Renewable energy is certainly a direction the world needs to take. With research indicating that we have less than 11 years before the effects of climate change become irreversible, non-renewable energy sources such as oil and coal, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, need to be phased out in favour of sustainable energy. In the past, financial gain has trumped environmental prosperity. For example, anti-environmental lobbying still takes place in the US. Now, even in renewable energy projects, this mindset doesn’t seem to have changed and not just in America. The focus of this article will be the construction of the Chinese-backed hydrodam in the Batang Toru rainforest on Sumatra island in Indonesia. While the project would generate a large amount of renewable energy, it threatens the biodiversity of the area and has cut corners around environmentalist and scientific concerns.
The dam will cost over $1 billion before it is operational and has been backed by the Bank of China, which also funded the Three Gorge Dam, the largest and highest single generator of hydropower in the world. In spite of the renewable energy potential,The site of the dam will flood an area which hosts a variety of species, including the Tapanuli Orangutans, the species of rarest great ape in existence. These apes were only discovered in 2017 and their population is small at only 800 in total. Once the dam is constructed, it will flood an area of their habitat and cut off the apes. Environmentalists have raised concerns that inter-group relationships, which would be threatened by the flood area, will ultimately lead to their extinction. The newly discovered apes need to mix with other groups for reproductive reasons. The dam, cutting off these connections, is likely to cause inbreeding within groups and harm future generations. Given the amount of species that have been driven to extinction by humans, the death of these great apes so soon after their discovery would be shameful but not surprising. Protestors have lined up in front of the Bank of China’s offices wearing orangutan masks as a show of solidarity.
The most alarming aspect of the dams construction is the short-cuts and possibly illegal methods Sinohydro, the Chinese company responsible, have used to push the project forward. There have been accusations of document forging as well as the ignoring of scientific assessments which state that the project is unsustainable. As a result of the dams controversy, the World Bank have pulled out of their funding commitments and pressure is mounting for the Bank of China to do the same.
Renewable energy projects might be a step forward for humanity, but it will be for nothing if the same lax attitudes towards biodiversity and the environment prevale. With any luck and continuing effort from protestors and environmentalists, the hydrodam project will be shut down and made sustainable, relocating to an area that will not interfere with wildlife.