Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for Their Human Costs – New York Times

The New York Times ran an article today outlining some of the drawbacks to China’s hydropower initiative, including hundreds of thousands people that have been or will be displaced, acres of farmland destroyed, hillsides eroding, jeopardizing endangered species, and monuments washed out.

Though some of those drawbacks are a result of the Chinese government’s handling of the Three Gorges dam, and not inherent to hydropower, many are the unavoidable costs of hydroelectric power.  Long heralded as one of the greenest form of energy, hydropower isn’t purely environmentally friendly so much as it is zero- or low-emissions power.  Ecosystem devastation, erosion, wildlife harm and land-use problems are inevitable with any hydroelectric dam.

The same is true of other forms of so-called green power.  Solar and wind power both have their environmental and health impacts – often requiring huge tracts of land and toxic chemicals to create (cadmium, a carcinogen, is required to produce a new, more economical solar panel developed by University of Colorado).  Displaced species and people, countless dead birds sucked into turbines, land made unusable, and chemical waste are only some of the unsavory by-products of these forms of renewable energy.

But as the Times points out, the game that we’re playing right now isn’t “Find the Greenest Energy,” it’s “Find the Best Way to Reduce Emissions.”  For a lot of us, that might require a change in thinking.  This isn’t about saving every last dolphin, fish, bird or antelope.  You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

This late in the game, with the IPCC’s report on climate change, with a near-consensus amongst climatologists, with an ever-growing number of Americans concerned about global warming, climate change, and their own carbon impact on the environment, not to mention the doomsday scientists out there claiming the problem is much, much worse than anyone is willing to admit, it’s about finding stopgap measures to slow the damage we’ve done.

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