of Amazonia alone, seemingly learning nothing from its hugely controversial and corruption-laden Belo Monte Dam. And hundreds of additional dams are planned for other Amazon and Andean Rivers.
Dams aren’t wreaking havoc only in South America. Asia’s mighty Mekong River is now threatened by a planned suite of massive dams.
And in tropical Africa, two massive dams, Inga 1 and Inga 2, have been built on the Congo River. A third planned mega-dam, Inga 3, would be the largest dam in the world.
HIGH RISKS, MEAGER REWARDS
Research has shown that dams are often not the good economic bet they are made out to be. For instance, the construction costs alone of megadams often outweigh their worth—not even accounting for their environmental and social costs.
And many megadams are used primarily to power large-scale industrial projects that suck up tremendous amounts of energy, such as mining and smelting industries, rather than promoting rural electrical supplies.
Just as important: there are strong alternatives to big, high-risk dams. ALERT member Philip Fearnside points out that Brazil has ample opportunity for efficient solar and wind energy, yet refuses to consider it seriously.
And a recent review article, coauthored by ALERT director Bill Laurance, found that hydropower is by far the most environmentally damaging of the so-called green energy sources, which also include wind and solar energy.
We need to stop pretending that dams belong in the ‘green’ category.
Biodiversity losses, conflicts with local communities, high economic risks, and major greenhouse-gas emissions are not green, but will only push us further down the road of the damned.
Jeremy Hance is a leading environmental journalist and regular contributor to ALERT.