Clash of the titans: James Cameron vs. the dam

Is blockbuster producer/director and self-proclaimed “king of the world” James Cameron powerful enough to take out a dam single-handed? Well, no… but the creator of AVATAR has apparently been moved by his own film’s exploration of “the destruction of the natural world by expanding industrial interests, and the consequent impact to Indigenous populations.” Since February, Cameron has become passionate about stopping the building of the Belo Monte dam in Brazil, and has joined with indigenous leaders and activists to protest the opening of the bidding process for the project (set to begin on April 20th).

Cameron is currently in Brazil with wife Suzy Amis Cameron and AVATAR actress Sigourney Weaver — his second trip to the area in weeks. Yesterday, he participated in demonstrations sponsored by Brazilian environmental and social justice organizations. Today and tomorrow, he’s “[traveling] to Xingu River’s Big Bend (Volta Grande) region in Pará State to join a gathering of indigenous and local communities who are affected by the dam project.”

Why is Cameron giving his attention to this particular project? He spells out his reasoning in a thoughtful and thorough letter to Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. Among the concerns he shares with his fellow activists, Cameron notes:

  • “The Belo Monte dam will inundate over 500 square km of land, and divert nearly the entire flow of the Xingu through two artificial canals to the dam’s powerhouse. This alone will leave Indigenous and traditional communities along a 100 km stretch of the Volta Grande without water, fish, or a means of river transport.”
  • “…an estimated 20,000 people will be forced from their homes, including inhabitants of the city of Altamira, which will be partially flooded.”
  • “The Belo Monte Dam will generate only 20% of its installed capacity during the months when the Xingu is low. It will only deliver its full potential if additional dams are built upstream to regulate the river’s flow throughout the year, and the impact to the entire Xingu region of these later dams will be devastating…”
  • “The Belo Monte Dam is being financed and subsidized by the Brazilian taxpayer, and yet little of its power goes to the general public. Most will be consumed by nearby aluminum smelters, who employ very few people relative to megawatts of consumed power, and whose corporate proceeds will mostly go offshore.”

Celebrity activism is generally a pretty touchy-feely affair, but Cameron’s letter is a well-reasoned appeal to President da Silva… someone’s done their homework.

The New York Times published coverage of Cameron’s first trip to Brazil… we’ll keep an eye out for more reporting on this week’s visits and activities.


Image credit: Amazon Watch