Amazon under threat again as Brazil's boom takes high toll
A report by Imazon warns that the government is not taking into account the full environmental impact of dams in the Amazon, calculating that 153 million tonnes of carbon will be released by the deforestation they cause. “The government is promoting a model of energy production without having all the data on the environmental impact,” warns Santos.
But supporters of hydro-plants defend their benefits. “The country will need this energy so it has to come from somewhere and it is self-evident that hydro is environmentally friendlier than oil or gas fired stations. The fuel is water,” says José Gelázio da Rocha, the engineer who supervised construction of the giant Itaipú dam on the Paraná river. But water is not the only fuel Brazil is seeking to harness in the Amazon. The region is also the focus of a gathering effort to exploit oil and gas reserves, often found in its deepest reaches. Marcio Rocha Mello, head of independent Brazilian oil company HRT, says the region could hold reserves equivalent to Algeria and Libya of over 100 billion barrels of oil.
Getting all this energy from deep under the forest floor to consumers thousands of kilometres away risks creating new spots of industrialisation in the heart of the jungle. Environmentalists point to the dismal environmental record of oil companies operating in the Amazon in neighbouring Ecuador.
But energy self-sufficiency is an obsession of Brazilian planners. It was dependence on imports at the time of the oil shocks in the 1970s that helped derail economic growth for the best part of two decades. Electricity blackouts in 2001 helped pave the way for the defeat of the government in elections held a year later.
Environmentalists warn this tension between preservation and development in regions like the Amazon is likely to remain so long as most developing governments seek to provide a western consumer lifestyle for their citizens.
“If we just think in economic terms then Brazil has to grow so as not to fall behind the rest of the world,” says Imazon’s Santos.
“This means increasing consumption, upping production and all this will require more energy. Where is the government going to find this? Amazonia. Hopefully Rio+20 can help change this strictly economic optic so that the economy has to take account of the environment and people.”