Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on January 4, 2008
Filed Under Green Report / Media
Have we gone too far? Or not far enough? Dam! While alternatives to dirty electricity have been realized by damming large bodies of water, a study conducted by researchers from Utrecht University in The Netherlands and led by Roelof Dirk Schuiling, suggests that damming the south entrance to the Red Sea would generate 50 gigawatts of electricity. The proposed dam, to be named Bab-al-Mandab, would prevent the inflow of seawater from the Indian Ocean and would win the prize as the largest hydroelectric plant in the world.
While no one can deny the potential positive outcomes — less tension between Middle Eastern countries, a cleaner solution to the growing energy needs of millions of people who currently rely on fossil fuels — the question arises, what about the negative impact?
The truth is, the negative ecological impact is virtually impossible to determine as there is a lack of precedent for a dam of this magnitude. While scientists can look to the current three largest hydroelectric plants in the world — Three Gorge Dam, Itaipú, and Guri dam — for insight, the complete ecological impact can only be theorized.
According to livescience.com, the dam would cause an increase in salinity, as the evaporating water from the sea would leave salt behind. This will not only cause higher levels of salinity, but as water levels decrease, the surrounding soil begins to erode. Coral reefs, fish and other organisms that rely on this ecosystem would die away, unable to adapt to the higher levels of salinity. In addition to disturbing natural ecosystems, many residents who live in the affected area would be displaced.
Damming the Red Sea presents a twofold moral dilemma: greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on oil resources would be reduced, but ecological consequences could be devastating for the area and native peoples.
The burning question is, does the outcome (reduction in emissions) justify the means and the potential destruction to the ecosystem? While the researchers conclude that “the responsibility to limit the negative consequences as much as possible should be left up to the countries if they approve such a measure,” I have to wonder if it’s prudent for the decision to be left solely to locals who may be blinded by the positive benefits.
For that matter, is it irresponsible to make such a decision without knowing the full magnitude of what is at stake?