Brazil’s New Dam Project Could Destroy Heart of the Amazon

A proposal to build 40 new dams in the Brazilian Amazon has recently been slammed by Greenpeace. The group argues that the project is economically unjustifiable and a threat to the environment and indigenous populations.

Brazil currently plans to construct five major dams and 35 other smaller projects along the Tapajós river. Brazil’s government argues that this is a fundamental part of a strategy to fight nationwide recession and to tackle the country’s electricity shortages.

At least two thirds of Brazil’s electricity comes from large hydropower, but that energy source has caused significant problems.

Last year, Brazil saw rolling blackouts as a result of severe drought, as well as persistent transmission problems. This intensified fears that without enough free-flowing water to power hydroelectricity stations, Brazil could be at the brink of a severe energy security problem.

Brazil wants to solve this problem by creating 25GW of new hydropower by 2024. The country also hopes to facilitate new industrial waterways to aid in exporting crops to Europe. Even so, Greenpeace claims that there are many reasons why this project should not move forward.

In May, Greenpeace released a report, “Damning the Amazon; The Risky Business of Hydropower in the Amazon,” which highlights several of the key issues with the damming project.

Chiefly, Greenpeace questions government figures on the amount of energy that will supposedly be created as a result of this project. The group maintains that the yield will not be high enough to answer Brazil’s electricity problem because it depends on unreliable seasonal waters.

And what’s more, it will come with a significant environmental cost.

Creating the São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam will involve flooding and clearing almost 400km square of forest, an ecosystem which is vital to several animal and plant species.

The Greenpeace report notes:

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) commissioned by a consortium of companies expected to bid for the SLT dam project identified over 2,600 species near the dam site, including many that are at risk of extinction, as well as several birds and primates that appear to be new to science – emphasizing the area’s huge importance in wildlife terms. However, according to a 2015 independent study commissioned by Greenpeace, this EIA had multiple failings, including insufficient sampling of key habitats, a total failure to look at areas downriver from the proposed dam, a lack of analysis of the risks to the species recorded, and inadequate measures proposed to mitigate the impacts on wildlife.

In more general terms, the Amazon is particularly important for global efforts to mitigate climate change, as it provides significant carbon capture and carbon sink. Disrupting the Amazon’s already weakening ability to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere could be damaging to overall climate change reduction efforts and certainly would impact Brazil’s contribution to those efforts.

The land that will be flooded also intersects with several important sites for the Munduruku people. The indigenous community has long fought for the right to have their claim to the land recognized, but the Brazilian government has largely ignored those calls. 

Greenpeace says that despite government failure to respect their legal rights, the Munduruku and other indigenous populations in the area cannot be ignored. By withdrawing support and involvement in the dam projects, international companies can help fight for their protection.

The report also takes aim at Brazil billing large hydrogen power as a “clean” electricity source, saying this is misleading:

Besides the energy embodied in building a large industrial installation in a remote location, dams emit considerable amounts of greenhouse gases – both carbon dioxide and the much more potent methane – as a result of the decay of flooded vegetation and soil.

The report goes on to note that studies suggest the hydrodam’s contribution to global warming could be as much as half the equivalent output of gas-fired power stations — and will far exceed the environmental costs of wind or solar yields of the same capacity.

The report’s executive summary concludes:

Brazil’s dash for Amazon hydropower is destined to fail its people while enriching the few. … Accordingly Greenpeace is demanding that the Brazilian government cancel its plans for Amazon hydropower projects such as the SLT dam, and is urging companies and banks considering involvement in these projects to focus instead on helping Brazil to develop a clean energy future.

Brazil’s government has suspended licensing for the dam building project while legal challenges from indigenous populations are reviewed, but the license could be renewed and the project could still go ahead.

Greenpeace contends that for the sake of those communities, for Brazil’s energy security and for the environment itself, that can’t be allowed to happen.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

79 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

$$$$$$ for corporations.

SEND
Patricia H.
Patricia Harrisabout a year ago

As I said before... I don't care how much money they have, all I care about is our home planet, and all it's wonders!! The reason why these jerks always win, is because we're letting them win, and we need to stop it!!

SEND
Randy Q.
Past Member about a year ago

No doubt.

SEND
sandra vito
Sandra Vabout a year ago

thanks

SEND
Melania Padilla
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

Shared by the way

SEND
Melania Padilla
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

No words, so sick of these stories... I may be banned from here....

SEND
Nena C.
Nena Cabout a year ago

Humans are called to be compassionate caregivers, protectors and stewards of the planet and its beings. Helping not harming. To create an environment where all beings are treated with respect and compassion. Never to die needlessly or cruelly. These vulnerable, innocent beings have the right to live “cruelty-free” in peace. “We must remember in our dealings with animals that they are a SACRED TRUST to us. They cannot speak for themselves. Harriet Beecher Stowe “Love animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you – alas, it is true of almost every one of us!” Fyodor Dostoyevsky Those who endanger, disregard, exploit, imprison, neglect, disrespect, abuse, molest, torture, MURDER animals must be imprisoned/pay for their psychiatric management and placed on an animal abuser registry. Their fines must PAY to build/support animal shelters/sanctuaries/relocation programs.PAY for protected reserves/conserved areas/fencing, etc.PAY for spay/neuter/birth control programs.PAY

SEND
Elaine W.
Past Member about a year ago

There must be a better way!

SEND
Ross W.
Ross Wabout a year ago

...wow

SEND