Amazon Watch and International Rivers have teamed up to create a state-of-the-art 10-minute Google Earth 3-D tour and video narrated by actress Sigourney Weaver, with technical assistance from Google Earth Outreach, in support of Brazil’s Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre (Xingu River Forever Alive Movement).
The video and tour allow viewers to learn about the harmful impacts of, and alternatives to the massive Belo Monte Dam Complex on the Amazon’s Xingu River. A Portuguese version of the video and tour, narrated by well-known Brazilian actor Dira Paes, will be launched next week.
The interactive tour and video call attention to the Belo Monte Dam, which, if built, would be the third-largest hydroelectric dam in the world. The dam would divert the flow of the Xingu River, one of the most important tributaries of the Amazon River, in order to produce electricity for industrial mining operations in the region. The dam’s reservoirs would flood 668 square kilometers, displace more than 20,000 people, and generate methane, a lethal greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Late last week, the Brazilian government signed the concession to build the $17 billion-dollar project, ignoring local, national, and international opposition, proven financial and technical risks, and the ready availability of clean energy alternatives.
Weaver narrates the 10-minute tour and video, called “Defending the Rivers of the Amazon”, which illustrates the impacts that diverting the river along a 100-km stretch would have on the two indigenous tribes who have lived there for generations. The tour also animates the flooding associated with the dam, impacts on the region’s spectacular biodiversity, and maps over 60 dams planned for the Brazilian Amazon over the next two decades.
The original concept for the Google Earth interactive tour and video emerged when Avatar director James Cameron and cast members of his film, including Sigourney Weaver, traveled to the Xingu River in April, accompanied by Amazon Watch and the Brazilian environmental organization Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). After speaking with some of the indigenous tribes and riverbank families who would be directly affected, Weaver commented that the Belo Monte Dam would be “a disaster for the Xingu River, for the rainforest, and certainly for all the indigenous people and families living along the river. Their way of life will disappear.”
Antonia Melo, a leader and spokesperson of the Xingu River Forever Alive Movement, based in the city of Altamira, Pará, near to where the dam complex would be built, described the potential for the Google Earth animation to help inform local people about the impacts of Belo Monte and other hydroelectric dams: “Even for people who live along the Xingu River itself, the impacts of damming the river are difficult to understand. This animation can help the local population visualize the potential damage caused by Belo Monte, and can encourage them to take action.”
Because the Brazilian government is moving ahead with the project, resistance to the dam is growing. “Earlier this month, communities directly affected by Belo Monte declared their unwavering resistance to the dam and to the Brazilian government’s plans to build additional dams in the Brazilian Amazon. International groups will continue to support the indigenous peoples and social movements who are fighting Belo Monte until the project is stopped,” said Brent Millikan, Amazon Program Director of International Rivers.
“Because Google Earth provides such a realistic model of the real earth, it can allow both ordinary people and decision makers to visualize and understand complex environmental and social issues more easily and deeply,” said Rebecca Moore of Google Earth Outreach. “Ideally, this can lead to a more informed and constructive dialogue, especially for controversial issues such as the Belo Monte Dam. The tour created by Amazon Watch and International Rivers is at the cutting-edge of Google Earth animation.”
The launch of the Belo Monte Dam interactive tour and video is timed with last Friday’s re-release of Avatar in theaters. James Cameron has also produced a short feature about the Belo Monte dam called “A Message from Pandora”, the trailer for which can be viewed on Avatar’s site inviting movie fans to join the battle to stop the dam.