Jacques Leslie defines a dam as the author’s list of winners and losers“…the ultimate expression of the majestic, deluded spirit of the Industrial Age” at the same time that he defines our cultural time as “The Age of Consequences.” So, what then of the consequences for the Industrial Age’s deluded spirit of “conquering nature” on our times? If the environmental effects of the Three Gorges Dam in China is any indication, the consequences of dam building can be dire.
The author’s list for winners and losers invites the reader to further reflect about his or her perception and understanding of dams. Winners like politicians, engineers, and construction along with subsidized water costs for industrial farmers stand in contrast to the displaced peoples and their lands-usually minorities and poor and tribal-that can decimate cultural and social practices. The mounting dangers of aging structures and mounting bills for dam repair are consequences for all.
After pressures on the World bank to reduce its support of dam building (its peak in 1985), a World Commission on Dams was created. Speaking for alternatives to dam building and social justice, the Commission has had only limited effect, but has become a standard for “best practices” and “an admonition to dam builders”.
Discussing alternatives to dams, the author points to the cheapest of alternatives to dams: conservation practices, particularly in the fields of agriculture and energy use which reduces water demand and hydroelectric demand. And such practices gives value to traditional ways. He ends on a note of optimism as all the stakeholders negotiate possible dam removals on the California-Oregon Klamath River. Such is the history, the players, and the dilemmas of the world of dams.
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