Dams and Damnation


By Po Yin Wong '09

China’s effort to create hydropower dams on the Nu River would affect everything from the environment to the economy. A Goldfarb Center multidisciplinary symposium in October explored these, and other, implications.

Damming the Nu looked at China’s proposal to build 13 dams along the Nu River in Yunnan Province, one of the poorest areas of China. The proposal is part of an initiative to develop western China’s energy resources to fuel the economic boom in the east. Many believe the initiative is harming politically powerless peasants.

The magnitude of the dams’ potential impact on the environment, social systems, local populations, and energy demand in China brought the issue to the international stage. The area, designated by the U.N. as a World Heritage Site, contains old-growth forests, 7,000 species of plants, and 80 rare or endangered animal species. According to Desiree Tullos of Oregon State University, the dams are likely to cause extinction and thus reduce the value of one of the world’s richest sites of biodiversity.

Assistant Professor of Economics Phil Brown, who organized the symposium, said that dams would bring both costs and benefits, but that the adverse effects would be “likely to fall disproportionately on the rural poor.” Thousands of local residents are likely to be worse off economically through the displacement process, he said.

Scholars from China joined those from the United States to exchange expertise and inform the 30 students who attended. Chen Daqing of the Yangtze River Fisheries Institute in Yunnan said that he would incorporate what he learned at Colby into his work on the Nu River.

As part of its effort to bring nationally and internationally recognized professionals and scholars to Colby to share insight on issues in politics and public policy, the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement sponsored the symposium.

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