This year, 2012, won’t bring an apocalypse. It won’t bring an end to humanity either, but depending on decisions made in Brazil, it could bring an end to the Amazon as we know it and could shape a very dangerous destiny.
The Belo Monte Dams current reputation is almost as checkered and complex as is its history. First blueprints for the hydroelectric dam were leaked as early as 1975, when Brazil’s ruling military junta were planning grand propositions of how they could turn Brazil’s pristine and virgin Amazon into a resource to launch the country onto the world stage. The proposals were dashed after internal controversy and public outcry and remained off the political agenda until the 90’s, when it gained fierce momentum and rose to the monstrous reality it is about to become…
Having commenced work in the Xingu, initial construction of transport canals and on-site infrastructure for the dam have already caused considerable destruction, as Belo Monte’s destiny already seems set in motion.
Belo Monte looks set to trigger a great wave of Hydroelectric projects throughout the Amazon basin- it is shall we say, the cornerstone of energy advancement in the region at the expense of the forest and it’s people. Today that planned growth accounts for over 125 dam sites planned or already under construction across the jungle, with Columbia, Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia all investing in similar projects.
It must be said however, that president Dilma is feeling the pressure. Recent dam projects have not only faced opposition from environmentalists, but in recent weeks have also seen huge delays and unforeseen rises in start up costs due to walk-outs and strikes. The NY Times reports, “Last weekend brought an end to a fierce 26 day strike by over 17,000 workers, a faction of laborers who were furious over wages and living conditions began setting fire to the construction site at the Jirau Dam”. Such strikes have been closely associated with the projects for months and many expect nationwide union action until the workers demands are met.
Belo Monte may be all but a forgone conclusion, but as a young indigenous man I once met Sao Paulo said, “Until the last brick is placed, the last tree is felled, we will always have hope”.
Belo Monte is not Dilma’s only environmental headache at present; Brazil’s first female president and the former Marxist-guerrilla has also the issue of the New Forest Code to deal with. The code will dictate how the Amazon is set to be treated, down to very specific regulations. Brazil had made huge strides in terms of reducing desperate deforestation statistics, but ahead of the Rio+20 summit this summer, the decisions made for the forest code will no doubt showcases how the country and it’s government will choose to view the lungs of our planet and more importantly, how they will treat it.
A report out of Switzerlands WWF group two weeks ago, listed some of the major negative effects the new code could have on the Amazon:
- Millions of acres illegally cleared prior to 2008 will be legalized through amnesty, resulting in a forfeiture of fines worth an estimated US$4.8 billion.
- In the Amazon region, landowners could be allowed to reduce the obligatory required forest cover from 80% to 50%.
- Up to 90% of private properties in Brazil could be pardoned from the standing obligation to restore illegally cleared areas.
- Will cause Brazil to miss it’s own carbon emission targets
- Large areas of floodplains and other sensitive areas will be opened to cattle ranching and farming.
The Chamber of Deputies have now voted 247 – 184 in-favour of implementation and have subsequently removed some of the more environmentally soft and pro-forest protection clauses that the Senate had included and Dilma encouraged within the bill.
Public protest and pressure on the head of state has been strong throughout the nation, with many of the countries most beloved musicians, actors, global thinkers and even sports stars adding their voice to the “Veta, Dilma!” campaign.
She has but days left to issue a veto on some of the clauses, but it is expected that such a decision would make her unpopular within the Senate and spark an on going battle upon a topic that Dilma her self calls “The one that won’t go to sleep“, however the pressure is reaching her and I urge you to add your name to the petition(!!)- the Amazon is relying on us to be on the right side of history.
More to follow