Trying to Solve One Problem by Increasing Another Will Not Protect Environment

flooding Dam

The increasing emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels should be very widely welcomed, but the entire environmental issue cannot be reduced to just this. It is much wider. However our systems have suffered often from a one-point approach to solving complex problems, or may be they are not yet capable of a holistic approach. In the present case, the single-minded emphasis on reducing fossil fuels means that some alternatives to fossil fuels which also happen to be ecologically very destructive are being promoted in their place as green solutions!

One of these relates to construction of medium and large dams.  In recent decades many adverse impacts of large dams have  been  highlighted in the context of several countries. Several disasters related to these structures have been documented, apart from their other social and ecological adverse impacts as seen in normal times. However as the single point emphasis on climate change increased, these same projects started being promoted as green alternatives! One can openly see such publicity in several places. This is happening even in places like the Himalayan region where dam projects have been found to be particularly prone to serious problems, including safety issues. All the social, ecological and safety issues remain the same; rather the evidence them regarding their adverse impacts has increased further, but these ecologically objectionable projects have suddenly been turned into green projects. It is also forgotten that methane emissions from some of these storage and even bigger run of the river projects are also very harmful for climate change.

Secondly, in times of climate change nuclear power plants appear to have found new favor on ground of avoiding the GHG emissions of fossil fuel powered plants. However if we look at not just the running of power plants but also at the entire cycle of nuclear power from the mining and transport of uranium to waste disposal, then of course there are so many forms of very serious ecological harms including GHG emissions. A very big question of safety remains always as the possibility of serious accidents can be reduced but not eliminated. There is still no real solution to the problem of nuclear waste disposal  and some of the nuclear power producing countries have been shipping their wastes to other far away countries and territories, transferring their pollution problems to others. Similarly in terms of obtaining uranium, there are serious injustices and longer-term serious hazards and these are sought to be shifted to others to make nuclear power accceptable at national level.

France is a one of those countries which has chosen to be exceptionally dependent on nuclear power. France has seldom been apologetic about this choice, despite implementing it in highly unjust ways and shifting burden on others. On the other hand its neighbor Germany is committed to phasing out nuclear power within a few years. Surely Germany would have taken such an important decision only on the basis of confirming very serious and unacceptably high risks of nuclear power. Both are members of the European Union. If one European country suffers a serious nuclear power safety lapse, there is high likelihood that neighboring countries too can be affected to a lesser or greater extent. So should not this question of nuclear power be resolved at a wider level, or at the level of the European Union?

Clearly efforts to solve one problem by aggravation of other serious problems will not take us very far on the path of environment protection. In the process bigger questions of lifestyle changes and moving towards an overall more ecologically protective path of development get neglected, sidelined or forgotten.

Giving very high priority to reducing GHG emissions and fossil fuel is certainly needed but this should be supported by other ecologically protective policies as well and above all there should be efforts to find an overall ecologically protective path for future journey of humanity, based on more justice and sharing, while avoiding  greed and consumerism.

Bharat Dogra is Convener, Campaign to Protect Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.

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