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River Killers — Juan Pablo Orrego

River Killers — Juan Pablo Orrego

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Destroying wild rivers to generate electricity is a false solution to humanity’s need for energy, with extremely high costs to individuals, communities, and ecosystems. The negative impacts of large dams are multidimensional—degrading watersheds, riparian zones, coastal ecosystems, and even oceans. We must reject the lure of megadams and the energy gluttony they perpetuate, which deters society from deploying distributed power generation at a much smaller scale, consuming less energy, and letting nature produce more beauty.
Destroying wild rivers to generate electricity is a false solution to humanity’s need for energy, with extremely high costs to individuals, communities, and ecosystems. The negative impacts of large dams are multidimensional—degrading watersheds, riparian zones, coastal ecosystems, and even oceans. We must reject the lure of megadams and the energy gluttony they perpetuate, which deters society from deploying distributed power generation at a much smaller scale, consuming less energy, and letting nature produce more beauty.

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Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Jun 12, 2013
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RIVER KILLERS
THE FALSE SOLUTION OF MEGADAMSJUAN PABLO ORREGO
 
This publication is an excerpted chapter from
The Energy Reader: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth
, Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch, and George Wuerthner, eds. (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2012).
The Energy Reader 
 is copyright © 2012 by the Foundation for Deep Ecology, and published in collaboration with Watershed Media and Post Carbon Institute.For other excerpts, permission to reprint, and purchasing visit energy-reality.org or contact Post Carbon Institute. Photo: Getty.
Hydroelectric dam, Tocantins River, Brazil.
about the author
 Juan Pablo Orrego,
founder and director of Ecosistemas, is one of Chile’s foremost conservationists and a recipi-ent of the Goldman Environmental Prize and the Right Livelihood Award. In the 1990s he was a leader in the campaign against six large dams proposed for southern Chile’s Biobío River. He is presently helping lead an interna-tional coalition of conservationists fighting a megadams scheme that would destroy wild rivers in Chilean Patagonia.
Post Carbon Institute | 613 4th Street, Suite 208 | Santa Rosa, California 95404 USA
 
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gain and again in recent history, humans have rushed headlong to adopt the latest discovery, invention, or technology, embracing them as
the 
 pana-cea to solve humanity’s problems in a particular field. We have done so with remarkable and mounting short-sightedness, even eagerness, due to the anticipated (and often real) economic windfall associated with the uti-lization of new technologies. In many cases, the sec-ondary, synergistic, cumulative impacts of the latest miraculous techno-fix have been devastating.Petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines, nuclear fission, DDT, chlorofluorocarbons, asbestos,… the list is long of “technological wonders” that spawned unin-tended consequences. The negative effects of the reck-less use of these technologies are directly related to the lack of wisdom applied when taking the decision to deploy and use them. What is needed is a systemic and holistic approach to the temporal and spatial/ecological dimensions of technological developments.Destroying wild rivers with large dams in order to gen-erate electricity is one of the clearer examples of a false solution to humanity’s “need” for energy. Modernity has unnecessarily inflated this need; given the severe negative environmental impacts of electricity genera-tion in general, it is amazing how superfluously and frivolously this form of energy is utilized. At this point in human history, our capacity to have blind spots regarding truly life-or-death issues has become one of our most prominent traits.Large hydroelectric dams—with a height from founda-tion to crest exceeding 15 meters (49 feet)—are a new technology tied to the development of modern metallic cements, a history that dates back only some eighty years to the building of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in 1931. Since then, the number of large dams around the world has increased to more than 45,000, with the largest reaching 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) in height.
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 Dams, interbasin transfers, and water with-drawals for irrigation have fragmented 60 percent of the world’s rivers.
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 In geological and even human tim-escales these eight decades represent a very short time span, particularly when attempting to elucidate how this controversial megatechnology stands in terms of its cost-benefit equation.With the building of the first hydroelectric megadams, the technology was touted as a clean, abundant, renew-able, and cheap source of energy. Mounting evidence demonstrates that most of these assertions are ideologi-cal. Such claims are biased by the extremely profitable business that surrounds megadams all along their life cycle, which includes design, financing, environmental evaluation, and actual construction with its mobiliza-tion of workers, materials, and machinery.
 
Destroying wild rivers to generate electricity is a false solution to humanity’s need for energy, with extremely high costs to individuals, communities, and ecosystems. The negative impacts of large dams are multidimensional—degrading watersheds, riparian zones, coastal ecosystems, and even oceans. We must reject the lure of megadams and the energy gluttony they perpetuate, which deters society from deploying distributed power generation at a much smaller scale, consuming less energy, and letting nature produce more beauty.

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