“Beautiful Mountain”

by Emily Kirkland

April 26, 2010

On April 20, 2010, the Brazilian government awarded contracts for electricity production from the Belo Monte (Beautiful Mountain) dam. The auction for the contracts happened only after several judicial injunctions were reversed by the government at the last minuteand after the Brazilian Agency for Electrical Energy woke up one morning to find a special delivery from Greenpeace outside their building: three tons of cow manure, plus signs reading, Beautiful mountain of sh*t. Our activists certainly werent mincing words, but with an issue like Belo Monte, its hard not to get scatological.This $11 billion hydroelectric project will divert the entire flow of the Xingu River through two artificial dams, destroying as much as 50,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest. As the third-largest hydroelectric project in the world, after the Three Gorges dam in China and the Itapiu dam on the Brazil- Paraguay border, it will require moving as much earth as the Panama canal did.

Belo Monte threatens a beautiful region virtually untouched by development. The dam itself will have a tremendous negative impact on the biodiversity and natural communities of the area. Just as importantly, it will pave the way for further industrial growth. As a result, it imperils even greater quantities of forest than the 50,000 hectares directly affected.

This dam also carries an enormous human cost. 40,000 people live in the area that will be flooded. Indigenous peoples will be particularly affected. The Juruna and Arara people, for instance, live along the famous Big Bend in the Xingu River, which will effectively disappear once the Xingu is diverted. It is unclear how the indigenous people who currently live along its banks and fish in its waters will survive.

Sergio Leitao, a campaigner for Greenpeace Brazil, recently said that the dam represents a step into backwardness for Brazil. As he explained, this project follows a maxim long ago proven to be flawed: cheap energy at all costs. The energy produced by the dam could easily by generated by a wind-power installation of similar size, for a slightly higher cost, without any of the environmental or social impacts. Sergio is not the only one to recognize the flawed thinking at work here. James Cameron, the director of Avatar, who has ben campaigning against Belo Monte, said recently that it reminded him of a real-life version of that movie.

The destruction of the wilderness and the marginalization of the indigenous by the forces of greedwouldnt it be nice if these things happened only in movies? The unforuntate truth, of course, is that James Cameron is right: This is like a real-life Avatar, no 3-D glasses required. Thats why were commited to stopping this project from going forward, whatever it takesand even if what it takes is three more tons of steaming cow manure.

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