Rainforest and Rain Redux

This post has been easily my most successful. It’s had substantially more hits even than the post that got plugged on ABC online, and more than double any other. Still minute by most blogger’s standards but important to me. Part of the success came from several people promoting it, but now most of the hits are coming from people googling terms as broad as “rainforest”. Apparently Google has me pretty high there – to thanks Sergey, although I have no idea why, given how many references on the web must exist.

Consequently, I was particularly interested to see this take on the rainforest/rain issue. If chopping down rainforests reduces rainfall it stands to reason that hydro-electric projects will suffer. In fact they can be affected in multiple ways – loss of forest cover can lead to increased erosion, which can accelerate the problem of big dams silting up.

Building large dams in rainforests has obvious temptations as a cheap and flexible source of power for the developing world, but the consequences are horrific. The people flooded out of their homes are usually amongst the most vulnerable, and the promised compensation seldom arrives, even aside from the loss of priceless places to Indigenous peoples. The rotting of rainforest underwater produces methane, 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas ascarbon dioxide.

Once they are built however, these large dams do have advantages. They’re highly compatible with renewable energy sources, being able to be turned up and down at a moment’s notice to compensate for changes in wind and sunlight. If the felling of rainforests reduces their output that is a serious problem. Ideally you would like to hope the report will lead to a rethinking of the construction of these dams, but if that is too much, preserving the rainforests around them would be something.

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About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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