Re-mapping the Amazon: An Interview with Brent Millikan

Friday, March 23, 2012
A boat on the mighty – but threatened – Tapajós River
A boat on the mighty – but threatened – Tapajós River
Photo by Brent Millikan, March 2011

This interview aired the week of March 16, 2012 on Living on Earth, Public Radio International's environmental news magazine.

The Brazilian government recently proposed a re-mapping of the Amazon that would remove protection for more than 200,000 acres of rainforest, including national parks. Brent Millikan is Amazon Program Director for International Rivers. He tells host Bruce Gellerman that the government wants to make way for hydroelectric dams.

Brazil's River of the Dead is teeming with life, tropical birds, fish and turtles. The river is one of the hundreds of tributaries of the mighty Amazon.

But even this remote region is being developed. Not far from this part of Brazil construction has begun on the huge and hugely controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. When finished, it will generate a vast amount of electricity and flood a vast area of the rainforest. It's just one of 60 dams planned in the Brazilian Amazon.

Balancing Brazil's growing need for energy and protecting the rainforest was front and center back in January 2011, when Dilma Rousseff addressed Congress after being sworn as Brazil's first female president.

But just a year later, President Rousseff, who was once a Marxist guerilla, signed a provisional measure redefining part of the Amazon: lifting federal protection, and potentially opening the way for construction of hydro-electric dams on more than 200,000 thousand acres of rainforest.

Environmental groups within Brazil and around the world issued an open letter criticizing the president; saying her first year in office was – quote: 'marked by the most significant regression of the social and environmental agenda since the end of Brazil's military dictatorship.' International Rivers is one of the environmental groups that signed the letter. Brent Millikan is the organization's Amazon Program director.