Everyone knows that finding a renewable source of energy is crucial to wean the world off fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions, but what are we willing to sacrifice for clean energy?
In Brazil, the government has given the green light for the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam that will be able to generate enough energy for over 23 million homes. However, its creation will see the flooding of huge portions of the Amazon basin, displacing indigenous tribes and putting 500 sq km of rain-forest underwater. The creation of the Belo Monte Dam is expected to begin in 2015 and is rumoured to cost around $17 billion. Set to be situated on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon in the northern state of Para it has been abandoned several times, noticeably in the early 90s due to its controversial nature and widespread global protests.
Energy or existence?
Environmental groups have often said that the construction of the Belo Monte Dam will cause devastation in a large area of the rain-forest and threaten the survival of indigenous groups, but the government has denied this saying that the project has now been modified to ensure that the livelihoods of indigenous people won't be affected.
Brazil's environment minister Carlos Minc has stated that those who win the bidding process to building contract and operate Belo Monte will have to pay around $800 million to protect the environment and meet 40 other conditions.
"There is not going to be an environmental disaster," he told Brazilian television. He also addressed accusations that local Indians would be forced from their lands saying, "Not a single Indian will be displaced. They will be indirectly affected, but they will not have to leave indigenous lands."
Miliennia old ecosystems
Unsurprisingly, local tribes are not convinced. Megaron Tuxucumarrae, a leader of the Kayapo Indians said, "We want to make sure that Belo Monte does not destroy the ecosystems and the biodiversity that we have taken care of for millennia."
Of course it's not only the 40,000 local Indians would be affected by the flood; while the government may not displace them, by re-diverting the river they will definitely affect fish stocks in the region not to mention the rest of the animal species that live in the area.
In a pure example of whether the needs of the many out weight the needs of the few, the Brazilian government is faced with going ahead with the project and proving 11,000 GW of clean electricity to the population, but destroying a large portion of the country's ecology whilst receiving fierce condemnation from environmental groups.
Brazil has been embracing hydro-electricity over the past decade and there are plans for at least 70 other dams in the region, though not on the scale of Belo Monte, which when finished will be the third largest hydro-electric dam in the world, after the Three Gorges in China and Itaipu.
Despite its size, there are those that think it will be nowhere near as efficient as planned, with critics saying the dam will generate less than 10 percent of its capacity during the three to four months of the low-water season.
However with an ever growing population and a ever-increasing demand for energy, it looks like Brazil is set to sacrifice their natural and anthropic heritage in order to keep the lights on.
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