17 October 2007

Renewble Energy?

"Big Dams are to a Nation’s ‘Development’ what Nuclear Bombs
are to its Military Arsenal. They’re both weapons of mass destruction.
They’re both weapons governments use to control their own people."
~ Arundhati Roy (1999)

"Construction Site", Three Gorges Dam, Photo © Steven Benson, 2006

Various press sources reported last week that the 3 Gorges Dam in China already is creating more environmental havoc than the Chinese government anticipated. As a result a significantly several million more people will need to be relocated due to construction of the dam. Here is part of a report from The Wall Street Journal:
"Already, 1.4 million residents have been relocated to
make way for the dam. On Thursday, China's state
media said the government plans to move an additional
four million residents from the reservoir area created
by the dam because of worries about pollution fouling
up the new lake's waters, as well as landslides that
have made life hazardous for millions who live nearby."
And let's not mention the concerns about seismic activity that might someday threaten the integrity of the dam. These sorts of report remind me of the essays Arundhati Roy wrote about India's big dams. She portrayed them as fiascos that not only displaced millions of people but that never came close to fulfilling their intended purposes. In fact, Roy argues that those purposes were never actually spelled out. Massive projects like this, often rationalized in terms of energy production (compare nuclear plants), seem designed to fail. (She relies, in addition to many government and NGO reports, on Patrick McCully Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams.)

Three Gorges Dam Project, Dam #2,
Yangtze River, China 2002 © Edward Burtynsky

Should you find Roy too irritating or simply too suspect because she is a woman speaking in public on behalf of the relatively powerless (I actually think her political essays are extremely pointed and extremely funny) you might consider Jim Scott's Seeing Like a State (Yale UP, 1998) for a related argument.

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