Thursday, February 18, 2010

Misters, No More Dams, Please (Updated)

The iconic Joni Mitchell wrote her "Big Yellow Taxi" in 1970 during her first trip to Hawaii, saying that "I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart... this blight on paradise. That's when I sat down and wrote the song". The song is catchy but have you listen carefully to the song?

Fourty years on, things have turned to worse. I read with great sorrow about proposal by Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd, state-controlled entity, to build 5 more dams in the Land of Hornbills that will produce combined generation capacity of 6,000 MW - that is 2.5 times higher than Bakun Damned.

It's sad because most tourism ads for this Ibu Pertiwi show the magnificient beauty of this Borneo State that comes along with rich cultural diversity. How could we destroy these 'natural cash cows'? Pelik tapi benar. It's all because of making quick bucks, Baby.

Mr. Hawkeye, had in late December 2009, wrote about "Damnation of Malaysia", where he shared about Transparency International labelling Bakun Dam as 'Monument of Corruption'.

Mr. Hawkeye's post has all relevant links to show the damning effects of building dams. I wish to extract certain points from 2 interesting NEWSWEEK articles.

"Generating Conflict" - Mac Margolis (2008) : Dams are rejected in America as too destructive. Yet they are still promoted in Latin America. Why?

1. The 2000 World Commission on Dams found that the construction of large dams cost, on average, 56 percent more than originally planned. Nor are they necessarily environmentally friendly. Big dams can destroy wildlife habitat, and in the Ganges, in India, and the Nile, in Egypt, have trapped silt, causing extensive soil erosion and land loss downstream. Drought is another concern. Ten years ago, the worst drought in decades dried up reservoirs and left Chile, which depends on hydroelectric power for more than half its electricity, with power outages stretching three or more hours a day.

2. Yet studies show that dams can produce significant quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more effective at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. In Brazil, where 80 percent of the grid is from hydro, many hydro plants are so inefficient they issue as much carbon dioxide and methane, from rotting vegetation, as a thermoelectric plant.

"The Lake Effect" - Sharon Begley (Dec 2009) : What new research about how dams affect rainfall says about man-made climate change.

1. Borrowing from Richard Dawkins on those who deny evolution, we can call this the "argument from personal incredulity", as in, "I don't know physics, but I can't understand how raising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide from 270 parts per million to the current 385 ppm could possibly alter climate."

2. Large dams are contributing to the "when it rains, it pours" phenomenon: longer periods without precipitation punctuated by drenching, flood-inducing downpours.

3. The significance of dams altering local weather is not merely another example of the power of human activities to change the climate. There is also a more practical issue. When dams are constructed, engineers make assumptions about how frequently large floods will occur, and they build the dam to withstand them. But if the proverbial 100-year flood occurs more frequently because of the very presence of a dam, that calculation is wrong, and the dam may be subjected to more frequent and more extreme flood-inducing downpours.

Please Misters, no more dams.

"If you damn a river, it stagnates. Running water is beautiful water. So, be a channel" ~ English Proverb

I like how succintly Mr. Wenger puts it in his post here, when he said "Most of the harm is self inflicted by our own citizens who either know too little, or know too much". But most of the time, we put those who know too little in the driving seat.

So, have you registered as a voter? Here's how and where.

p.s. I do watch NatGeo's "Big, Bigger, Biggest" on Dams but I am not sure whether to marvel at the great minds and innovations behind these dams or to weep in silent for the destruction they caused now and forever.

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