Bill Clinton takes on Brazil's megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups

Jeremy Hance
March 28, 2011

Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil's megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.

As reported by Forbes, in a speech delivered on the last day of the forum last week, Bill Clinton said, "You need electricity and you need to preserve the forest. But 20% of the world’s oxygen comes from the Amazon. It’s not an easy decision, but you have to think about these things, and about the future of your children and grandchildren. You also have to consider the indigenous population, the wildlife, and the plant species that can be used to cure illnesses and will be affected by building these dams.”

Clinton is head of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), which works on sustainable energy programs as well as other climate initiatives.

Critics of the Belo Monte argue that 50,000 indigenous people will lose their livelihoods and a way of life, while 20,000 will be moved. Environmentalists say the dam will release massive amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane due to rotting vegetation, while disrupting fish migrations. In addition, the dam will flood over 100,000 acres of primary rainforest.

But Belo Monte is only the biggest of a number of massive Brazilian hydroelectric projects, some being built in the Peruvian Amazon, that have frustrated indigenous groups, environmentalists, and scientists alike.

However, the Brazilian government argues that the dams are necessary to meet increasing energy demands in the country.

For his part, James Cameron has been criticizing Brazil's megadam plans ever since he first visited the Amazon and met with indigenous groups after the release of his sci-fi blockbuster, Avatar, which tells of an alien race defending its forest home from a human corporation.

Cameron told the forum that before he films the sequels to Avatar he wants to bring his cast to Brazil to meet with indigenous people and see the Amazon.

"If I had met the [indigenous group] Caiapos before making Avatar, I would certainly have made a better film," Cameron stated. He also revealed that he had taken actor and former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to meet with the tribal leaders.

In response, Carlos Nascimento, CEO of Norte Energia, which is overseeing the construction of Belo Monte, sent a letter to Cameron and Schwarzenegger asking them to meet with him to discuss the dam. Despite harsh criticism and legal challenges, the Belo Monte dam is currently going ahead with rainforest being cleared for the construction.

The World Sustainability Forum in Manaus was also attended by Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group; Izabella Teixeira, Brazil's Minister of Environment; and former Green presidential candidate in Brazil, Marina Silva.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (March 28, 2011).

Bill Clinton takes on Brazil's megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups.