The Avatar Sequel: Damming Pandora

Living on Pandora
Living on Pandora

March 30, 2164. - I have spent a lot of time on Pandora lately. I have explored its verdant valleys, lush rain forests, and floating mountains. I have tried to stay away from the ferocious aynantang and aypalulukan. And I have fallen in love with the mighty rivers and waterfalls, which cascade down sheer cliffs and which you may have admired in the Avatar movie.

I am not the only Earthling who has been attracted to the rivers of Pandora. Ten years after their defeat by the Hometree, the Resources Development Administration is back on the blue moon. The Corporation has overcome its "Pandora syndrome," as the bosses have put it to their shareholders.

The Corporation has given up on mining the Unobtanium, and has come up with a giant scheme to dam Pandora's rivers instead. It plans to plug the waterfalls, drain the forests, and divert the rivers so they can power huge turbines. It plans to turn Pandora's life energy - the energy which flows through all creatures and can only be borrowed - into electricity, which it can beam to planet Earth.

The Corporation has again sent in its anthropologists to move out the Na'vi clans. They are offering their ayeyktan cash and some jobs as security guards. And they appeal to the Na'vi not to stand in the way of the blue moon's economic progress. But this time, the clans of Pandora got organized. They have got a surprise ready for the Corporation.

This time around, the clans don't need a white male from another planet to rescue them, and they have not asked for my help. My friend 'Eylan from the Kilvan clan reminds me that my place is on planet Earth, whose rivers are also under threat, whose arteries are also being plugged, whose lifeblood is also being diverted.

'Eylan told me of his brothers and sisters of the Kayapo Indians in the Amazon, whose ancestral lands are being threatened by a huge dam - one of more than one hundred dams planned for the Amazon. He told me of the Kayan and Penan of Sarawak, who will lose a large part of their home - 700 square kilometers of rain forest - for a dam that will feed an aluminum plant. "We cannot live without the rainforest," the Penan people say. "The forest looks after us, and we look after it. We understand the plants and the animals because we have lived with them since the time of our ancestors."

'Eylan told me about the Mursi people of Ethiopia, who have lived in harmony with their lands for thousands of years, and who call the waters of the Omo River the "heartbeat of our valley." Their existence will be wiped out when a dam stops the annual floods that sustain their cattle and crops. 'Eylan told me about the Idu Mishmi people, who will soon be overrun by 6,000 construction workers contracted to build a dam in their remote Himalayan valley. And he told me how the Karenni people are currently being driven off their lands by the Burmese army for the construction of a dam.

On my home planet, dams have flooded a land area bigger than the state of California, and have inundated some of our most diverse forests and fertile floodplains. They have strangled living rivers, and condemned many life forms to being extinct. And they have destroyed the livelihoods, cultures and spiritual identity of many river peoples. The Corporation doesn't enjoy doing this, but its eyes are firmly set on making profits. As Parker Selfridge has reminded us, "killing the indigenous looks bad, but there's one thing shareholders hate more than bad press - and that's a bad quarterly statement."

Like Jake Sully, I sooner or later always wake up after my visits to Pandora. As my friend 'Eylan tells me, that's just fine. After all, my place is on planet Earth. The Kayapo and Penan, the Mursi and Idu Mishmi, the Karenni and many other peoples are fighting for their lands, livelihoods and identities right now, in the year 2010. If we can live in peace with our own planet, 'Eylan keeps telling me, we won't have to colonize and destroy other planets in future centuries.

Tslolam. Eywa ngahu int.

In his waking hours, Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. He blogs at and tweets @PeterBosshard.

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