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You made the fish disappear, you rob the bones of our ancestors
May 11, 2013 5:26 AM   Subscribe

About 200 indigenous people on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers began an occupation of the largest construction site of the Belo Monte Dam, demanding the withdrawal of troops from their land and the suspension of dam construction. Powerful and searing, this statement from a people pushed to the brink by their own state, Brazil, and who have begun an indefinite protest at the main construction site of the Belo Monte Dam, which is in the Xingu and Tapajós river basins
posted by infini (39 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was wondering where exactly it was... Wikipedia entry for the Belo Monte Dam project, with map links.

Yeah, I figured that "largest untapped hydro power reserve in the world" thing would cause problems at some point.
posted by XMLicious at 5:44 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whole tribes of Brazilian indigenous people have been exterminated to get at their land and various natural resources. The outside world doesn't really know the extent of this. Environmental and human rights activists are routinely nursed as well.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:35 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is some background and more from AmazonWatch. The fight is getting dirty as the the Secretariat General of the Presidency accused some indigenous leaders of dishonesty and involvement in illegal gold mining. Meanwhile Brazil is Accused of Spying on Belo Monte Dam Opponents.
posted by adamvasco at 7:57 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


About 200 indigenous people

Don't get to decide over 200 million other Brazilians who choose not to live in the jungle. It would be undemocratic.
posted by three blind mice at 8:03 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


More NIMBYism getting in the way of renewable energy.

The rated capacity is 11GW and the minimum expected capacity is 4.5GW, for about the cost of 1-2GW of nuclear energy. Assuming an average of 7GW, that's 61 TWh per year, or about 35 million barrels of oil a year, or in turn about 15 million tons of CO2 not being released each year, (if my math is right).

How do these people think things will go for them if the earth heats up another 5°C?
posted by delmoi at 8:04 AM on May 11, 2013


Thing is, though, damming rivers really is seriously ecologically destructive. It all happened too long ago in North America and Europe to notice much today, but when the "back yard" in NIMBY is the Amazon Rainforest and rivers that are the sole habitats for many species of fish that haven't even been discovered or documented yet, it does not seem like an entirely invalid argument. This isn't like damming a river in the middle of a desert such as the ones in the American Southwest, this is one of the greatest locuses of biodiversity in the world. (Not that damming a river in a desert isn't ecologically destructive.)

And besides that calling it their "back yards" is a bit dismissive as though it's some remote theoretical possibility of having a negative impact on them, but the river and current riparian and wetland environments are their entire livelihood and way of life.
posted by XMLicious at 8:34 AM on May 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


the river and current riparian and wetland environments are their entire livelihood and way of life.
Which have a good chance of being destroyed by global warming.
posted by delmoi at 8:48 AM on May 11, 2013


When they agreed to be colonized, didn't they know this would happen eventually? Don't come crying to us now because of your bad decisions.

...is my best attempt at satirizing the totally bananas opinions upthread.
posted by gerryblog at 8:59 AM on May 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


Doesn't "let's just wreck it all to the degree it would be wrecked by global warming, so as to prevent global warming" seem kind of pointless?

And besides that, global warming is the consequence of everyone else's way of life, not that of the aboriginal peoples of the world. Why should saving everyone else the trouble of shaving off a few GW from global energy consumption or Brazilian national energy consumption take precedence over the destruction of the entire lives of these however many tens of thousands of people who probably do not contribute to global warming themselves in any substantial way, especially when it's at the additional cost of converting a biodiversity hotspot with who-knows-how-many untapped, irreplaceable resources that could benefit all of humankind for the rest of history, into a region with the same level of biological richness as Buffalo, New York?

That seems like it would be a stupid move even if the Amazonian natives weren't involved.
posted by XMLicious at 9:10 AM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


And actually at this point "to prevent global warming" pretty much has to be replaced with "to mitigate global warming."

Seriously, we've already squeezed nearly all the hydropower we're going to get out of probably 4 out of 7 continents. Sacrificing the Amazon, the Congo, or SEA and Indonesia to boost some infinitesimal percentage of global power consumption is eating the seed corn we'll need once most of the planet is at tropical temperatures. Wait and build hydropower dams in Antarctica before we terraform it, if indeed there's still any precipitation by then.
posted by XMLicious at 9:26 AM on May 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Doesn't "let's just wreck it all to the degree it would be wrecked by global warming, so as to prevent global warming" seem kind of pointless?
Where is "all" coming from here? From wikipedia:
Belo Monte's 668 square kilometres (258 sq mi) of reservoir will flood 400 square kilometres (150 sq mi) of forest, about 0.01%
You realize that flooding 0.01% is different then destroying 100% right? Or 85%?
It found that a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels, widely considered the best case global warming scenario and the target for ambitious international plans to curb emissions, would still see 20-40% of the Amazon die off within 100 years. A 3C rise would see 75% of the forest destroyed by drought over the following century, while a 4C rise would kill 85%. "The forest as we know it would effectively be gone," Pope said.
Oh and you mentioned species that might be harmed in this small area:
"Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change." "There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5 °C (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5 °C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe."
Obviously this one dam is not going to prevent global warming on it's own, but it will be helpful, while freaking about it extremely short-sighted.
posted by delmoi at 10:07 AM on May 11, 2013


No one is against renewable energy in general but surely destroying the Amazon in the process isn't required. Calling these guys NIMBY seems really unfair and inaccurate and bizarre. I can't believe some of the opinions I read on here nowadays unbelievable.
posted by bleep at 11:30 AM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


There will always be this struggle between biodiversity and progress as long as we continue to believe in Rational Man, inheritor of this planet.

As far as damming protests go, the Narmada Dam has its own easily googlable story.
posted by infini at 11:33 AM on May 11, 2013


destroying the Amazon in the process isn't required. ... I can't believe some of the opinions I read on here nowadays unbelievable.
I find it unbelievable that people think covering 0.01% of something in a lake is the same as destroying it.
posted by delmoi at 11:36 AM on May 11, 2013


delmoi: I find it unbelievable that people think covering 0.01% of something in a lake is the same as destroying it.

It's worse than that... Dams change the water temperature and chemistry, usually take a huge toll on migratory fish, and mess with river flooding and sediment control.

Not saying they shouldn't necessarily do it, mind you - but it's a huge deal environmentally. The land that gets drowned is probably the least part of the price that is paid. Although losing 0.01% of the amazon rainforst will probably doom a few hundred species all by itself.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:08 PM on May 11, 2013


I find it unbelievable that people think covering 0.01% of something in a lake is the same as destroying it.

Yeah. Me too. (as long as it's not 0.01% of my habitat.)
posted by notreally at 12:11 PM on May 11, 2013


I'm not an ecological scientist or anything so I'll leave it to someone else to comment on it definitively, but my impression is that constructing a dam causes way more damage than simply submerging the area the reservoir covers; it ends the seasonal and weather-related replenishment that the rising and falling water levels produce, which under normal circumstances does stuff like regulating the lifecycles of various species and transporting nutrient-rich soil from upstream onto land when flooding occurs and down to the river delta, and obviously the dam physically blocks the movement of anything that actually travels via the river, like fish that are trying to migrate or mate or spawn.

The water being pooled and still in the sun becomes much hotter than it was in the freely-flowing river and I believe the level of the underground water table changes too, which has ramifications for the types of foliage that can grow. This all disrupts the balance between species and how they interact with each other; I think the latter two effects particularly can create a situation where invasive species will thrive much more readily than native ones and choke the native ones out, for example.

And it also sounds like you're assuming that the only change resulting from the project will be the dam itself; but the AmazonWatch link above suggests that experience with dams elsewhere shows that tens of thousands of people will move into the area and presumably start draining the wetlands to construct roads and buildings and will put in things like sewer systems and gas stations.
posted by XMLicious at 12:30 PM on May 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's worth noting that the major native org in Brazil actually supports the dam, which comes sweetened with over $1.3 BILLION in extra funding, primarily to help them improve their communities and adjust to the changes.

That said, having looked at the arguments being made by those opposed to the dam, they are rather disingenuous. I just saw a video claiming huge amounts of land will be flooded, which, frankly, is no longer going to happen. Also claims about the cost being massive, without taking into account that we're talking about roughly the same production, in megawatts, that the US once had as the final goal for Iraqi electrical production a few years ago... enough for about 20 million people. It's a massive cost, with a massive return. The opposition also gripes about all that cost for a dam that doesn't run at full capacity most of the time... without pointing out that the reason it won't is specifically because it's not being designed to turn everything behind it into one massive lake anymore. Rather, it will generate electricity when the water is there.

I'm not saying it's great that these people will have their lives changed, but the thing is, if this doesn't happen, they're going to have their lives changed too. The absolute best thing for them would be for Brazil to fully go through what other major Western nations have... further movement of people from rural to urban environments and greater education, followed by a greatly reduced birth rate, moving ideally towards some kind of working equilibrium in the future. That's not going to happen without increased electricity, which is why hydro is so very attractive in Brazil.

Having looked at the history of hydro in Brazil, there are examples of them doing it wrong, thereby hurting the fishing through reduced water flow, lower water levels, and increased algae... and examples of them doing it right. This *seems* to be erring on the side of right. The government is supposed to talk to them, but arguably they already have. Their former president spent a day on native lands, talking to their leaders about it.

But what the protesters don't have is the right to veto it outright. 80% of the population backs political parties support that the dam project... and the Greens support it, with conditions.

From what I can tell, this isn't even officially on native lands, which is probably why the government is able to go forward. (Legally, the judge argued that the effects on the native people are indirect, and not direct.)

Frankly, I think the best thing the govt. of Brazil can do, for starters, is to push for more efficiency when it comes to their use of electricity, but that's expensive too. It's still cheaper and less invasive than building quite as many dams as they have envisioned, though. Either way beats coal shale, which is the "low-cost" alternative in Brazil. Out of all the sources of green energy that Brazil has, hydro is the most cost efficient, for pretty obvious reasons. It's a nation sitting on top of a rich hydro goldmine.

Dammed if you do, damned if you don't.
posted by markkraft at 1:33 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that the major native org in Brazil actually supports the dam, which comes sweetened with over $1.3 BILLION in extra funding, primarily to help them improve their communities and adjust to the changes.

Can you point out where you got this from? I'm having trouble finding it.
posted by XMLicious at 2:18 PM on May 11, 2013


"“We want dialogue, but you are not letting us speak."

Between 2007 and 2010 there were four public hearings and 12 public consultations about Belo Monte, as well as explanatory workshops and 30 visits to Indian villages.

>>"which comes sweetened with over $1.3 BILLION in extra funding, primarily to help them improve their communities and adjust to the changes."
>Can you point out where you got this from? I'm having trouble finding it?


My mistake. It's actually $1.9 BILLION... and that's just from the consortium building the dam. The Brazilian government is ponying up an extra $314 million.
posted by markkraft at 2:24 PM on May 11, 2013


The water being pooled and still in the sun becomes much hotter than it was in the freely-flowing river and I believe the level of the underground water table changes too, which has ramifications for the types of foliage that can grow. This all disrupts the balance between species and how they interact with each other; I think the latter two effects particularly can create a situation where invasive species will thrive much more readily than native ones and choke the native ones out, for example.
Well, the problem is those things need to be quantified, and balanced against the overall benefit to the whole world's ecosystem. It's not like there aren't already huge lakes around the Amazon river. I don't really get why this is supposed to be so terrible. It will mean changes in the localized area, but at a larger scale it's doesn't seem like it will change the overall picture.
Also claims about the cost being massive, without taking into account that we're talking about roughly the same production, in megawatts, that the US once had as the final goal for Iraqi electrical production a few years ago... enough for about 20 million people.
To put it into perspective, that's ten times the energy of a state of the art nuclear reactor, for the cost of two. Twice the installed capacity of Fukishima Daiichi before it blew up, and it will be the third largest power plant in the world, with the first two being other dams.
posted by delmoi at 2:38 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


See! They had meetings!

Painted and feathered Amazon Indians waving machetes and clubs attacked an official of Brazil's national electric company Tuesday during a protest over a proposed hydroelectric dam.

Mobs of Indians from different tribes surrounded Eletrobras engineer Paulo Fernando Rezende minutes after he gave a presentation to a gathering debating the impact of the Belo Monte dam on traditional communities living near this small, remote city in the Amazon region.

Rezende emerged shirtless, with a deep, bloody gash on his shoulder, but said, "I'm OK, I'm OK," as colleagues rushed him to a car.


Wow. That's even worse than an Obamacare Town Hall.
posted by markkraft at 2:40 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


markkraft: My mistake. It's actually $1.9 BILLION...

Ah, I was actually mostly interested in the bit about the major native organization in Brazil supporting the dam.

Though I have to say I'm a bit skeptical that the consortium that's building the dam will "pay $1.9 billion for “social-environmental measures,”" if that's all at their own discretion; that kind of sounds like a member of the consortium or a subsidiary was given the ability to write off the cost of draining the wetlands to build roads and housing and septic systems for workers and will maybe tack on a community center and some parks if it's not too inconvenient.

delmoi: Well, the problem is those things need to be quantified, and balanced against the overall benefit to the whole world's ecosystem. It's not like there aren't already huge lakes around the Amazon river. I don't really get why this is supposed to be so terrible.

That's what I'm saying; adding a few GW of hydroelectric production, with no guarantee that it will actually be matched with a reduction in carbon emissions particularly if the power is mostly going to the mining industry and to fueling further encroachment and expansion in the Amazon, is a drop in the bucket of the whole world's energy consumption especially if you count fuel that is directly consumed instead of just the generation of electricity.

How do you quantify the disruption and weakening of part of the most complex ecosystem on Earth and the permanent loss of however many species? It does not seem to me that it could possibly be a good trade to give that up and provide a foothold for more and more intrusion and development into the Amazon in exchange for a handful of gigawatts. There are myriad ways we could get gigawatts from somewhere else in our power generation and transmission systems but the healthy ecosystem and species, and their genes and whatever other biological resources they represent, are irreplaceable. And this is exactly the place in the world that you maximize that sort of damage when you start chopping at the roots of the tree.

If indeed damming a river does not cause extensive damage to all of the ecosystems connected to it I would withdraw my environmental concerns; but this would be completely the opposite of the impression given to me by environmental science types and sources conveying environmental science information throughout my entire life. Civil engineering like this right at the arteries knocks lots of Jenga pieces out all at once, as I understand it.

This is a half-assed analogy in all kinds of ways but imagine what would happen to the internet and most applications that run over it and business processes that depend on it, and just average people who use it, if you randomly selected a backbone and added a ten minute delay to all of the traffic crossing there. And then did the same thing to the same proportion of all backbone connections as humans have dammed major rivers in the world. (Not that a fish in the Amazon can just reroute through the Siberian river system or something when it encounters a dam anyways, or can get through a dam with a delay... like I said it's a crappy analogy.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:22 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I never took you for a colonist Delmoi.

markkraft: The absolute best thing for them would be for Brazil to fully go through what other major Western nations have... further movement of people from rural to urban environments and greater education, followed by a greatly reduced birth rate, moving ideally towards some kind of working equilibrium in the future
The Chinese solution?
I think you can reasonably assume that the $1.9 Bn will end up helping everybody except those it was meant to. You are aware of Brazil's history towards its indigeonous people aren't you?

Sustainable Development and Climate Change Policy: An Environmental Justice Case Study of Belo Monte Dam, Pará, Brazil
I argue that renewable energy development, hydroelectric in particular, creates externalities that harm the environment and the people who live in it.
posted by adamvasco at 3:37 AM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's what I'm saying; adding a few GW of hydroelectric production, with no guarantee that it will actually be matched with a reduction in carbon emissions particularly
Brazil's carbon emissions are capped by law
posted by delmoi at 2:40 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Has anyone entertained the idea that perhaps there are ways to harvest energy from this river system without causing massive disruption to the native communities? It seems to me that the onus is on the people who want to change things (the power company) to demonstrate that they can do this without causing damage to the ecosystem.

It also seems to me that these people are being brushed off as naive or backwards, but if you listen to what they are saying, it's pretty obvious they have any number of quite legitimate grievances with the way things have gone. Until these issues are addressed honestly and openly, why would they give up their heritage to people who have repeatedly exploited them, killed them, and destroyed their habitat? I mean, what good is it when there is a public hearing, only a few are allowed to speak and their concerns are simply brushed off? When people with guns and tanks come in and tell everyone when the meeting's over? That is not a discussion, that is an enforcement and a farce. I think their requests are stated pretty clearly, but they are not being considered.

“What we want is simple: You need to uphold the law and promote enacting legislation on free, prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples. Until that happens you need to stop all construction, studies, and police operations in the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers. And then you need to consult us.

“We want dialogue, but you are not letting us speak. This is why we are occupying your dam-building site. You need to stop everything and simply listen to us.


These people have been living in these places longer than anyone. I am pretty sure they know more about the ecosystems and the importance of proper relationships to the environment than the hired consultants for the engineering firms. They are potentially far more affected by the construction of dams on the river than any other groups of people. If other people, who do not and have not lived there, want to profit from the use of the resources in those regions, they need to get the approval of these people first. Perhaps they will even learn something in the process.
posted by nTeleKy at 11:25 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


If we are actually going to have a chance of stopping global warming, we are going to have to switch to all renewable energy in a very short period of time. That's going to require a lot of disruption for a lot of people. The alternative is going to mean a lot more disruption to a lot more people. There's no way this works out with everyone coming away happy.
posted by delmoi at 1:20 PM on May 13, 2013


Brazil's carbon emissions are capped by law

Did you read the thing you linked to?
Despite its ambitious targets, Greenpeace's top representative in Brazil, Sergio Leitao, called it merely a list of good intentions and accused Lula of using double standards in environmental issues.
And unsurprisingly, according to this Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy fact sheet (PDF), President Lula vetoed the portions of the law that would actually require eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Note also that the fact sheet also says,
unlike other top greenhouse gas emitting countries, the majority—over three-fourths—of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with deforestation, agriculture, and land use change rather than with energy consumption.
If we are actually going to have a chance of stopping global warming, we are going to have to switch to all renewable energy in a very short period of time. That's going to require a lot of disruption for a lot of people. The alternative is going to mean a lot more disruption to a lot more people. There's no way this works out with everyone coming away happy.

How about we shut down the mining industry worldwide and subsist entirely off of recycled minerals, mandating that the recycling must occur in the lowest-emissions way possible? I'll bet that even a partially-completed version of that measure would make a far, far larger difference than building a few hydroelectric plants in the Amazon would, especially counting the attendant cost of ecological damage in a country where that is actually the primary source of emissions.

I would expect that the answer to that question (in general, not specifically from you) is something like "well that's not practical", which is sort of the point: throughout history it's always been much more practical and more possible to do something like resettle groups of aboriginal inhabitants or otherwise make the most vulnerable and least politically powerful people bear a massively disproportionate amount of the cost to achieve progress on whatever the wider society's goals are at the time.

This is not a situation where pulling these people out of their ancestral lands and ending the traditional mode of life for them and quite probably for many of the natives who remain is the only way to achieve the benefit this power plant would confer, nor is it even the method of achieving such a benefit with the lowest average cost per person, it's just the one expected to be the easiest.
posted by XMLicious at 5:28 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, we haven't heard back from markkraft on the factoid about the major native organization in Brazil being in favor of the dam... when I was looking through a list of native organizations in Brazil and Googling their names combined with "Belo Monte" the English results I was finding had them all participating in protests against the dam at some point or another, so I was wondering if what he had come across was something about FUNAI supporting the dam project, FUNAI being a government agency that appears to be the Brazilian equivalent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the U.S.
posted by XMLicious at 5:36 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, Brazil set a goal, obviously they may not reach it. But they'll be more likely to reach it if this dam is built then if not. Arguing that we shouldn't do some particular thing to reduce emissions because we can't guarantee that other emissions will happen anyway doesn't make a lot of sense.
How about we shut down the mining industry worldwide and subsist entirely off of recycled minerals, mandating that the recycling must occur in the lowest-emissions way possible? I'll bet that even a partially-completed version of that measure would make a far, far larger difference than building a few hydroelectric plants in the Amazon would
First of all, why don't you actually do the math instead of making a bet? Recycling still requires energy, you have to melt things down.

Second of all, what's the reason we shouldn't do both? Globally we need to replace or eliminate about 117 Petawatt hours/year of fossil fuel derived energy. Building this damn will generate more energy per dollar then solar or wind or nuclear, which means you could use the extra money to build more renewable energy in total.

In terms of Brazil itself, it put out about 475 megatons of CO2 last year (compared to 5,490 by the US).

As I said earlier, this dam will produce as much electricity as you'd get releasing 15 megatons of CO2. That means this one dam could replace three percent of their of their CO2 emitting energy sources. It would only take 33, at a cost of 528 billion dollars, to eliminate their CO2 emissions entirely. Of course, that may not be geographically possible. But this is not a small thing by any means.
posted by delmoi at 8:46 PM on May 13, 2013


nor is it even the method of achieving such a benefit with the lowest average cost per person, it's just the one expected to be the easiest.
per person? Brazil has about 200 million people. If it were possible to build 33 of these at the same cost about $2,640 per citizen. What is the cheaper way and how much would it cost?
posted by delmoi at 8:48 PM on May 13, 2013


XMLicious: "How about we shut down the mining industry worldwide and subsist entirely off of recycled minerals, mandating that the recycling must occur in the lowest-emissions way possible? "

How are we supposed to expand things like windpower to replace fossil fuel generators without mining additional copper? Or solar cells without rare earths and silicon?
posted by Mitheral at 10:31 PM on May 13, 2013


Mitheral: How are we supposed to expand things like windpower to replace fossil fuel generators without mining additional copper?

How about recycling all of the copper in mining machinery and mining facilities and all of the power lines and communication lines that run out to mines? Or stop producing consumer goods that contain copper, most of which these indigenous people being asked to make sacrifices to stop global warming don't own, and recycle all of that? Just from this very first result from a Google search for "recycled percentage copper" more than a third of all the copper used worldwide is already recycled.

According to this paper on recycling the material that photovoltaics are made of, for some types 99% of their mass can be recovered by recycling, so as in the case with copper I doubt it would be anything other than difficult and inconvenient. Which is my point: not that there's any particular reason to absolutely cease mining, but that it's pretty easy to come up with things that would require far less sacrifice than is being asked of these indigenous people, but sacrifice on the part of the people whose way of life is actually causing the global warming. They aren't the ones being selfish when they say that they don't want to be uprooted and resettled.

delmoi: Brazil set a goal, obviously they may not reach it. But they'll be more likely to reach it if this dam is built then if not.

Did you miss the thing I quoted above? If so, I'll reiterate:
the majority—over three-fourths—of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with deforestation, agriculture, and land use change rather than with energy consumption
The dam and the attendant development it involves is something that is going to cause land use change and deforestation - it's not evident that your claim is true. Even if it were, though, it would apply to any measure anyone would take to mitigate global warming: that doesn't explain why it would actually make sense to give up these irreplaceable things instead of reducing emissions by the same amount or more in countless other ways that are available.

Arguing that we shouldn't do some particular thing to reduce emissions because we can't guarantee that other emissions will happen anyway doesn't make a lot of sense.

What? Of course it does. Generating electricity this way does not reduce emissions at all unless it is used in place of electrical generation capacity that does produce emissions.

You are saying that the reason it's so vital to wreak all of this ecological destruction right in the middle of the Amazon, and the reason that these people have to give up their lives as they know them and submit to what is usually a significant milestone along the way to no longer existing as a culture, is because it's part of a supposedly-shared sacrifice to avoid another kind of ecological destruction, global warming.

But if constructing the dam doesn't reduce emissions and is simply a means to enable the consumption of more electricity by industry or consumers or both, constructing it may well actually contribute to global warming, in which case what you're saying and any parallel arguments made by the consortium or the government are complete bullshit. Anyone who made what you're saying are necessary sacrifices would afterwards find they'd done so for nothing.

First of all, why don't you actually do the math instead of making a bet?

Because as I said in response to Mitheral, the exact math of how many times as much electricity could be displaced by giving up mining globally compared to the output of a few power plants isn't important - the point is how easy it is to come up with ways to get 11GW of reduced emissions or much more that don't involve destroying the environment to save the environment and don't require immense personal sacrifice falling entirely on the shoulders of a small group of easily-exploited people who don't themselves contribute to global warming.

If it were possible to build 33 of these at the same cost about $2,640 per citizen. What is the cheaper way and how much would it cost?

I wasn't referring to a dollars-and-cents cost, I was talking about personal costs like being uprooted and resettled or the people who get to remain where they are but whose livelihoods depended on the health of the river or connected parts of the ecosystem losing their livelihoods.

But since you mention it, obviously any approach that would involve using less electricity and hence not consuming the goods and services associated with whatever actual amount of reduced emissions the plant would cause, if any, would have a negative cost per capita because it would be a matter of not spending money in the first place.
posted by XMLicious at 1:00 AM on May 14, 2013


Ars Technica:
Amazon deforestation may undercut South American hydropower projects
Loss of forests reduce rainfall, cutting into generation potential.
posted by XMLicious at 3:35 PM on May 14, 2013


How about recycling all of the copper in mining machinery and mining facilities and all of the power lines and communication lines that run out to mines?
How much copper would that be? Numbers matter here.
the majority—over three-fourths—of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with deforestation, agriculture, and land use change rather than with energy consumption
The dam and the attendant development it involves is something that is going to cause land use change and deforestation - it's not evident that your claim is true.
Of course it's fucking true. That's what numbers are for, so you can compare them and see which is larger. The construction of the dam and connection to the power grid is expected to release 11.2 million metric tons of CO2. (according to the Wikipedia article). That's less then the emissions saved by one year of operation, which should be about 15 million metric tons. Each year.

Also, if 3/4ths of the emissions are from land use, that means 1/4th is not. 1/4th is 20% and 20% is way more then the 3% this could replace. (And I mean, we're talking about enough renewable energy to replace 3% of their carbon emissions, using only 0.01% of the land in the Amazon)

Again numbers matter here.
Because as I said in response to Mitheral, the exact math of how many times as much electricity could be displaced by giving up mining globally compared to the output of a few power plants isn't important - the point is how easy it is to come up with ways to get 11GW of reduced emissions or much more that don't involve destroying the environment to save the environment and don't require immense personal sacrifice falling entirely on the shoulders of a small group of easily-exploited people who don't themselves contribute to global warming.
Except of course that your plan would put all miners out of work, destroy the economies of every city where many of the people work in mines. It would destroy far, far more people's lives then this.

And. You have to get rid of all greenhouse gas emissions. Not just 11GW. Otherwise, even if your plan was an economically feasible idea, there's no reason not to do both.

In fact, if we price carbon emissions properly, mining companies actually are going to have to figure out how to mine without emitting carbon, or shut down. But that will be almost completely independent of whether or not this dam is built.

Also it wasn't very clear if you were talking about just brazil, or the entire world. But this is a global problem
I wasn't referring to a dollars-and-cents cost, I was talking about personal costs like being uprooted and resettled or the people who get to remain where they are but whose livelihoods depended on the health of the river or connected parts of the ecosystem losing their livelihoods.
You don't seem to have a problem destroying the lives of the probably millions of people worldwide who are employed in the mining industry, and it's very unlikely that they would get the help that these people would resettling that the Brazilian government is offering these people. People get uprooted and moved for various projects all the time, from dams to highways to whatever.

How many lives are you willing to destroy because 200 people protested this dam? If you don't want to do the math in dollars do the math in the number of people who will be put out of work and/or have their communities destroyed. Or look at all the people who's lives have already been effected, or ended, by calamities made more likely by global-warming like the Hurricanes, flooding in Thailand, Pakistan, or droughts in north Africa in the past few years.

The reason that needs to be considered is that there are these things called budgets The cost to build the dam may be something that the government can actually afford to spend. The cost to stop all mining may be the government cannot afford to spend. So if this dam is stopped, in reality the likely replacement will be nothing.

How many people are you willing to harm to prevent this dam from being built? What's the number?

I find it pretty hard to believe they couldn't find a comparable location in the 99.99% of the Amazon rainforest that will be left after building the dam. They need to get over it.
posted by delmoi at 7:50 PM on May 14, 2013


That's what numbers are for, so you can compare them and see which is larger. The construction of the dam and connection to the power grid is expected to release 11.2 million metric tons of CO2. (according to the Wikipedia article). That's less then the emissions saved by one year of operation, which should be about 15 million metric tons. Each year.

Funny how the cited source for that fact in the Wikipedia article says this in its English summary, then:
The present analysis indicates that the Belo Monte Babaquara complex would not break even in terms of greenhouse gas emissions until 41 years after the first dam is filled in a calculation with no discounting, and that any annual discount rate above 1.5% results in the complex failing to perform as well as natural gas by the end of the 50-year time horizon used in Brazil’s assessments of proposed energy projects.
The purpose numbers seem to be serving here is to let you handwavily declare that "of course" you're correct and that the things you deem important must take precedence.

Except of course that your plan would put all miners out of work, destroy the economies of every city where many of the people work in mines. It would destroy far, far more people's lives then this.

You might finally be picking up what I'm saying - if destroying lives for the sake of global warming is so acceptable and it's necessary to cause "a lot of disruption for a lot of people" as you say, why are we just debating some little incremental measure that may or may not actually accomplish a teeny tiny step towards mitigating global warming worldwide via sacrificing the way of life and livelihoods of a group of marginalized people, instead of a big chunk of the rest of us giving up our lives and livelihoods in numbers that might actually have a chance of pulling the reins back on global warming?

Or even offer some measure that's just really burdensome for everyone else, like giving up all air conditioning and refrigeration worldwide that isn't medically necessary - as far as I've seen nothing even at that level is being offered to show solidarity with these people who are being asked to give up their lives for totally-not-just-a-way-to-consume-more-energy, entirely altruistic dam-building purposes.

The cost to stop all mining may be the government cannot afford to spend. So if this dam is stopped, in reality the likely replacement will be nothing.

If that is true then since even by your own calculations (which I do not necessarily accept, though) this is a small portion of the total effort required to eliminate emissions just in Brazil alone, much less generally combat global warming which eliminating emissions isn't some guaranteed universal balm for, there isn't an actual attempt to deal with global warming going on here. Insistence that these people must give everything up for the common good is a load of crap: what they're being asked to do is make it easier for their countrymen to consume more electricity and profit from its production.

Your argument at this point seems to revolve around this just being a really super great optimal bargain providing substantial progress for negligible cost among all available options. But it sounds to me like you are extravagantly ignoring and dismissing the actual costs of constructing this dam to try to turn it into a "why not?" slam dunk and you keep asking for reasons not to do it as though none have been mentioned thus far, or as though your exclamations about how the environmental damage caused by damming rivers just can't be that bad conclusively prove that whatever irreparable ecosystem damage and species loss that would result are an insignificant price to pay and a sagacious trade.

How many people are you willing to harm to prevent this dam from being built? What's the number?

Whatever number you meant when you similarly talked about "a lot of disruption for a lot of people." Let's do the same number you are in favor of and just pick all of the people in the world who are the outliers making up the long tail contributing the most to global warming, and force the "harm" on them of living a life with their emissions cranked down to zero, resettled somewhere far away from their current lives which you say happens all the time and is immaterial. Rather than making the people already living at a subsistence level and whoever else can be taken advantage of pay the price while simultaneously devastating the richest part of the biosphere we're supposedly trying to save.
posted by XMLicious at 11:15 PM on May 14, 2013


Or even offer some measure that's just really burdensome for everyone else, like giving up all air conditioning and refrigeration worldwide that isn't medically necessary - as far as I've seen nothing even at that level is being offered to show solidarity with these people who are being asked to give up their lives for totally-not-just-a-way-to-consume-more-energy, entirely altruistic dam-building purposes.
Because solar powered air conditioning doesn't lead to greenhouse gas emissions, so banning it makes zero sense. And if there's no sunlight, there's no need for air conditioning.
Whatever number you meant when you similarly talked about "a lot of disruption for a lot of people." Let's do the same number you are in favor of and just pick all of the people in the world who are the outliers making up the long tail contributing the most to global warming, and force the "harm" on them of living a life with their emissions cranked down to zero, resettled somewhere far away from their current lives which you say happens all the time and is immaterial.
That is exactly what is going to happen if carbon pricing is implemented, which is what we need. However, most people are not going to be affected very much at all, and will in fact benefit from lower energy prices in the long run.
simultaneously devastating the richest part of the biosphere we're supposedly trying to save.
Because flooding 0.01% of something is not 'devastating'.
this is a small portion of the total effort required to eliminate emissions just in Brazil alone,
3% is not that small, and many small steps need to be taken to reach a large goal.
why are we just debating some little incremental measure
Well, it's true, there's no reason to debate it because it's going to happen and there's nothing you can do about it.
posted by delmoi at 11:50 PM on May 14, 2013


Because solar powered air conditioning doesn't lead to greenhouse gas emissions, so banning it makes zero sense.

Uh, then just ban all the non-solar-powered air conditioning? As if you didn't know that was what I was talking about.

Are you seriously trying to insist that this project makes perfect sense as one that is "actually going to have a chance of stopping global warming" even though there's no guarantee it will displace any fossil fuel use at all, but simply not using the power generated from fossil fuels is a crazy nonsensical idea?

Because flooding 0.01% of something is not 'devastating'.

Remember that when the 0.01% of the city that is your house gets flooded. Or if the 0.01% of city that makes up the electrical relay stations gets flooded or otherwise incapacitated, for a better analogy involving how the rest of the ecosystem relates to the river.

Not that it's any more impressive this time to continue pretending that the only environmental consequence of damming a river is a small area being submerged. Nor, if indeed as you say this is all unstoppable, is the area to be flooded to power the plant only 0.01% of the Amazon, according to the summary of that paper: the author, who in his bio claims to be the second most cited writer on the subject of global warming in the world, says that an area 6140km² in size will be flooded in addition to the 440km² at the Belo Monte site itself.

But hey, that's just a number. You realize that a large part of how we ended up on this precipice is people sweeping under the rug details of the actual environmental damage that would be caused in pursuit of their objectives, right?

Well, it's true, there's no reason to debate it because it's going to happen and there's nothing you can do about it.

Sic Semper Gotnuthinness. You would make an excellent colonial overlord and/or real estate developer.
posted by XMLicious at 1:14 AM on May 15, 2013


According to this paper on recycling the material that photovoltaics are made of, for some types 99% of their mass can be recovered by recycling, so as in the case with copper I doubt it would be anything other than difficult and inconvenient.

That's fine when you want to recycle the panels; it doesn't address the need for a source for the material for the intial installation of an expanded solar energy program. We'll need to expand renewable energy under any mining moritorium.
posted by Mitheral at 7:52 AM on May 15, 2013


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