April 27th, 2012
The Price of Development
The Belo Monte Dam is a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River in the state of Pará, Brazil. The project started over thirty years ago, during the period of military dictatorship in Brazil, but it was shelved in 1989, under pressure from indigenous groups. However, with the new Growth Acceleration Program (or PAC, in Portuguese) thatstarted in 2007, the project was brought up to the table again. The planned installed capacity of the dam will be 11,000 MW, which makes it the second largest hydroelectric dam in Brazil, and the third largest in the world. The dam is expected to cost $3 billion and the transmission lines will cost $2.5 billion, and it is being developed by the state-owned power company Eletronorte. (Blog BeloMonte). Because of its size and the necessity of a big flood area, the project brought numerous debates regarding its environmental impacts versus its future benefits. The project is criticized by environmental organizations as it will flood 400 square kilometers of agricultural lands and forest and will directly impact the Paquiçamba reserve of the Juruna indigenous people, while other experts arguethat Brazil needs another hydroelectric power plant, in order to supply the demand for energy, which has increased a lot in the past years. As one of the most current events in Brazil, the construction of the Belo Monte Dam will be explored in this essay, and due to the numerous arguments regarding this issue, the opinion of some experts will be taken into consideration, in order to develop aconstructive idea about this topic.
The Brazilian government specifically highlights the improved design of the dam, the technological advancements since the previous proposal and the concept of minimizing possible socio-environmental impacts upon the region. The “mitigation initiatives” include “the management of the threatened fauna and the creation and maintenance of ecological reserves in theregion” and creating new infrastructure to support possible influxes of human migration following the prospect of employment (Blog Belo Monte). This discourse of mitigation and compensatory action reveals a commitment to the logic of WSD that sees capital as substitutable (new jobs and infrastructure are acceptable replacements for forested land; natural capital on site is replicable in created“reserves”). It also supports a construction of nature as manageable in discursive affinity with dominant developmentalist discourse.
On the other hand, some specialists say that hydroelectric energy is central to the Brazilian government’s 2007 Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) and the Belo Monte dam is at the forefront of a campaign to integrate the Amazon region with the rest of Brazil through energyexpansion, infrastructure development and increased industrialization. Netto says that “A development strategy would secure long-term social inclusion and devolution of income, with growth in output and employment. This presupposes an environmentally sound sustainable growth spurred by the market of mass consumption, by investment and rising productivity.” These claims are clearly reflective ofthe developmentalist story-line that dominates the global arena, and this adoption of global discourse helps to shield Eletrobrás and the Brazilian government from criticism.
As mentioned before, “the Belo Monte dam is depicted as crucial for the energy security of Brazil and cast as the only alternative to increased burning of fossil fuels” (Blog Belo Monte). Supporters of the project presentshydroelectric as the cheapest and cleanest energy source for meeting increased energy demands. According to Netto, “Brazil has been a trailblazer. It generates 46% of its energy from clean, renewable sources such as hydroelectricity against a global average of 13%”. This metaphorical term “clean energy” refers to wider climate change and renewable energy story-lines and reduces these complex...