James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger Visit the Xingu

Article from Amazon Watch: Manaus, Brazil – James Cameron held a press conference yesterday with Amazonian indigenous leaders and environmental experts following his return with Arnold Schwarzenegger from a visit to the Big Bend region of the Xingu River, the site of the proposed Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Calling the Dam a "human rights crisis" for Brazil, Cameron – who has visited the Xingu Region three times in the past year – made an appeal to the Brazilian government and public to use this crisis as an opportunity to lead Brazil into a more ecologically sound energy path.


Cameron also participated in the Global Sustainability Forum where he shared the stage with Schwarzenegger in a dynamic discussion touching on the challenges that countries face when moving from an old model of energy, exemplified by large dams, to a new model based on energy efficiency, solar and wind power. Cameron pointed to the experience of California under Schwarzenegger's leadership in stimulating growth in green jobs, solar and wind power.


Cameron was joined by legendary Kayapo Chief Raoni Txucarramãe, indigenous leader Sheyla Juruna of the Xingu Alive Forever movement, and Philip Fearnside and Francisco Hernandez, leading specialists on climate change and sustainable energy in Brazil.


"The Brazilian government is not open to dialogue with its own people," said Sheyla Juruna, a leader of the Juruna people who are directly affected by the Belo Monte Dam. "It consistently violates its own laws and constitution, especially with regard to the requirement to consult indigenous people about the impacts of Belo Monte and other mega-projects."


Kayapo Chief Raoni Txucarramãe said his people are holding assemblies and preparing for a campaign of resistance to stop the dam. "President Dilma and Lula before her have shown a lack of compassion for the enormous suffering that the flooding and displacement the project will bring to my people and the other peoples of the Xingu.


"The government has been ignoring the findings of the courts against the illegality of the building of the dams, so we are going over the heads of government and the courts to organize broad alliances of both indigenous and non-indigenous people, NGOs and government to appeal directly to public opinion and support," continued Txucarramãe.


Cameron said, "Listening to people on the ground in the forest who will be directly affected, and to the experts, it's clear that Belo Monte is an ill-conceived project not only in terms of economic efficiency, but especially because of the lack of transparency, participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples and local communities.


"The most important thing is to raise awareness in Brazil that Belo Monte is not a good solution for meeting the country's energy needs – given its poor economic and the moral and ethical issues, to say nothing of its enormous toll on indigenous peoples and other inhabitants of the Xingu. The Brazilian taxpayers could save billions by cancelling the dam and investing in truly renewable energy.


"Meeting the challenges of a green energy future requires that we all learn from each other – US from Brazil and Brazil from examples like California. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke here about how breaking a new path towards a green energy future has created more jobs in California than traditional industry and service sectors. Brazil has the potential to be a world leader in promoting sustainable energy at a global scale," concluded Cameron.


"We need to dispel the myth that big dams represent clean and renewable energy, considering their enormous social and environmental consequences," said Francisco Hernandez, an energy policy expert from the University of São Paulo. "Brazil is not pursuing a clean and diversified energy matrix but rather developing a single gigantic source, in spite of all of the recognized problems these projects bring."


Philip Fearnside, scientist with the National Institute of Amazon Research (INPA), pointed to the significant climate footprint of large dams given their methane emissions, a global warming gas 25-35 times more potent than CO2. "While economic development is the stated goal of the dam, the great part of its electricity goes to metal smelting, for example producing aluminum ingots, a raw material which is mostly exported and creating only 2.7 jobs per gigawatt hour of electricity," said Fearnside.


The risky $17 billion Belo Monte Dam would be the world's third largest dam. It would divert nearly the entire flow of the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch. Its reservoirs will flood more than 120,000 acres of rainforest and local settlements, displace between 20,000 and 40,000 people and generate vast quantities of methane. A partial installation license was issued for the dam project in late January despite the dam building consortium's failure to meet dozens of environmental and social pre-conditions.