A dam shame: the social and environmental costs of hydropower dams

A dam shame: the social and environmental costs of hydropower dams
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Scientists from Michigan State University (MSU) have published information on the social and environmental costs of hydropower dams and have recommended the use of alternative methods for hydropower.

The scientists are calling for the developing world not to use hydropower dams and instead generate hydropower for industry and livelihoods using other methods.

The environmental costs

According to MSU, there are several serious environmental costs of dams including:

  • Disrupting the natural ecology of rivers;
  • Damaging forests and biodiversity;
  • Releasing a high amount of greenhouse gases;
  • Disrupting food systems and agriculture;and
  • Deteriorating water quality.

The social costs

The paper notes that: “The human costs of large dams are no less important,” the paper notes. “The social, behavioral, cultural, economic, and political disruption that populations near dams face are routinely underestimated.”

Considering the future of hydropower dams

Emilio Moran a professor of georgraphy, environment and spatial sciences said: “This article identifies that for hydropower to continue to make a contribution to sustainable energy it needs to consider from the outset the true costs, social, environmental and cultural that may be involved, and include those in the pricing of the infrastructure, including the eventual removal of the dam, rather than pass those on to the public in 30 years…The benefits of energy from dams no longer outweigh the social and environmental costs that damming up rivers brings about.”

The alternatives to hydropower dams

MSU has identified instream turbine technology as a potential alternative for creating hydropower. Instream turbine technology is a less intrusive method and does not cause the same major disruption as dams do.

“Our team is working on alternatives to hydropower generation, such as in-stream turbines that do not involve damming up the river, but produce energy for local communities, maintain a healthy river ecology, and does not involve resettlement and other social costs,” Moran added. “Our goal is no less than transforming the hydropower sector.”

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