From their editorial today on Chile’s plan to build hydroelectric dams in Patagonia, one of the most desolate places on the planet:
An environmental review commission in the Aysén region of southern Chile has made a potentially disastrous decision, voting to approve the construction of five hydroelectric dams, two on the Baker River and three on the Pascua. The damage these dams would do to the environment is tremendous, and their construction — in a largely unspoiled natural haven — would open the way for further development, including more dams.
The Baker and Pascua Rivers flow into the wild fiords that thread their way along the southern Chilean coast. The dams would partially flood a national park as well as portions of a landscape that Chile had been hoping to have named a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The vote follows an environmental review that looked only at the immediate consequences of construction and not the long-term effects on the ecology of these watersheds or the downstream risks of damming short, violent, glacial rivers that are subject to abrupt outburst floods from the lakes above them. To deliver the power they would generate — some 2.75 gigawatts — Chile would have to build a 1,400-mile corridor of power lines to the north, creating the longest clear-cut on the planet.
The editors go on to recommend the axis of green — solar, wind, and geothermal — as the answer to Chile’s electricity needs. What I don’t understand is that those three alternatives also need power lines, so the Times’s call for a “separate environmental review must be completed and approved for the transmission corridor” is nothing more than an unnecessary distraction.
There’s no environment-neutral solution to our power needs, and the New York Times should be honest about it.