I was depressed to read in the Guardian the other day about plans to build a huge dam in Patagonia. To quote......the presidency of Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner enters its final days, her greatest – and arguably most controversial – legacy project is just getting under way in the remote grasslands of Patagonia. Here, amid herds of wild guanacos, condor nests and the occasional rhea, a Chinese-financed team of engineers will soon be dynamiting hillsides and pouring millions of tonnes of concrete for two giant hydroelectric dams that will flood an area the size of Buenos Aires'.
The truth is, dams are ALWAYS bad news for the environment. By trying to interfere with the natural world and tame it to suit our consumer needs, ecosystems, unique cultural sites of historical significance and indigenous populations inevitably suffer. From the Glen Canyon dam which destroyed much of the magnificent Colorado in Arizona to the Three Gorges dam in China which saw entire towns and villages submerged and a rare species of fresh water dolphin declared extinct. From The Planning Institute of Australia...
The Three Gorges Dam, a giant hydroelectric dam located along China's Yangtze River, has the biggest installed capacity of any power station in the world. But the project, finished in 2012, hasn't exactly been a triumph over dirtier forms of energy like coal power. Concerns about pollution, landslides, earthquakes, and biodiversity abound. And for about 4 million people, the dam project was mostly a disaster, as it flooded 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages. (Everyone was relocated to new settlements built on higher ground, which in an Orwellian feat, were given the same names as their former communities.
Here in Wales, we've had our own controversial developments. Most notably the Llyn Celyn dam which in the 1960's destroyed an entire valley including an historic 100% Welsh speaking village. See The Drowning Season. In the 19th century, the Lake Vyrnwy development saw the village of Llanwddyn destroyed. Both projects driven to supply water to Liverpool. Similarly, Alfred Wainwright's 'most beautiful valley in Lakeland' Mardale in the north Lakes was destroyed to provide water for Manchester.
In a way, the damming of natural rivers to create hydro power of water sources conveniently highlights the growing schism in the environmental movement between Conservationsts like myself and the new breed of Technophile 'Greens' who dominate organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.These Technophile greens see science and technology as the answer to the big issues of the day like energy production and climate change.
The wilderness and ecosystems can be sacrificed for the greater good of humanity. Who needs freshwater dolphins or red squirrels when industry needs power and domestic users demand the right to leave their houses lit up like Xmas trees 24 hours a day! These shrill voices can be heard in liberal newspapers like The Guardian. Berating the conservationists and rural dwellers as 'Ruddy Cheeked Tories' more concerned with their aspect and house prices than global warming.
It's a message defined by the term 'Green Fascist'. I have an image of these Greenpeace Guardianistas. Thirty something metropoles, flying around the capital on their £2k mountain bikes, courier bag flapping in their wake. Careful not to spill out their expensive iPhones and iPads as they wheel their way to a local FOE meeting in the Mung Bean Eatery and Meditation Centre. Inevitably white, male and middle class, these humourless emaciated geeks are the fundementalists of the movement. Zealous proselytisers who have chosen the one true way to salvation and woe betide anyone who challenges their essentially right wing orthodoxy.
Yes..right wing! -for these Technophile Greens embrace an imperialstic philosophy which is every bit as reactionary as its Victorian Empire building variant. The wild places, rare species, indigenous populations and natural resources exist to be exploited in the interests of the common good. Except the common good is conveniently served by large corporate interests who make billions out of these so called green projects.
The Three gorge Dam Project in China which literally unleashed hell!
Calling a massive dam project ' Renewable Hydro Power' is the 'get out of jail card' for corrupt national and regional governments and the private companies who exploit the powerlessness of native populations and the natural environment which they call home. For the global corporations, the politicians and the Green Technophiles who act as the willing footsoldiers for these nefarious shysters, its not enough to call youself 'Green'. Actions speak louder than words and as the man said, ...You're no Green Bruv!'
Sadly, within hours of posting this piece, I learned of the death of Doug Tompkins in a kayaking accident in Chile. Doug is probably best known as a bold outdoor pioneer and founder of the outdoor clothing brand-North Face. However, in the context of the above piece, he was more importantly an outstanding conservationist. A committed eco philanthropist who put his millions into buying vast tracts of Patagonian wilderness to protect the land and the species that inhabit it from disastrous developments like the Patagonia dam project above.
Thankfully through his wife and the foundation he established, his ideals will live on and the tracts of protected wilderness will be a fitting memorial to his life and times.