Sigourney Weaver is one of my favourite actresses. I first saw her as Ellen Ripley in Alien, when I was at college, and have enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen her in since.
I don’t know if it was “Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey” that set her on the road to environmental awareness, but whatever got her started, she is definitely a powerful voice for the protection of our world.
Her most recent blockbuster movie, Avatar, has certainly helped throw her into the spotlight in this role, together with its director, James Cameron. Even before that film came out, she was using the publicity it was attracting to divert attention to another film, for which she is the narrator. “Acid Test: The global challenge of ocean acidification” is a Natural Resources Defence Council documentary about what has been called “global warmings’ ugly sister”, the chemical changes in the ocean that are being caused by all that CO2 we are adding to the atmosphere.
Fox News wanted to interview Sigourney about her role in Avatar, even starting the interview with some trailers from the film. But she wanted to talk about Acid Test instead, and completely took control of the interview! It’s worth watching, she was clearly not going to be put off her stride by the hosts. One could almost feel sorry for them, but me, I enjoy seeing Sigourney in those ‘Ripley’ moments!
Now, she’s turning her attention to the Belo Monte dam. This is a hydroelectricity generation project which is planned to be built on the Xingu river, in the Brazilian Amazon. She has narrated a video which describes the impact of the dam (also shown here), and invites us to sign a petition to the Brazilian government to encourage them to cancel the project.
Dams which provide hydroelectric power are widely considered to be ecologically friendly things, so why does she think this one is bad?
Well, there are several reasons. One is that this will become the third-largest dam in the world, and the environmental impacts will be correspondingly huge. Building this dam will require moving more earth than was moved to create the Panama canal, and will block almost the entire flow of the river. An area equivalent to a circle 29 km across (18 miles) will be inundated.
Native peoples will have their way of life destroyed, obviously. It’s not surprising they rely heavily on the river for transport and fish, and that they farm much of the land that will be flooded by the dam. Ecosystems will be totally destroyed too, with several species that live only there doomed to extinction.
Of course, not all species will suffer, malaria mosquitos are expected to thrive in the new expanses of still water.
The dam is also destined to be one of the least efficient in the world. During the dry season, it will produce only one tenth of its maximum capacity. The annual average output will be less than 40% of the nominal capacity. In order to raise the efficiency, the Brazilian government needs to construct more dams upstream, to control and regulate the flow of water all year round. In fact, there are more than 60 large dams planned for the amazon basin over the next 60 years. That’s a staggering number!
Many people are hoping for a sequel to Avatar. For the people of the Xingu river, if the Belo Monte dam gets built, there will be no sequel, their world will be gone. So if you can spare 10 minutes, take a look at the video. Then, if you agree with me that this dam is a bad idea, please sign that petition!