Video: Hydropower and Energy Equality in Brazil
One year ago I attended a training session with Brazil's Movement for People Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens or MAB) where I learned about the distribution of electricity in Brazil. I was able to ask questions such as what happens when we turn nature into a commodity? Who benefits? What are the sacrifices? And most importantly, do we really need it?
If everyone asked these questions the world would be a better place but the homogenisation of opinion has led people to take the relentless dismantling of riparian communities for granted. At the start of the video I refer to these communities as exemplary, however the hydroelectric industry in South America invites these communities to see essential commons like water as a commodity.
Hydropower is perhaps the cleanest means of energy production however this depends on the geography. In North America, dams built upstream enable water to flow without causing inundation and disease as the non tropical climate is not subject to the breeding of mosquitoes in stagnant water, therefore communities are not affected in the same way. It may be that no fuel is required to power a hydro plant and that water is the only resource, however that is not to say that that what lives in the water is not at risk. The journey of salmon and other fresh water fish has been largely impeded by dams built in the United States.
Brazil offers another scenario involving river dependent communities and traditional cultures based on sustainable fishing. Brazil's Movimento dos Atingidos highlights the vulnerability of these populations to megaprojects and actually consists of people from each of these groups. Attending the training weekend in Alta Floresta were a group of young boys from the indigenous Capoto Jarina reserve and forest engineers from Sinop, Colíder and Alta Floresta, three cities in the Mato Grosso's nortão.
The dismantling of traditional ways of life manifests itself in the form of population growth, urbanisation, road construction to the region and the redundancy of displaced workers post construction; forced migration resulting in becoming detached from food sources, poverty and ultimately prostitution; and stagnation of water flow resulting most recently in pollution, zika virus and chikungunya.
What happens is that Vale, Rio Doce, Grupo Votorantim and Alcoa dams are constructed with the aim of producing an excessive amount of electricity to power a national grid. Must there be so many social consequences? Aside from manifesting the rights of these groups, MAB debates the alternatives which are not purely based on reducing individual consumption but also the opportunities for generating on a smaller, more regional scale. Per town or per settlement perhaps, in which case a similar technology could be implemented with a smaller risk and less unstorable excess. Sure, Brazilian cities are some of the largest in the world but the longer we wait to decentralise this system, the bigger these cities will get.
It's not the cleanliness of the source we should be debating so much as the dependency we have on it and the amount we use it. It's where we should be using it and how. That being said, there are still half a dozen corporations out there making millions from powering these plants regardless of the individual family's reduced consumption or even the alternatives.
Society should be able to dismantle these monopolists just as easily as these monopolists dismantled society.
On October 5th MAB will be holding its eighth national congregation in Rio de Janeiro.
For more news on MAB visit their Facebook here.