Sunday, 20 February 2011

Dr. Philip Fernside interviewed on Belo Monte(2 B edited)

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André Trigueiro -
(Globo News, rádio CBN, PUC RJ)

The Amazon region has the largest potential for exploiting
energy through hydroelectricity. The official government with the support of scientists supports the thesis that if investments toward projects like Belo Monte will not be implemented, the Brazilian energy matrix will inevitably be dirtier and more expensive. Do you agree?

Philip Fearnside - No. This discourse has a presumption, seldom made explicit, that
energy in the country will continue to be increasingly used for industrial energy-intensive export, industries such as processing primary aluminum. This option is most unfavorable for Brazil, because the dams create big impacts and the benefits in terms of creation of jobs by aluminum smelters is negligible: only 2.4 jobs per GW of electricity consumed. There are plans to double the capacity of virtually all aluminum plants in Brazil in order, of course, to export, since the country now produces more aluminum than is consumed domestically.

Following this logic, there is no limit on how many dams Brazil "will need"if it is to meet the global demand for aluminum.
The discussion about what should be done with the energy has not even started in Brazil. For example, the current Ten Year Expansion Plan Energy, launched in February 2009, even mentions the issue of decisions about the energy use. Just make a projection of "demand", assuming that must be met in its entirety. For me, the first decision must be not to export more aluminum, because the damage it causes
the country is greater than the benefit it brings in.
Then, one should forbid heavily overtaxing or undesirable uses of energy and encourage reductions in electricity use through efficiency improvements energy. The most obvious example is the electric shower, according to the current National Plan on Climate Change, is responsible for 5% of national consumption, it is more than Belo Monte or any other planned hydropower produce. Then come the other sources (solar, wind etc.). and finally, the dam - always thinking to prioritize the actions of lesser impact and greatest benefit.

André Trigueiro - The Balbina Hydroelectric Plant, built in the late 1980 at Presidente Figueiredo, Amazonas State, was marked as a project poorly made, expensive and inefficient(best word would be thoroughly useless). Can you compare to some extent Balbina and Belo Monte projects?

Philip Fearnside - Although the two projects have major impacts there are differences between Balbina and Belo Monte. Belo Monte has the ability to generate more energy than Balbina. Balbina lake is immense and this can also be the case of Belo Monte if the dam planned to be built on the head waters is considered. And these dams are the "X" Belo Monte in question, and here the story has a sad lesson that we can learn from Balbina. In September 1987, less than a month before Balbina was closed, on 1 October that year, Eletronorte distributed a document "Public clarification" that promised to fill the lake just up the quota of 46m above sea level. The level would be maintained until a program that monitors the water quality proved that there was no problem, a process that should take several years. Only after the completion of this study would be taken the decision on filling the reservoir up to full quota of 50m above sea level. However, the reality was quite different. When the water level reached an elevation of 46m, there was no interruption to perform the monitoring of water quality. Filling reached a level slightly above the 50m, creating a lake twice the size originally planned. The parallel with Belo Monte is extremely worrying. In the case of Belo Monte power, authorities today are stating that just a dam will be built on the Xingu river, and no more the other five originally planned upstream. However, this mill would produce a far greater amount of energy with at least one of additional dams upstream, presumably Babaquara (or"Altamira" by the new official name). Only by this would dam 6.140km2 in the original plan, more than twice the area of Balbina, and large part would be on indigenous land. As in Balbina, where the option of 46m was "overlooked" in favor of 50m, the temptation of simply "forget" the promises is likely to happen during the construction of Belo Monte as well.

André Trigueiro- The proposal to reduce deforestation in Brazil at COP-15 was considered an improvement over the absence of any formal commitment from the government in this field.
What assessment do you make of this plan?

Philip Fearnside
- The proposal by the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen was an improvement over the (sad) history of past positions. However, Brazil needs to
take a real goal for reducing their emissions. What was released at COP-15 was only a "voluntary goal," not a "goal".
A "goal" implies consequences if it is not fulfilled, may be, for example, buying carbon to meet the target assumed. On the other hand, a simple "objective" does not imply any consequence if not reached. Moreover, the "voluntary goal" may be abandoned
or changed by any of several presidents that Brazil will have up to 2020, the year that the goal refers. A goal under the Convention Climate is different: it remains true regardless of who is ruling the country. The plan launched in Copenhagen is less than it appears, as used 19 500 km2 per year as the reference rate of deforestation, and almost all the promised reduction had already happened. It missed a better explanation on how deforestation would be kept in the promised "low" levels. There is a inconsistency with respect to the federal government plans to open roads, increasing access of the processes of deforestation on the tracts of Amazon forest still intact, as is the case of BR-319(Manaus-Porto Velho), which continues to be in the Acceleration Program(PAC).

Bettina Barros (Jornal Valor Econômico) - What environmental impacts can be expected with the construction of the dam - in the worst and best scenario?

Philip Fearnside- We should not fool with a supposed "best scenario." The logic leads to the construction of upstream dams, starting with Babaquara /Altamira, with huge impacts. These include: the flooding of vast tropical forest areas, the loss for the indigenous population of land and river (noting that use of the river is critical for this population, because the fish is an essential part of the diet), and the emission of greenhouse emissions.

Bettina Barros - Is the dam essential for the expected increase of energy or are there less costly alternatives?

Philip Fernside- In the ideal scenario, we should follow a logical sequence of steps:
First, stop exporting aluminum, producing only what is consumed in Brazil. Second, invest in energy efficiency, starting with important changes that refer to more mundane uses as the end of electric showers which, by itself, consume much more
than that Belo Monte will produce. Third, there is need for consistent investments in wind, solar and others energy sources. Efficiency investments on alternative energy sources must have the same scale and political urgency that investments in hydropower today. I recommend the text Celio Bermann entitled "Brazil does not need Belo Monte", available at:

Bettina Barros - Public hearings are being satisfactory?
Philip Fernside - The hearings were a farce, with endless speeches by proponents and no opportunity for formal objections, with the exception of brief placements in the audience, after hours of official discourse. The Indians left the event not to pass the impression that they were actually being consulted. There were more police than participants.

Bettina Barros
- What does Brazil lose with Belo Monte?

Philip Fernside - To approve licensing process has already a cost of credibility enormous. It means that the expectation for future works will also have guaranteed approval, regardless of the merits, especially when dealing with a political priority. Both in the case of Rio Madeira and Belo Monte the staff of IBAMA was against the approval at the last minute, the head of licensing has been replaced and permits approved.
The true impact on the environment and humans is often greater than the impacts officially accepted in the studies because this document omits upstream dams. Only Babaquara / Altamira occupy, in the original plan, 6.140km2 (double Balbina), and large part on indigenous land.

Bettina Barros -What Brazil gains with Belo Monte?
Philip Fernside - It is difficult to say that Brazil gains with Belo Monte, even in purely financial terms the cost is great. The construction is being paid by Brazilian tax payers, not by international aluminum companies that will be the benefited ones. Essentially, Brazil is giving grants to recipients in other countries. The financial subsidy is not the largest, but the environmental and social impact that Brazil is getting from these dams.
Exports of aluminum is essentially the export of electricity, in the form of ingots. Other countries do not want to generate impacts that this energy creates domestically, and therefore export the environmental impact to Brazil. And the country is not charging for this impact. Instead, it facilitates the export without even properly incorporating the financial cost in providing this energy.

Herton Escobar O Estado de São Paulo
- Brazil needs to produce energy to develop, it is a fact. There is still room for "sustainable" production of hydroelectric power in Amazon? The problem is that the Belo Monte project is bad, or that the project should not exist to begin with? In other words: You can make a large hydroelectric in the Amazon, or do we simply give them up?

Philip Fernside - I do not agree with the premise that Brazil must produce more energy to develop. The problems are multiple in Belo Monte. Firstly the fact that most of the energy would be used to produce aluminum. This does not solve the lack of energy for other uses of electricity and also encourages the expansion of alumina plants (in Juruti and Barcarena) and primary aluminum (Barcarena and in St. Louis). Moreover, it justifies the construction of thermoelectric power plants to make these plants work during the period of the year that Belo Monte will have insufficient water.
Second, there is a great environmental and social impact (ignored in EIARIMA)to be caused by the immense area to be flooded by the dams that were planned upstream to supply water to the turbines at Belo Monte, which has a large installed capacity: 11 000 MW. Furthermore, there is not a storage tank with "live" water to keep running
turbines in the main powerhouse in times of low water flow.
The problem is called the "institutionalized lie," ie, statements officials announced since 2008 that would be built just a dam (Belo Monte) in the Xingu River. Any other dam built upstream would result in an bigger impact than that officially admitted.
Belo Monte, alone, is quite unprofitable, as was shown by detailed analysis done by the NGO Conservation Strategy(Available at The fact is that some
companies that are willing to invest in the construction indicate that they are counting on another scenario, considering more dams upstream.
Even without considering the upstream dam, the Belo Monte project itself has impacts far greater than those admitted. The "dry stretch" of Volta Grande of the Xingu river, 100km below the main dam, passes by two indigenous areas. The assertion that indigenous peoples are not affected based on the fiction that just flood through the reservoir has a"direct" impact.
We can not make a generalization about all dams, but the fact that the impacts tend to be much greater and the benefits far smaller than those generally admitted assumes that, the best decision would be not to build most of the proposed dams in the Amazon.

Herton Escobar- In the specific case of Belo Monte: Is it worth making a hydroelectric in the same place, but with a social and environmental impact reduced within the "acceptable"? Or there should be not a dam at that place whatsoever? Why?

Philip Fernside - We must not be naïve about the dams upstream of Belo Monte. The discussion about the possibility of doing or not an dam at that location must face the issue of dams river above.
Brazil currently does not have a reliable legal mechanism for which is made an irrevocable commitment in the issue of not doing the upstream dams. What exists is a decision of the National Council Energy Policy CNPE) just saying that Belo Monte would be done.
However, this advice is mainly composed of ministers who change with each new presidential term. The CNPE can easily change of opinion in the future by revoking its decision of 2008 and allowing building more dams. In fact, there are several indications that this is the scenario contemplated by both the dam building industry and by important instances in government agencies (see / philipfearnside /). A strong hint came as the Extractive Reserve Middle Xingu, proposed by the then Environment Minister Marina
Silva, was vetoed by the then Minister Rousseff, the Civil House, because "Could hinder the construction of additional dams on the plant of Belo Monte "(Folha de Sao Paulo, October 10, 2010, p. A-15).

Herton Escobar- Why do you think the government insisted on this project, even with all its risks and questions?

Philip Fernside - The simplest reason is the political value. The government gains more votes by promoting than opposing the project. There is also an influential industry of dam builders, which includes the construction companies and groups of professional engineers, consultants, equipment suppliers and services, among others. Any project costing $ 19 billion(or maybe even $ 30 billion), plus several billion more for the transmission system, will have a very strong lobby in favor, even if not producing a single watt of energy. History provides Balbina as a concrete example. (see my book on Balbina in

Manuel Dutra
Federal University of Para and the University of Amazon- Just over a century, there were three or four public agencies responsible for the supervision and protection of forest resources in the USA. In the early 20th century, with the participation of Gifford Pinchot, one of the pioneering scientists in environmental conservation in the Americas, the U.S. government and the Congress unified the various decision-makers into the Forest Service, that still stands today. Bringing the issue to Brazil in early Century 21, and making a metaphor with soccer: Don't you think environmental issues, among us, are like a soccer field with an excess of teams vying for the same ball, each of which obviously with their interests and strategies? Isn't about the time or rather late to the Brazilian State to call the organized groups and say, "Let's put an end to this game with excessive and conflicting rules, which ends up not having rules, and head to a clear definition of what Brazil wants to do with its resources and development projects, unifying the decision process to the environmental field and defining the future we want to build? "

Philip Fernside - It's a bit strange to use the example of the Forest Service in the U.S. to illustrate the question. The U.S. Forest Service is in the Department of Agriculture (Brazilian equivalent of a ministry) and there is a long history of attempts to transfer it to the Department the Interior, who cares for forests in national parks and other types of reserves and that has an environmental perspective.
The question implies that it would be better to unify all the positions on issues of environment and development. I would say there is a considerable risk in adopting this path. It is not a secret that the Ministry of Environment is politically much weaker than the various ministries promoting projects with major environmental impacts, such as Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry
Mines and Energy. Just see the contrast between the budgets of these ministries (see issues # 1 and 2 of the revised Environmental Policy, available at that bring an analysis on the budget of the Ministry of Environment). The trend positions like "unified" would always be the prevalence of the development side.
There is a very relevant example of this that occurred in the United States. It is the history of the Atomic Energy Agency (AEA), which was established soon after
World War II to promote nuclear power and monitor the safety of the plants. The result was hundreds of near disasters, all covered up by the Agency to determine whether its function of promoting energy nuclear. This only became public knowledge in 1979 when there was the accident at Three Mile Island. Thus, the AEA was disbanded into two separate agencies, one to promote energy and others to make
safety oversight. Thus, all differences are visible to public and the result was a huge improvement in safety.

Manuel Dutra -It still echoes in the ears voices of environmentalists who praised Brazil for its sources of "clean energy" stemmed from hydroelectric potential. Today, as we see, it is quite the opposite. How this discourse has become so radically changed in a relatively short period of time?

Philip Fernside - Most people do not know about the emissions of greenhouse effect of the dams. There is a very strong lobbying by the hydropower industry and government agencies responsible to foster dams. The first study showing emissions gases from power plants was published in 1993 by a group of Canadians who showed emissions of artificial lakes in their country. I published a similar paper in 1995 showing that Balbina plant would emit more than would be emitted to generate the same energy with fossil fuel and that triggered the reaction of the hydropower industry. At first they denied completely the existence of emissions, but that position has evolved over the years and began to admit some emmission, but still much smaller than the equivalent thermoelectric. In Brazil, this position is sustained in several ways. The most significant is to simply pretend that the only emissions are the bubbles and the diffusion through the lake surface itself, ignoring the water that passes through the turbines and spillways. The Belo Monte EIA / RIMA is a glaring example of this. The other way is to use data from emissions measured downstream that only deal with the river surface, held at 50m or more below the turbines, that is, after much methane has already been released. The only way to account for the emission in the turbines without omitting the released gas just off the turbines is the difference between the concentrations of methane in the water above and below the dam. However, the tactic used is to say that these emissions are subject to the "controversy" and therefore should not be considered until there is a consensus among scientists. It's the same argument that was used during many years by the tobacco industry, claiming that there was great uncertainty about the relationship between smoking and cancer. In the case of hydropower, the uncertainties that exist in the exact quantification of the emissions do not change quite unsubstantiated conclusion that dams release enough greenhouse gas. See

Manuel Dutra - The guarantees that the federal government provides to indigenous peoples in Xingu, concerning to the construction of Belo Monte, are insufficient or are, in fact, a sham?

Philip Fernside - For environmentalists, of course, it is a decoy. So what alternatives are viable from an ecological and economical perspective that they offer the government and the people of a country that needs energy?
It's really a sham - the word used by journalist Lucio Flavio Pinto
the title of his book on Belo Monte. Not only are "environmentalists" who
reached this conclusion. I suggest reading the analysis by economists
NGO Conservation Strategy http://conservation-strategy available.
As to the assertion that Brazil is a country that needs energy, "
it depends on what means 'need'! Subsidizing power for export aluminum can not be considered a "necessity." See my answer to journalist André Trigueiro.

Ana Ligia Scachetti - SOS Mata Atlantica
We know that many areas of the Atlantic Forest have paid the price for economic growth in Brazil, today is a biome reduced to about 7% of its original cover. Projects like Belo Monte tend to break down the natural barriers that keep Amazon protected, with the justification that the country needs more, always more. But in your opinion, why a country with immense natural wealth, which is positioned as a world environmental power, preserved lands are seen as available for any economic development, while devastated areas are seen as productive land and end up with more protection than the first?

Philip Fernside - The reason for obvious preferences to forms of development that involves the destruction of nature is that the financial benefits go into the pocket of the destroyer, while the environmental costs are paid by the people. So even though the total impact is greater than the benefits, the option is destruction. I'm trying over the last 25 years "to sell the fish" of environmental services as a basis for the rural economy in the Amazon, replacing the current economy which is based on forest destruction. See the work on services environmental available.

Hebert Regis de Oliveira
Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainable Development of Western Bahia (Bioeste)- There is a great strength of public opinion against the construction of the hydroelectric particularly in social movements and environmentalists. What are the main arguments that can be technically verifiable and that can block the construction of Belo Monte?

Philip Fernside - The argument that must always be remembered is the lack of economic viability of the dam in its official version, without the dams above the river.
Often when you begin to speak in economic calculations, people linked to environmental and indigenous movements simply turn off their neurons, thinking that only the major environmental impacts and social have value. But the economic aspect is key because the infeasibility.
The project without dams upstream provides clear evidence of what environmentalists call "institutionalized lie" and economists call the "crisis planned." That is, once Belo Monte is built, there will be a big surprise "when they discover that the river
Xingu does not have enough water for three or four months a year to even run a single 11 000 MW turbine in the main powerhouse and will stay with only 330 MW of small turbines in the powerhouse. Leaving idle large turbines, which represent the most expensive part of a dam, and also leaving the system without power
transmission lines will not be a profitable investment. This will create political power to justify the construction of dams upstream, with disastrous impacts cleverly hidden today from public discussion.

Regis de Oliveira - What are the critical issues in the questionable Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)? What alternatives were created try to minimize the impacts on indigenous communities, and biological and cultural diversity?

Philip Fernside - - The EIA / RIMA has many serious flaws (see the report of the Panel of Experts about Belo Monte, available at / files / Belo 20Monte%%% 20pareceres 20IBAMA_online% 20 (3). pdf).

Remember that the previous license, granted (under pressure) by IBAMA
on 1st February 2010, has a proviso that the consent clause would be revoked unless there has been a "false description or omission of relevant information assisting in the issuance of license. " A clear example that fits in this regard is the treatment of emissions of greenhouse greenhouse effect. The EIA does not consider the main source of emission, which is the methane released by the water passing through turbines and spillways.
The emission from the surface of the lake, which is relatively small in Belo
Monte, excluding the upstream dams, would have an emission by bubbles and
diffusion small compared to the emission that leave the bulk water passing through the turbines each year (see calculation of the emissions

The EIA does not offer alternatives to indigenous communities because documents simply pretend that there is no "direct impact." The two indigenous areas in the Grande Volta of the Xingu River, would become the "dry stretch" with much less water, are considered outside the area of "direct" impact that is portrayed as being just the area submerged by the reservoir. In case of much larger areas of Indian lands that would be flooded by the other dam upstream to store water for Belo Monte, the report does not mention this matter, due to the fact that the EIA be based on the hypothesis (questioned, including by me) that Belo Monte is planned to be the only one dam on the Xingu River. Clearly, the impacts of large reservoirs upstream on biodiversity also would be much larger than those depicted for Belo Monte alone.
The EIA (Vol. 33, p. 155) suggests creating "at least one conservation unit" to protect the forest type that would be flooded by the reservoir Belo Monte, but leaves a subsequent report (Basic Plan Ambiental - PBA) on the definitions and characteristics of the local unit.

Hebert Regis de Oliveira - The reservoir will be 516km2, occupying an area of five municipalities in Pará, a region with high potential for endemic species. Before flooding the area, are there studies to identify what will be lost, and even some work to try to transfer the species of fauna flora to some unit of full protection?

Philip Fernside - The idea that "the reservoir will be 516km2" fits in with the so call "Institutionalized lie", the thesis that there is only one dam on the Xingu River, the Belo Monte. The hydrology and economics offer strong evidence for the story to develop in another way, with construction of more dams to increase water flow in the Belo Monte during low water season. The next dam would be Babaquara / Altamira, with 6.140km2 in the original plan.
Concerning the fauna affected by the first dam, fish are unique in the waterfalls of Grande Volta of Xingu. I am not aware of plans to save them artificially. There are promises with respect to the flow that would pass by Volta Grande. There are concerns that power companies be permitted in the future to let go less water for the Volta Grande , to increase power generation. There is also an unusual fauna in the caves affected. See excerpts about fish and caves in the report of the Panel of Experts on Belo Monte (available in 20% 20pareceres%%% 20IBAMA_online 20 (3). Pdf).
Hebert Regis de Oliveira - The western region of Bahia, an area of activity of the Institute Bioeste, began to suffer the threats of Small Hydropower(SHP). The area is considered a biodiversity hotspot, of great biodiversity, with a high degree of endemic species, as well as at risk of destruction of their natural resources. The region was considered by Aneel(government agency) one of the targets for the installation of these enterprises. Although up to 10 MW, and,considering the proportions, the damage caused by these SHP are the same as the construction of Belo Monte?

Philip Fernside - Being much smaller, it is clear that the impact of each HCP is less. However, it is not true that the impact per MW of power generated is smaller, because the flooded area per MW installed is usually higher in case of SHP. Together, the SHP can create very large impacts in
aquatic ecosystems, barring vast stretches of the courses of water over entire regions. The state of Mato Grosso is another place with
a large number of small hydro planned.

Verena Glass - NGO Reporter Brasil-
There is, in the Volta Grande do Xingu, a series of archaeological sites
which, to my knowledge, have not been studied yet. Building Belo Monte could make harder to carry relevant archaeological and anthropological studies in this region?

Philip Fernside
- Besides the impacts on indigenous peoples and non-indigenous in the area today, there is a loss of archaeological sites mentioned. I suggest reading Report of the Panel of Experts on Belo Monte (available%% 20Monte in 20pareceres 20IBAMA_online%% 20 (3). Pdf).
Verena Glass - With a drought more severe at the extent of the Big Bend, what is the real possibility of multiplication of disease vectors, such as malaria and dengue fever? From experience with other dams as Tucuruí there is the danger of proliferation of other pests to human and animal?

Philip Fernside
- In the case of Tucurui, there was an impressive plague of Mansonia mosquitoes, an extremely aggressive type of insect that bites both
day and night. This happened due to the Amazon prevailing winds, that blow from east to west, piling the macrophyte(Aquatic plants) on the west side of the reservoir. This margin was leaning against the settlement of Parakanã Gleba, leading the settlers to try for two years to get a different place to live (in end gave up and establish a new settlement on their own).
Researchers at the INPA (National Institute for Amazonian Research)
recorded 600 bites per hour on human baits in the settlement.
In this case, as in Amazonian reservoirs in general, there was an explosion of macrophytes at the beginning, covering 40% of the lake, but with the decreased fertility of the water over the years, the area has decreased and stabilized at 10% after a decade. See the work on Tucuruí available.

In the case of Belo Monte, with the city of Altamira located on the shore
west of the reservoir, there is a risk. Let's wait and see.
Verena Glass - Still comparing to other hydropower projects, which is the expectation of overpopulation in the region. What are the impacts that it can cause on the environment and to local traditional populations?

Philip Fernside - The availability of jobs and money flow that accompanies a
project of this size inevitably lead to increasing of population to the region. At the end of the project, however, most of these people is not employed and many migrate to other places to join the next project.
In such cases, those who are worst affected are the traditional people. I just had the experience of staying with a traditional family today in the area sentenced
by the lake of Belo Monte (I supervise a dissertation on the agricultural system in the area). This population lost their livelihoods and has little chance to do well after the expulsion. We did not learn from the lessons of Tucuruí and the drama currently in progress of the fishermen in the area of dams on the Madeira River. History repeats itself.
Verena Glass - Assuming the power plant project will proceed, how is the situation of the affected populations? Perhaps it is simpler to the consortium to evaluate mitigations on indigenous lands, which are already demarcated (mostly). But how are the riverine and small farmers? According to the website of the Ministry of Development On Agrarian Legal Land, only 800 farmers are registered at Altamira, which is very little. Another issue is the Arara Indian land which is not yet approved. How would this population be?

Philip Fernside - It is very important that the population "affected" is interpreted as all impacted on the effects of the drastic reduction of flow in the Volta Grande do Xingu. This includes two indigenous areas below the dam. Also one must never forget the importance of so-called "lie institutionalized "(or" planned crisis "): the likely impact on populations of indigenous people is much greater, because the upstream dams are all predominantly on indigenous lands.

Translation to be edited
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Manuel Dutra said...

Excelente, Gil. Acho que esse texto ainda estava apenas em Português.
abraço, MDutra

Gil Serique: Culture, Windsurf & Wildlife In the Amazon said...