Article published by Glenn Scherer Agriculture, Amazon Agriculture, Amazon Conservation, Amazon Dams, Amazon Destruction, Amazon Mining, Amazon People, Amazon Soy, Controversial, Corruption, Dams, Drivers Of Deforestation, Energy, Energy Politics, Environment, Environmental Politics, Featured, Flooding, Forests, Green, Hydroelectric Power, Hydropower, Industrial Agriculture, Infrastructure, Land Conflict, Land Grabbing, Land Rights, Land Use Change, Mining, Rainforest Deforestation, Rainforest Destruction, Rainforest Mining, Rainforests, Rivers, Saving The Amazon, Social Justice, Soy, Threats To The Amazon, Traditional People, Tropical Deforestation Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsored The Santo Antônio mega-dam built in the Amazon has heavily impacted the traditional communities displaced from their homes on the Madeira River. Many local residents were relocated from the riverside to cities, and seriously uprooted from their lifestyles, livelihoods and cultures.These local communities say that neither the Santo Antônio Energia Consortium, which built the dam, nor the government have been responsive to their allegations of polluted water, lost fisheries, lack of jobs and difficult urban living conditions.Analysts agree that the close relationship between the Brazilian government and large dam building consortiums, energy firms, mining companies and agribusiness – all profiting heavily from new dams – has resulted in local concerns being poorly addressed or ignored in the past.Experts also say that the Amazon dam building surge of the past few decades is likely to continue as Brazilian funding sources like the BNDES development bank dry up, but China steps in to fund mega-dams, and smaller hydro projects. Socio-environmental harm could easily escalate. While the Santo Antônio dam benefits the consortium that built it, as well as mining, energy and agribusiness interests, the infrastructure project has harmed local communities, according to critics. Image by Hely Chateaubriand.Six miles southwest of the Brazilian city of Porto Velho, the Santo Antônio mega-dam – constructed in 2012 – stands like a wall blocking the flow of the Madeira River in Rondônia state. Eighty miles upstream lies Jirau, a second new hydroelectric plant, completed in 2016.Like many dams in the Brazilian Amazon, these two have drastically impacted the ecology and dynamics of the river on which they are located, along with local lives – while dam builders, operators and government are slow to respond with help.“We began noticing differences with the water in 2013 when the dam was raised. It suddenly smelled very strange,” says Ana Flávia Nascimento, who has lived in the community of Jaci-Paraná, located between the two dams, for more than seventeen years.A rise in reservoir water levels at the Santo Antônio dam – accomplished to increase energy production – have caused groundwater to rise higher too. Now at the same level as city sewers and cemeteries, the local aquifer for the entire area is contaminated, according to critics.“In the past, we drank from our wells,” Flávia explains. “Now everyone has to buy their drinking water,” an added cost that can be a hardship for poor families.Santo Antonio Energia representative and biologist Kaio Ribeiro expresses his views regarding public complaints against the dam consortium. Image by Hely Chateaubriand.The Santo Antônio Energia Consortium that built and operates the dam, and chosen by the Brazilian government for the project, is ambivalent to the complaints; the consortium is made up of large Brazilian construction and energy companies, including Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez, as well as partly state owned companies and investment funds like CEMIG and Furnas.Kaio Ribeiro, a biologist and environmental coordinator at the Santo Antônio dam and employee of the consortium, admits that water quality has declined in Jacy Parana, but he calls the locals opportunists, and says that they don’t want to connect to the new water network the company installed.“They have no interest in solving the conflict,” says Riberio. “They are just looking for financial compensation.”Local representatives of the Movement for those Affected by Dams (MAB), however, dismiss the claim that there is ready access to clean water, and explain that the water supply the consortium installed served only a small area, and that the residents of that area have since been relocated when a heavily opposed expansion of the dam was carried out. Today, the legal conflicts between locals and the consortium remain numerous and contentious.The traditional river people, known as Riberinhos, are highly adapted to their surroundings and live in harmony with the seasons and pulse of the river. The dam has disrupted this subsistence way of life. Image by Marcela Bonfim.Dams often fail to serve those most impactedThe water problems in Jaci-Paraná are not unique. A report from the World Commission for Dams (WCD) highlights the social and environmental problems arising with dam construction, and documents the failures by builders and governments to find solutions to aid locally affected people.However, the theme put forth by dam proponents remains consistent: national economic growth is touted to justify new dams, while the negative consequences are concentrated locally, and either ignored or minimized. People impacted by dams are often forced to relocate and to change their lifestyles and livelihoods. Many times these effects – sometimes involving a drastic shift from subsistence to a cash economy – are difficult to foresee, hard for traditional and indigenous people to adapt to, and nearly impossible to compensate.Meanwhile at the local bus station in Jaci-Paraná, Flavia taps her colorfully painted nails on the side of the pink moped helmet she holds in her hands. “We weren’t completely opposed to the dams in the beginning,” she says. “The whole town believed in the dream,” but then she laughs bitterly. “They [promised] progress and benefits, but we have only seen the negative sides. In the past, this was a community depending on [the Madeira River] fishery. Now it’s forbidden to fish in the dam reservoir.” This is because Brazilian law prohibits fishing 1,000 meters upstream and downstream from hydroelectric plants.Many riverside communities were nearly self-sufficient before the dams were built, and lived from fishing and cultivation of tropical fruits like cupuaçu, açaí and babaçu. Forced to move away from the river to the outskirts of cities, people are now confronted by a multitude of social, economic and cultural problems.“Their [traditional] culture quickly disappears when they move away from the pulse of the river,” explains Porto Velho-based anthropologist Lucileyde Feitosa.Federal public prosecutor Raphael Bevilaqua represents a group of fishermen who were forced to move due to the dam. “The condition [guaranteed by the builders] was that their [local community] lifestyle could continue or improve. But what happened in the majority of the cases was that the quality of life deteriorated. Those who previously had a fair income, now have nothing; they live under miserable conditions, [dependent on] government grants.”It isn’t only fishermen who lost their livelihood, Feitosa points out, but also the buyers and sellers of fish in the city; thus, new dams can have repercussions for the entire local economy.Aerial view of the Santo Antônio mega-dam on the Amazon’s Madeira River. An archaeological excavation preceding dam construction revealed traces of numerous past indigenous cultures. Image courtesy of Santo Antonio Energia.Why dams? And why the Amazon?It isn’t a coincidence that so much dam building takes place in the Amazon; the region’s rivers do possess plentiful hydro energy potential. The Brazilian government and dam building companies often justify their hydroelectric plans by painting the Amazon as a poor, backward region; with the dams presented as bringing development, prosperity, jobs and progress.The placement of dams in the Amazon also needs to be understood in a geopolitical global context. “Nobody would accept the consequences [of building these mega-dams] in Europe. That’s why they are built in places like Brazil,” says Philip Fearnside, Professor of biology at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA).Fearnside is well known for his 40 years of research on human influences in the Amazon, and especially for his study of, and outspoken views about, dams. His small office is filled floor to ceiling with books and research papers. He explains who owns the dams, who pays for them, and who doesn’t generally benefit.The dams have been funded, Fearnside says, mainly with Brazilian tax dollars distributed through BNDES, Brazil’s state development bank – one of the biggest such banks on the planet. But even though BNDES paid more than 70 percent of the costs for building the Santo Antônio dam, most river communities downstream of Porto Velho failed to benefit: they still lack access to the electric grid.The local river community of Nazaré has little access to electricity, despite its proximity to the Santo Antônio hydroelectric dam. Image by Marcela Bonfim.Stranger still is this contradiction: Brazilians pay one of the highest prices in the world for electricity, despite the fact that the major government argument for developing hydropower is that it is cheaper to produce than many other types of energy.The reason for the high energy bills: most of the hydropower produced (though generated by large dams paid for by Brazilian tax dollars through BNDES) is owned by the consortiums, powerful alliances usually consisting of private and state-owned construction firms, energy companies and investment funds, many of them transnational in nature.A key partner in these business alliances, often not noted when dams are built, is the electro-intense mining industry which needs massive amounts of electricity to process gold ore, as well as bauxite to produce aluminium. These transnational mining companies – including U.S.-based Alcoa, Brazil’s Vale and many Canadian firms – receive massive amounts of state subsidized energy, amounting to over 35 per cent of the country’s total consumption, most of it produced by hydropower and distributed via the Brazilian electrical grid.The Brazilian minister for mines and energy did not respond to Mongabay’s request for comment for this story.Another important player, and beneficiary, is the industrial agribusiness sector. Dams tame Amazon rivers, turning them into industrial waterways – canals that reduce the cost of transporting soy and meat from Brazil’s interior and to the coasts for export.Most of Brazil’s crops and mineral commodities are exported to China and Europe, meaning that the rapid growth of Amazon hydropower in recent decades has been driven by transnational and large Brazilian mining, energy and commodities trading companies serving global economic demands rather than the nation’s domestic needs.A fishing boat seen at twilight as dam lights brighten in the distance. Traditional communities are forbidden from fishing within 1,000 meters of the dam, which limits their catch. Image by Marcela Bonfim.Business and politics mixMany of these transnational companies, along with large Brazilian firms, have forged very close relationships with the Brazilian government.Few eyebrows are raised over the fact that the current Minster for Agriculture, Blairo Maggi and his family, own and operate Amaggi, a world-leading soybean producer, which stands to benefit greatly from the construction of new industrial waterways. Or that Brazil’s newly replaced Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles is also on the board of JSB, an international meat company. A similar politico-business link is found in president elect Jair Bolsonaro’s choice for Agriculture Minister, Tereza Cristina, the leader of Brazil’s bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby and an active agricultural producer.Being both a politician and entrepreneur is not only common in Brazil: it’s custom – just as it is in many nations around the globe. However, critics say that the highly market-oriented and big business friendly government of interim President Michel Temer has taken these relationships to new levels of intimacy, which according to some critics, is weakening Brazil’s democracy.“We are seeing a hollow democracy in Brazil today,” says Luis Novoa, head of the sociology department at Rondônia State University (UNIR). According to Novoa, the country has become a corporate dictatorship where politicians are for sale.A striking example of the fraternization between Brazilian politicians and the business community is the colossal bribery scheme revealed in 2014 by the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption scandal. Odebrecht, the major Brazilian construction company and shareholder in the Santo Antônio dam, played a major part in this scandal. For years, a ”bribery department” within the company paid hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt government politicians in countries on three continents. This was done to gain advantageous construction concessions for infrastructure projects, including mega-dams.More than 200 Brazilian politicians, from the full spectrum of political parties, are currently under investigation for receiving bribes, including several of Temer’s ministers and even the interim president himself.But the problem is even bigger than corruption and bribery, says sociologist Novoa. He believes that Brazil’s government has become subordinate to the commercial market, a development seen in nation states around the globe.“The economic power is so concentrated [in a few large Brazilian and transnational companies] that the government cannot be said to act autonomously,” says Novoa. “Companies can more or less come to the government agencies and decide what they need. The dam companies’ promises of development, progress and jobs are used as propaganda to change the rules to suit their agenda. Backed by the government, the companies have more or less privatized the rivers of the Amazon.”According to Santo Antonio Energia, there have been no significant changes in aquatic ecology since the dam’s construction, a point of view not accepted by many local inhabitants. Image by Hely Chateaubriand.Environmental licensing as rubber stampCounter intuitively, Brazil possesses very strict environmental laws that should, in theory, prevent corporate needs from short circuiting the public good. For example, extensive environmental licensing processes – including viability studies, impact assessments and public consultations – precede dam construction.However, critics say that the licensing process has been reduced to a mere formality and rarely alters infrastructure plans. Some call these environmental assessments papel para gringo ver: paper to show the foreigners.A UNIR academic study for example, points out serious shortcomings in the socio-environmental impact assessment conducted for the Santo Antônio dam. The authors stress that more than a third of the potential consequences of the dam that were identified in the assessment were not followed up with any measures to compensate or minimize the predicted damage.For example, the dam building consortium’s proposed action to address “changed quality of life for the locals” was simply to “clarify this in advance.” Even the groundwater elevation that occurred in Jacy Parana was foreseen.When asked about the lack of compensating measures in the consortium’s PBA Projeto Básico Ambiental – a required document that outlines actions to mitigate impacts – Santo Antônio consortium representative Kaio Ribeiro shrugged and agreed that nothing was done.“Yes, that’s the way it is,” says Ribeiro. “There is no solution to elevation of groundwater; all we can do is keep monitoring.”The electrical transmission lines leading away from the dam connect with the Brazilian electrical grid. Critics say that the Santo Antônio mega-dam was built to benefit the mining industry and agribusiness. Image by Hely Chateaubriand.Analysts note that strong political pressure enabled the construction of Santo Antônio to stay on track, despite devastating criticism. According to Amazon scientist Fearnside, Santo Antônio and Jirau were the first cases of large dams where the views of IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, were disregarded.“There were over two hundred pages from government experts who said that the dam permit should not be issued, which was circumvented by simply replacing the [IBAMA] licensing manager,” Fearnside said. “The new boss approved the preliminary license and was then promoted to the head of the agency, after which the operational licenses were approved.”According to Fearnside, the approval of these two dams set a dangerous new regulatory standard, resulting in the same disregard for environmental law seen during the construction of the Belo Monte mega-dam, which became operational in 2016.Despite internal conflicts that arose over inadequacies in the Belo Monte licensing studies within IBAMA, and despite the fact that indigenous groups in the affected areas brought more than twenty court challenges against the Norte Energia construction consortium, environmental licensing was approved and the dam was built. Indigenous and traditional riverine communities surrounding the Belo Monte dam have suffered the adverse impacts ever since.Children at play in the Madeira River community of São Francisco do Guaporé. Image by Marcela Bonfim.“Against the law”Dimis Braga, a federal judge in the Amazon state of Rondônia, agrees that large-scale infrastructure projects often have strong economic motives and are rarely stopped by Brazil’s environmental laws. Legal decisions that, on environmental or social grounds, prevent dams from generating energy are highly susceptible to defeat, he says, because of strong political pressure from the legislative and administrative branches, which in turn are both greatly influenced by corporate lobbying.The entire legal system, and the entire edifice of a court case, can be overthrown by a single government trump card, an exception rule based on national and economic security built into the 1988 Brazilian constitution. The rule states that any Supreme Court judge can cancel decisions that risk “disturbing the economic order.” Thus, legal rulings that might benefit local people, or protect a river, but which could hinder construction of dams, can be annulled if the decision is found to harm the economy or endanger national security. This rule, called contra lei – literally meaning “against the law”– is widely used in hydroelectric dam legal conflicts. Braga describes it as an authoritarian “leftover from the military dictatorship that has not yet been completely wiped out of our legal system.”This rule was used more than twelve times in 2013 alone while the Belo Monte dam was being built, and according to Fearnside, there is little political or public pressure to change the law. “Most people in Brazil don’t know [it] exists,” he explains.Porto Velho public prosecutor Raphael Bevilaqua adds that it is very difficult to make community legal cases against dam consortiums, partly because of the vast economic disparity between moneyed interests and impoverished locals. “We don’t have the capacity to make the studies that the company can. It’s like fighting an army with a stick,” he says.Moreover, socio-environmental conflicts in Brazil have become notoriously dangerous to activists. In 2016, one of the local MAB leaders, Nilce de Souza Magalhães, better known as “Nicinha,” disappeared and her remains were found six months later close to her home at the bottom of the dam reservoir with her hands and feet tied to a rock. The murder is still under investigation; at least another 17 murders were committed in environmental and land conflicts in 2016 in Rondônia state alone. Brazil is the most hazardous nation for environmental activists in the world.Local activist Nilce de Souza Magalhães, better known as Nicinha, was found murdered, her hands and feet bound and tied to a rock, at the base of the Santo Antônio dam in 2016. Image courtesy of MAB.Amazon dam futureIn January 2018, two officials at Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) issued statements indicating a move away from mega-dam construction. Although seen as a promising win by environmental NGOs, indigenous people and local resistance movements, hopes that the country was downsizing its hydropower plans were quickly dashed.The Mining Ministry (MME) officials, Paulo Pedrosa, Executive Secretary; and Luiz Augusto Barroso, head of the Energy Research Enterprise department, were quietly sacked and replaced shortly after the two made the announcement.Likewise, Brazil’s official energy expansion plan contains little to imply a shift away from hydropower. At least 15 new dams – although smaller in scale than Santo Antônio and Belo Monte – are proposed for the coming decade. According to federal projections, hydropower will continue to grow more than any other energy sector in Brazil over the coming decade.Even the proposed São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam in Pará state, put on hold in 2016, may soon be back from the dead, a “vampire project,” as some have dubbed gigantic infrastructure projects resurrected at a favorable political moment.Retired general Oswaldo Ferreira, in charge of infrastructure planning for newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign, recently urged reopening feasibility studies for São Luiz do Tapajós, and also resumption of analyses for proposed Amazon hydropower dams with large reservoirs. The far right Bolsonaro, has also indicated his support for fast-tracking the infrastructure licensing process, limiting socio-environmental assessments to a mere ninety days, not near enough time to do proper scientific impact studies.The Santo Antônio mega-dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric projects. Brazil’s natural wealth, as reflected in powerful Amazon rivers, has helped prompt mega-dam construction. Image by Hely Chateaubriand.International pressure and resistance against mega-dams, in combination with Brazil’s current economic crises, has limited available funds for subsidized loans for mega-infrastructure projects in recent years. But as domestic funds dry up, China has stepped in, pledging to invest upwards of $250 billion in Latin American infrastructure over the coming decade, as it looks to meet domestic demand for goods like aluminium, soy and meat.If China invites Brazil to be a full participant in its global Belt and Road transportation and energy investment initiative, that move could herald many more large-scale infrastructure projects driven by foreign investors and built by Chinese state companies. Environmentalists warn that if Belt and Road is poorly managed, it could bring great harm to the natural world.A report published by Boston University on the future role of China in Latin America, however, deems it possible to exert control over hydropower development. It contends that some recent socio-environmental policy advances in the Amazon region came as the result of pressure from civil society and that, together with Latin American governments, there is now a need to hold the line against pressures to erode current protections.According to the report, pressure from international NGOs and independent monitoring organizations, and the implementation of compliance mechanisms, will be crucial in this process. Not least of all, the Chinese government, if it is to invest heavily in Latin America, will need to assume responsibility and a leadership role in safeguarding the environment and indigenous and traditional community rights, something that they, according to the authors, have previously shown themselves capable of doing.This means that governments and businesses must cooperate to not only ensure that infrastructure investment brings profit on the macro level, but they must also protect the Amazon and the living standards of people like Flavia on the micro level.Scientist Fearnside, when asked if he has hope for the Amazon’s future, responds: “I think it’s extremely dangerous to stop hoping.… It leads to fatalism and then you do nothing at all. Conversely, it’s just as dangerous to be too hopeful and imagine everything is heading towards the right direction, which also means you do not do anything. We must take a position in the middle that is constantly focused on action, whether you are a pessimist or not.”FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.Looking at the Santo Antônio dam’s electrical generating facility from the Porto Velho city harbor. The Bolsonaro administration is sending signals that it will pursue an aggressive infrastructure construction policy upon taking over the government in January 2019. Image by Marcela Bonfim.