New Google Earth Animation Shows How Damming Rivers Will Worsen Climate Crisis

International Rivers
Monday, November 28, 2011

For Immediate Release

International Rivers and Friends of the Earth International have teamed up to create a state-of-the-art Google Earth 3-D tour and video narrated by Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey, winner of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award. The production was launched at the COP17 climate meeting in Durban. The video and tour allow viewers to explore why dams are not the right answer to climate change, by learning about topics such as reservoir emissions, dam safety, and adaptation while visiting real case studies in Africa, the Himalayas and the Amazon.

For example, the tour illustrates how melting glaciers in the Himalayas – an effect of climate change – may lead to higher flood and safety risks for communities living downstream of dams. The tour plunges the viewer deep inside one of Brazil's dirtiest reservoirs, at the Tucuruí Dam, to visualize how rotting organic material creates methane gas, which bubbles up from dam reservoirs to emit greenhouse gases in the tropics. The tour visualizes what smaller, decentralized projects would look like that could more efficiently eradicate energy poverty in Africa than large dams, while also reducing the economic risks of drought-crippled dams.

The Durban climate meeting is themed “saving tomorrow today.” Yet a global dam boom being promoted by dam proponents – including dozens of megadams proposed for Africa’s major rivers – could make a mockery of this vision. Says Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers:

“Healthy rivers are becoming an endangered species because of the impacts of large dams. There is no ‘tomorrow’ without rivers – we can’t adapt to a changing climate without them.”

Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International and narrator of the Google Earth video, says:

“Many African nations are dangerously dependent on hydropower, yet new dams are being built without any analysis of how climate change could affect their economic viability or their safety.  Africa cannot afford dried-up reservoirs or dam collapses on top of the already high costs of adapting to a changing climate. We must develop climate-safe energy systems that improve lives, share the development wealth, and help us all weather the coming storm.”

Using state of the art animation, the Google Earth production illustrates three key reasons that large dams are the wrong response to climate change:

  • River flows are increasingly unpredictable. Large dams have always been based on the assumption that future stream-flow patterns will mirror those of the past, but this is no longer true. Climate change has begun to significantly and unpredictably change precipitation patterns. More frequent droughts will make many hydropower projects uneconomic. More extreme rainfall will increase the risk of dam failures and catastrophic flood releases.

  • Healthy rivers are critical for supporting life on Earth. Big dams make it harder for people and ecosystems downstream of dams to adapt to climate change by reducing water quality and quantity, drying up forests and wetlands, flooding productive land, and destroying fisheries.

  • Dam reservoirs emit greenhouse gases. In the tropics, dam reservoirs are a globally significant source of one of the most potent gases, methane. Meanwhile, free-flowing rivers play a crucial role in helping trap carbon.

Users may watch the video on YouTube, and download the interactive tour to explore inside Google Earth. The video and interactive tour were created with technical assistance from Google Earth Outreach, drawing from diverse scientific data sources.

A supporting fact sheet is available at

International Rivers is an environmental and human rights organization with staff in four continents. For more than 25 years, International Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them.


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