I live on a small river that grows for hundreds of miles before turning into one of the largest rivers in the American southeast. It is home to numerous freshwater fish species, reptiles, birds – all types of flora and fauna. In the Summer people drift down it in kayaks and inner tubes and people fish it around the year. At times I can hear the rumble of the river through my open windows, at other times it is silenced. I have seen it flooded and I have seen it so low it seemingly struggles to wind its way past the boulders in its bed. It is nowhere near as grand as the Mississippi or Delaware rivers, but it is a noble river in its own way especially since it is thought to be one of the oldest rivers in North America. My love of rivers can be traced back to my hometown of St. Louis that sits at the confluence of two of them, so it’s perhaps no accident that I find myself living within a stone’s skip near one.
If you love rivers you are going to hate dams. You don’t have to be a tree-hugging hippy to see the damage dams cause. They drown habitats upstream from them and lay waste to those downstream making dams about as environmentally sound as strip mining. Since people tend to live near water they displace entire communities. China’s thirst for cheap power has led to its building monstrosities such as the Three Gorges Dam, perhaps the most obscene use of concrete since the Colosseum. It’s plans to develop dams throughout southeast Asia have alarmed its neighbors, and in Africa an Ethiopian project to dam the Nile is causing tense relations between it and countries downstream including the Sudan and Egypt, increasing the possibility of the world’s first war fought over water resources.
But in its zeal to promote renewable energy, New Scientist magazine has become a cheerleader for dams. On it’s July 6, 2013 cover it hails the “Age of Renewables: Green Electricity Poised to Overtake Gas.” “The Age of renewable energy is upon us. Within three years, the amount of electricity generated worldwide from wind, solar and hydro energy will exceed what is made using natural gas…” Of the renewables, hydroelectric is the heavy lifter according to a sidebar article “Top Of The Green Energy Charts” at 16% of global electricity generation in 2011, compared to only 4.2% for onshore wind, biofuels, geothermal and solar panels combined. So for this to be the age of renewables, dams will have to do the heavy lifting: “Room for development: in Africa only 8 per cent of the potential hydropower sources have been used.” Supposedly that includes the sources Ethiopia and Sudan are threatening war over.
For the first century of its existence the Army Corps of Engineers dammed nearly every free-flowing river in the country, and it was the environmentalists who fought the Corps in the courts, engineering a reversal whereby the Corps is now dismantling dams and helping to restore the habitats of land spoiled by them. Now environmentalists are changing their minds and advocating for their construction? Are they nuts?
Irrational global warming alarmism coupled with fear of nuclear power and fracking gas production have twisted the minds of environmentalists to where they are now advocating solutions they would have protested against as recently as a decade ago. “”There are now well-developed procedures for managing the sustainability of dams,” says (International Energy Agency spokesman Adam) Brown. A planned dam on the Congo river, for instance, will not flood any land: the river flows at such high volumes that a reservoir isn’t needed.” Dam sustainability makes as much sense as “clean coal”; both are oxymorons with no evidence backing them in contrast to the proven safety of nuclear power and fracking. Environmentalists attack natural gas production even though it has lowered American carbon emissions to levels not thought possible without gutting the American economy. Over 100,000 wells having been subjected to fracking, and the science regarding its safety is settled; but that hasn’t stopped environmentalists from spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about the safety of fracking. Movies like Gasland and its sequel are about as scientifically honest and accurate as a poorly edited Creationist pamphlet left on a gasoline pump, yet Greens believe the lies and thereby undermine their own cause by supporting dams. My how times have changed.
At a time when European governments are cutting back their subsidies on renewable energy, a fact mentioned nowhere in the article nor considered a primary contributory to the supposed “age of renewables”, this article seems ill timed. But leaving that aside the advocating of building dams is as striking to me as saying “Go ahead and throw your garbage out of your car window while you’re driving.” Of course this is the same movement (and magazine) that supports wind turbines, ugly monstrosities that blight the landscapes and chew up birds. So perhaps it’s not just the love of dams that prove environmentalists are off their nut. After all rivers can run free and birds soar without being cut to pieces around a nuclear or gas fired power plant.