Planet of the Dammed

by Adam

Mickey Z.

“An ant may well destroy a whole dam.”

– Chinese proverb

 Here’s an inconvenient truth about An Inconvenient Truth: If every single person in the US were to make every single change Al Gore suggested in the movie, carbon emissions would fall by only 21%.

Translation: Taking shorter showers ain’t gonna make the tiniest bit of difference.

We can’t let greenwashing cause us to lose sight of the big picture. We need to think big. Dam big…

Dams are expensive, destructive, and ineffective. More than 45,000 large dams (read: at least 45 feet high) were built in the 20th century and these structures are a serious green issue that impacts all life on earth. In California alone, dams have resulted in the loss of 90% of that state’s river environment and 95% of the salmon and steelhead habitat—all at a cost fifty times higher than more efficient solutions.

FEMA tells us: “Dams provide a range of economic, environmental, and social benefits, including recreation, flood control, water supply, hydroelectric power, waste management, river navigation, and wildlife habitat.”

But Jacques Leslie, author of Deep Water: The Epic Struggle over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment, paints a far different picture:

“The world’s dams have shifted so much weight that geophysicists believe they have slightly altered the speed of the earth’s rotation, the tilt of its axis, and the shape of its gravitational field.”

Yeah, the dam issue is that serious—and here’s more:

1. Dams cause greenhouse gas emissions

According to a study done by the National Institute for Space Research, India’s 4,500 dams (third highest behind the US and China) “emit an amount of methane that is equivalent to 850 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.” It seems both carbon dioxide and methane are “released from the decaying vegetation of spillways, reservoirs and turbines of hydropower dams, but methane is twenty-three times more formidable in trapping heat than carbon dioxide.”

2. Dams displace people

As many as 80 million people have been displaced by dams worldwide. This is due to the reservoir created by the dam. In addition, those who live downstream from the dam will no longer have the dynamic river ecosystem that created their environment in the first place. (Obviously, these are not humans with wealth and power.)

3. Dams promote erosion

The folks at International Rivers explain that dams hold back sediments that would naturally replenish downstream ecosystems. “When a river is deprived of its sediment load, it seeks to recapture it by eroding the downstream river bed and banks, undermining bridges and other riverbank structures,” they continue. “Riverbeds downstream of dams are typically eroded by several meters within the decade of first closing a dam; the damage can extend for tens or even hundreds of kilometers below a dam.”

4. Dams lead to plant and animal extinctions

The introduction of such an unnatural structure and concept quite predictably has led to the extinction of many fish and other aquatic species, the disappearance of birds in floodplains, and massive losses of forest, wetlands, and farmland.

5. Dams are temporary solutions

Like many temporary solutions, dams ultimately create more problems than they were supposed to solve.

It should come as no surprise that some eco-activists have pondered the, um…removal of hydroelectric dams. It should also come as no surprise that this brand of contemplation is deemed “terrorism” by the powers-that-be. Of course, those same powerbrokers have no trouble blowing up a dam if it serves their imperial/homicidal interests.

During World War II, for example, British scientists invented a spinning cylindrical “dam buster” bomb specifically to blow up German dams. Less than a decade later, the US Air Force (USAF) regularly bombed dams during the Korean War in order to flood North Korea’s rice farms.

Here’s how the USAF justified such tactics: “To the Communists the smashing of the dams meant primarily the destruction of their chief sustenance—rice. The Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning that the loss of this staple food commodity has for an Asian—starvation and slow death.”

In a now-declassified memorandum dated April 15, 1969, holy man Billy Graham urged President Nixon to blow up dikes, which “could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam.” (With or without Rev. Graham’s heavenly sanction, US bombing of dikes in South Vietnam was already a common and uncontroversial tactic.)

In other words, dam busters are evildoers—except when they aren’t—and either way, the prevalence of hydroelectric dams serves to expedite ecocide. This, my friends, rather effectively sums up the culture in which we struggle.

Can dams be removed and the damage undone? Many say yes, calling it “destruction in the name of creation.” But as I said at the top, it first requires a sea change in our mindset.

The time is long overdue to think big. Dam big…

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.