Monthly Archives: April 2010

All that glitters is probably aluminum

Brokopondo Reservoir

The whole lake is filled with dead stumps like these

In the 1960’s a dam was built in Suriname.  It crossed the Suriname River and created a reservoir covering over 602 mi² (1,560 km²). It resulted in the oddity that in one of the world’s tiniest countries with a population of less than 500,000 inhabitants, we had created one of the world’s largest reservoirs.

It flooded the rainforest swallowing up villages and displacing more than 5,000 rainforest dwellers. It was touted as a great advancement for the country, bringing badly needed electricity to the majority of the country’s inhabitants who lived in the capital city of Paramaribo.

If nothing else, the dam was a huge boon to mining the country for bauxite and processing it into aluminum. Indeed, pretension aside, the dam was constructed to bring electricity to plants operated by Suralco, a daughter company of Alcoa Aluminum. Bauxite processing is an energy hog. Bauxite is the essential ingredient of aluminum.

So 75 % of the hydropower from the huge dam went to Suralco  and Paramaribo got the leftovers. Looking back some 45 years later, Suriname has been pretty much cleansed of all the bauxite mother earth had to offer, and Paramaribo still suffers from lack of energy, with rolling blackouts a common occurrence.

When I was on the reservoir a few weeks ago, what I mostly saw was death. The enormous lake is dotted with islands and bordered by rainforest. Were it natural, it would have been magnificent.    Instead, as our boat headed out to Tonka Island and negotiated the dead treetops that were once a living canopy, I felt embarrassment at the cavelier shortsightedness of humans.

The Rainforest of Suriname is a westward continuation of the Amazon Rainforest that blesses Brazil, Suriname’s gigantic neighbor to the east.

I don’t know, maybe we really can be excused that tiny Suriname didn’t get the consequences of Brokopondo in the 1960’s. But what do you say about the world’s 5th largest economy in 2010? Other than @#%@!

I heard an interview with James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron of Titanic and Avatar) on Al Jazeerah, which they show in English on Suriname TV. If you can find it, I suggest you listen. He was articulate, well-informed, and — here’s a news flash – really smart.

He was interviewed about his activities in opposing Brazil’s push to build the world’s 3rd largest dam. This is the controversial Belo Monte dam on the River Xingu, which will damn (and dam up) one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon River. It is being fought against by the indigenous people, environmentalists, and some high profile folks like Sting, Sigourney Weaver and Cameron.

Brokopondo Reservoir

Another view of the former Amazon Rainforest canopy

It turns out that we’re getting a second chance 50 years later. A chance to use solar power instead of damming up a major tributary of the Amazon River. A chance in a 24/7 media world to see through the lie that says one dam will do it. It won’t. It will need 5 or 6 dams – displacing tens of thousands of rainforest dwellers.  Or the lie that this is for the folk of Sao Paulo who need more electricity. They do, but this is, once again, for processing bauxite.  It will not come close to getting Sao Paulo out of its electricity problems.

The Government of Brazil is setting aside billions of dollars for this project. Cameron suggested instead using a part of it for solar power development. It’s a great idea that could turn this world power into the world’s first super solar power.  With that kind of money and five times as much sun as Germany, the Rainforest and its people can thrive.

If business-as-usual has its way, the people and the rainforest will be dammed. The teeming living rainforest and its ancient culture will give way to a watery 21st Century graveyard.


This article lists some of the groups opposed to this:

This is an in-depth explanation of the lies & myths: