Monday, December 05, 2011

Prices of Progress

Today in my Geography of Latin America class, we read a report from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs entitled The Price of Civilization, which the impact of large-scale resource developments in Brazil, Chile, and Bolivia.

I divided the class into groups, asking first that individual students answer "Who?" questions about the projects: who stands to benefit and who stands to lose something? I then asked them to work in small groups to address "Where?" questions about the location and scale of the projects and the affected communities.

Below are some quick links to what they found, posted here primarily as a way to facilitate our discussion later this week.

Map from Coastal Care
Square Kilometer - Acre Converter (useful for all sections of the article)
Defending the Rivers of the Amazon (a GoogleEarth 3D movie with narration by Sigourney Weaver)
Another map:
Rendering of the dam itself:

Map of Chile
Anger over proposal, reported by BBC in May 2011
Court suspension of project, reported by BBC in June 2011
BBC maps of proposed dams
Patagonia's Rivers at Risk
Project map from Glacier Change
Damming Patagonia: Simply Concrete? from Pedal for Change

Protesters marching to dam site
Highway route map from Intercontinental Cry
NGOs Wrong on Morales from the Tlaxcala blog
Morales Halts Amazon Road After Protests from AlterNet, with photo of protest clash
Project route and community maps from Flickr user Oscar Salgado

Using these images and maps as a starting point, I then asked the students to answer questions about where the projects themselves and the benefits and dis-benefits are likely to be located. From the answer to the locational questions, I hoped that the students would find their way to interesting discussions of how and why questions, and from the preliminary conversations, it seems to have worked!

As we left class, I gave students a copy of "What a Difference a Century Makes," my contribution to a collection of essays about the Amazon region published in Brazil nearly a decade ago. In it, I invite the reader to compare frontier developments of the twentieth century -- which we sometimes find morally dubious or even horrific -- with those of an earlier time much closer to home.

I will also speak of a specific example of a hydroelectric plant I visited in the western Amazon. It is in the Municipio of Candeias do Jamari (shown below). I should not have been surprised that this town -- whose population I saw explode between 1996 and 2000 -- now has a blog!

View Larger Map

Garrett Hardin's influential and controversial 1968 essay The Tragedy of the Commons may provide some insight into the trade-offs between individual and universal costs and benefits.

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