By Hwaa Irfan
The demanding energies permeating the air this year is coming up with unrealized dreams realized, with more good news to help uplift the global vibration. It began with Bolivia’s new constitution, The Law of Mother Earth as the only sustainable means of protecting both the rights of the environment which sustains us and the people, Peru rescinding on a Brazilian agreement for a mega-dam project, and now this! Oh, it’s just too much – not! Why, it only seems to be happening in South America, one wonders, but at least the nuclear ghost in the West looks as if it is finally being exorcised. Chile, follows Peru in the suspension and review of a hydro-electric dam project. Of course this did not come easily, and definitely not without the continuous effort of a conscientious people.
We create situations and scenarios without ever thinking that we have done so that create problems, then we stop thinking, to only lay our hands on what are considered instant solutions, that will only lead to creating huger problems, the kind of problems that are often difficult to reverse without the right mindset. Electricity is one of those problems, given the means by which industrialists have controlled and developed electricity to the extent by which when demands increase, we are unable to sustain them. The reason for the hydro-dam, is the increasing demand for electricity, but at what cost, and to whom! Approved recently as May 09 2011, the HidroAysen is/was a multimillion dollar project heavily backed by Chilean billionaire entrepreneur-cum-president, Sebastian Pinera to be located in the south of Chile. It was a mega-dam project involving 5 dams that was to be built over two rivers, the Pascua, and the Baker both of which flows into the Pacific, and both of which are responsible for draining the lakes in the region. The companies that were to build the dams are Chilean, Colbún, and Spanish-Italian, Endesa which has a bad track record with the Bio Bio River. The dams would result in the flooding of 60 sq km (23 sq miles) of land, and a network of 2,000km (1,240 miles) of power lines. This would supply the Anglo American Plc owned copper mines, yet would only provide 4,000 jobs at the most as compared to the harvesting industry which employs an estimated 12,027 people, and 12,600 in food processing (1999). Concerns at the cost of electricity should be evaluated as to the real reasons why the cost is the regional highest , and not confuse it with the blind passion and reason why some officials want Chile to become a developed country without looking at the predicament of current developed countries around the world.
“Here we don’t need all this energy that they are going to generate,” Gloria Hernandez, an adviser to the Catholic Church in Aysen told The Telegraph. “They are going to deliver it to the mining companies in the north.”
The supply of electricity would also benefit Empresas Copec SA which has a permit to build a U.S.$500mn coal mine on a Patagonian island, and Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista’s proposed U.S$4.4bn thermoelectric plant. The nuclear incident at Fukushima, Japan has proven how nature is greater than any man-made structure, and the devastating effect of that. Again in the case Nebraska two nuclear plants are under threat from the Missouri River, which no dam has ever successfully tamed without causing devastation to land and people. These realities surely must be on the minds of those in power, as one awaits the fate of the volcanic eruption from the Puyehue volcano, high in Chile’s Andes, not longer after a powerful, and devastating earthquake hit Chilean shores along with a tsunami. The factors and behaviour of nature regardless of the successes of man cannot be predicted. All man-made dams create some form of ecological disaster, because they are remiss of the inter-relatedness of all living things. One example is the Columbia River Snake system the effect of which is recounted here:
“In just 25 years the dams have wiped out 90% of the system’s salmon, extirpating many discrete strains. Three billion taxpayer dollars have been spent “techno-fixing” the dams, yet every surviving salmon is endangered. Hatcheries cannot replace these salmon. The “man-made” strains are essentially just batches of identical first-cousins, forced to inbreed till they self-destruct due to technological incest. It is wild stocks alone that give hatchery and net-pen salmon their fleeting viability. Without wild salmon in a river system, there are soon no salmon.” “Its dams provide no flood control. One of the four provides irrigation, but the water can be pumped to farms from a free-flowing river with the dam removed. The hydropower provided could be immediately replaced by existing power sources, or as the Rand study recommends, by solar and wind generation.”
As the dam was approved, a month later, the month was disapproved. Thirty thousand protestors came out with drums of resistance, and voices strong outside the building of the approving regional environmental commission in Coyhaique. Objection by legislators and environmentalists includes that of opposition lower-house member, Gabriel Silber, who has filed an injunction against the HidroAysen on the grounds that some regulators have vested interests in the project. The court is now reviewing the approval procedure.
Deemed as underpopulated, there was an estimated human population of 706,000 inhabitants in1997 in Patagonia! Covering 110,000 sq. km., Patogonia is home to animal and plant species that can be found nowhere else in the world with 5 million hectares of native forest, 1 million hectares of wetlands, and 2 million hectares of glaciers – which pronounce its varied ecology. Rivers interconnect and inter-relate all living things. Their ability to flow is essential to the ecology of the river, which helps to moderate the environment. The Patagonia coastline is reckoned to be the most biologically productive coastal ecosystem as well as being the most complex globally due to all its natural reserves being dependent on the rivers. The Pascua, and the Baker rivers both flows and feeds into the 70 million square miles Pacific Ocean. Both the Pascua, and the Baker Rivers are responsible for draining the lakes in the region. However, and there is always a however, this ecological balance has been compromised by “…overexploitation, physical alteration, marine and terrestrial pollution, introduction of alien species, and global atmospheric change…” according to an in-depth report by the Marine Assessment Resources Group (1999). Physical alterations affecting the stability of the ecosystem include:
- Coastal mining
- Urban and coastal development (harbours, roads, etc.)
- Degradation of substrate with fishing gear and coastal development
- Coastal erosion
- Tourist facilities
As humans it is normal to admire the natural beauty that abounds, and to take or add some of that beauty, but when that beauty is deemed as bounty, we must be cautious, especially if it means introducing specie to an environment that it is not natural too. When that is done, the introduced specie becomes invasive, and not only compromises the indigenous species, but also introduces habits that introduce new diseases without realizing. In the case of Patagonia, the introduction of alien species like the Asian clam have become predatory competing for food, and other resources, and have a negative impact on indigenous species. May the current review, take as a primary investigation the total environmental picture, which could compromise the country’s ability to cope with climate change, and potential sources of food!
“Biodiversity of the Patagonia Shelf.” The Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG) Report, 1999 “Chile Court Suspends Patagonian Hidroaysen Dam Project.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13851219
Craze, M and Woods, R. “Endesa’s HidroAysen Dam Project Passed By Chile Authorities.” http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-05-09/endesa-s-hidroaysen-dam-project-passed-by-chile-authorities.html
Duncan, D. J. “Cutting the Noose From the Salmon’s Neck.” http://www.patagonia.com/us/patagonia.go?assetid=2402
“Rallies held against Hydro Dam Project in Chile (Photos).” http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/150135/20110523/chile-dam-hydroelectric-environment-ecology-hidroaysen-protest-sebastien-pinera.htm